My Guilty Pleasures

My father wasn’t a mean man. In fact, the main criticism of him as a politician was that he was too soft. . . . didn’t have the ‘killer instinct’. So he certainly didn’t bring up his children to fear him . . . yet I still, more than 40 years after his untimely death, feel the force of his personality on me. One of his most passionately held beliefs was that there was nothing better in life than working with committed and interesting people on worthwhile projects. Like the motto in a stick of Blackpool rock, I feel that slogan running deep within me.

As he died when he was only 58, I’ve often wondered how he would have coped with retirement or if he would ever have really ‘retired’. One of my brothers suggested that he would have gone back to his roots, bought himself a small piece of land and become a farmer (as generations of his family had been before him) . . .with a well stocked library in his house. But I can’t quite imagine that scenario.

So I have no personal role model for retirement and despite having been professionally involved in the field of retirement and learning for the past 35 years, I can’t quite envisage myself not ‘working’. I’m sure my father would be interested in and very proud of what I do and have been involved in . . . the foundation of the U3A, the creation of Third Age Press (like me, he wouldn’t really have cared about the fact that this enterprise seems singularly to have failed to make money – I too lack the killer instinct!). He would have commended me for having spent every Tuesday (and many other days) for the last 28 years rehearsing for musicals with Wimbledon Light Opera Society – and especially for the 8 years I spent as Chairman – a task which taught me the encompassing value of such local, artistic endeavours and the impact – in so many different ways – that they have on people’s lives.

But it’s the smaller things that we do to fill our time that are vexing me. I find myself feeling guilty for watching television during the day, even for reading a book when it’s not bedtime, or a sunny weekend. That’s another strange thing. I didn’t’ really start work (apart from various odd teaching jobs when my children were young) until I was 40 and then, working, as I did, part-time for both U3A and Age Concern England, I have never held a 5 day-a-week nine-to-five job . . . why on earth am I obsessed about ‘work’ being done Monday to Friday and not on the weekends?

I’ve always been quite a serious, if slow, reader. I read a lot of non-fiction as well as what I suppose are serious novels. So it took me years to allow myself to read ‘thrillers’ and, much to my surprise, I discovered that a lot of these are really very well written. But even so, I still feel the need to ration them . . . saving them up as a treat till I’ve finish some big book on a ‘big’ subject.

But I even have a problem with the ‘big subjects’. I’ve never had a good memory and it’s certainly not getting any better so I find myself wondering why I bother to spend three months reading about the first Afghan War (fascinating, by the way) when I’m not going to remember any of it for long?

And now I’ve joined my local U3A Latin class – which I love (I even love the homework!) – but I find myself asking ‘why am I bothering’? What good is it doing? At my age what’s the use of stuffing my head with all this information that’s just going to expire with me?

I certainly do not want to loosen the grip of my father’s spirit and maybe it’s unfair to blame him for my unease but, as I grow older, I would like to feel more relaxed about relaxing . . . at least I think I would. Or do I get a guilty pleasure from my guilty pleasures?