Extraordinary as it seems today, my first job was as an articled clerk with a firm of London chartered accountants. I can distinctly hear my lawyer father and banker stepfather saying, almost as one, ‘My boy, with a law degree and an accountancy qualification the world’s your oyster.’
Those were the days when, with the kind of connections I was lucky enough to have, the world could well have been my oyster, whatever I had chosen to do. After some spectacularly bad advice at school, I was turned down by every university I applied to. My father got on the phone and the back door of the law department at Aberdeen University swung promptly open. Three years later my stepfather had a word in someone’s ear about the accountancy traineeship, though to his and my father’s dismay I saw the light after three months and quit for a job in a bookshop.
But I still remember vividly my first day there. The office was on the corner of King William St and London Bridge. As I walked down from Monument tube station, I was greeted by a great tide of dark-suited, umbrella-wielding, bowler-hatted men surging across the bridge towards the City.
It was October 1971. In those days a job was still most likely to be a job for life. At some time in what seemed the impossibly distant future, those who stuck at it would be expected to take retirement and spend their days playing golf or tending the allotment or constructing St Paul’s Cathedral out of matchsticks.
Had anyone told me then that a couple of months short of my 68th birthday I would be working as hard as I ever have, and leading a life that seems busier than it has ever been, I would probably have laughed. But that is the case and it’s largely a consequence of choices I have made, among them that of being a pension-less freelance.
Largely but not wholly so. There may be some things I do that I would rather not have to. Sometimes I would perhaps like to do a little less of everything. But mostly I feel my life is full of purpose. I write, I teach, I make music, I give talks, I keep in touch with my children and family, I visit my elderly mother, and so on.
What does it all add up to? I’m not sure; that may be for others to say once I’m no longer here. But the idea of not being emotionally, intellectually, philosophically, morally engaged with the world seems an anathema. Which is not to say that one can’t be retired and remain all of those things; but simply putting your feet up and tuning out is no longer the recommended option.
A sense of purpose, a good reason for getting up in the morning, is one of the things that defines most people I wish to spend time with. It’s very often what people who come on our The Stories We Tell workshops are seeking to rediscover. It can be an unexpected discovery for people who come on Dark Angels courses. And its impending absence is what underlies the unease with which people face the end of long employed careers.
We need purpose more than we need anything else. It offers a more solid and satisfying pulse in our lives than any vague or fleeting notions of happiness. Increasingly in older age it tends to mean giving back, to community in the form of general time and energy, or to people or groups who may benefit from the particular experience one has to offer.
We think of this as making a difference, but actually it’s about reinforcing our sameness, reminding ourselves that we are all tiny parts of one big thing called humanity – even when that is represented by a regiment of bowler hats marching across London Bridge. Really, I believe, our purpose is to connect in whatever way we can.
I am telling Tales of Don Roberto at the St Catharine’s Community Centre, Blairgowrie, next Wednesday 2nd Aug at 7.00pm http://www.bookmarkblair.com/programme.php Also at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Tuesday 22nd August, 12.30 https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/jamie-jauncey
And for something completely different, Amos & Jauncey are in concert at Birnam Arts on Friday 18 August 8.00pm https://www.birnamarts.com/whats-birnam-arts/?ee=245