The Ermine is Retired

There’s only so long I can talk about early retirement before the time has to come to actually do it. That time was yesterday, to collect together the paraphernalia of an office worker’s trade ready to check them in for the last time.

Tools of a typical office-based worker’s trade, with unsightly electrical test labels

Moving on from something I’ve done for over two decades is always going to be strange, and my colleagues, many of whom I’ve known for most of those 20 years, gave me a great send-off at a local pub. The Firm bought us all a couple ofย  rounds of drinks, and I was armed with a pitchfork from the guys to hassle the uninvited to ‘gerroff my land’ and the wherewithal for a dinner with DW and a good skinful later on ๐Ÿ˜‰ They did a fantastic job and if anyone is reading this then thanks guys – it was really appreciated!

It was an interesting day, the first half tipping my hat to the old world, and in the second half of the day drinking beer and having a barbecue on the farm tipping my hat to the new world.

Moonlight barbecue. None of these good-looking young folk are me ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve been on leave for the last couple of weeks, and making the most of the time to set the transition right. It is in times of change that there is the opportunity to change old ways, but at the same time I shouldn’t change too much, for I have time enough in future to assimilate them.

The Island Dream opens this collection

Life without the daily grind is good. In some ways it feels like I have passed through a long, thirty-year tunnel of working, and come out blinking in the evening sunlight on the other side. Some things feel like the care-free days of childhood, but of course with far more power to affect things around me. And, of course, some of the marks of the long passage across sometimes stormy seas. There were hints of what I felt when I first read the early short story The Island Dream by Hermann Hesse. I read this as a young adult, the young Ermine was far more idealistic and mystical than I am now, and the somewhat purple prose resonated with me then. Hesse was 22 when he wrote that, ad it has a narcissistic introspection that one can only really get away with at certain stages of life. And yes, I do get the irony of writing that on a blog ๐Ÿ˜‰

Curiously enough I’ve spent less than when I was working, my car has hardly moved so I guess I ought to sell the damn thing before I start having grief with the battery. I’ve used my bike more – the journey to work and back at 6.5 miles each way was a little bit beyond my natural range but most things are now in a three mile radius which is easy by bike, even for someone who has spent 20 years in a sedentary occupation. However, cycling gets a little easier with time, and indeed I may switch back to the drop handlebars from the more sit-up-and-beg setting I used of late.

Getting my time back is one of the great revelations – so many things are easier, and indeed cheaper, if you don’t have to pack them into weekends and evenings. When you can work your day round the opportunities and the weather, a bike is far more useful than it is if you’re trying to make things happen in a short space of time. Fixing things is so much eaiser as well when I can take the time to change something, and then mull over what the symptoms are telling me. I was able to get the starter motor of the tractor serviced by having the extra time to work out how to remove it and taking it to Eastern Auto Spares who tested and cleaned out the works. Previously this job was looking like getting a mechanic out to service it, which would have cost a lot more than the ยฃ30.

Spring and Summer is a good time to stop working – the world looks like a friendlier place than it did in February when I first applied for voluntary retirement.

So what does retiring early feel like?

Exhilarating, a relief, and scary as hell. I can do all the calculations I like, and many things are more securely fixed for me than for other retirees. I am still changing one of the deep assumptions that I’ve grown up and lived with, and that is that you need to work to have enough money. I’ve aimed at that as a child and student, and lived it for the last 30 years. I am half way through my adult life. Imagine being on an airliner travelling from New York to London. You would wonder if the captain reaches the halfway point, and then announces that he is going to cut the engines. It’s a bit like that – the good thing is that the noise and hum of work has ceased, but it still feels really strange. I am not a particularly early retiree – I am nearly 52 and the normal retirement age for The Firm was 60 until three years ago, so I only had another eight years to go. Nevertheless, some of the decisions made with early retirement are all-or-nothing. If I found myself short of money then the option of just going to work is not that open to me, I’ve got no desire to stack shelves on minimum wage and The Firm has been busy trying to pay off its old gits for the last decade or so, so it isn’t hiring ๐Ÿ˜‰

Scary is irrational – after all if I simply divide my redundancy money by eight, add it to the proceeds of some share options and the existing revenue from my ISA I can sit tight and enjoy the Jeremy Kyle show fo eight years and then draw my pension at a shade under half salary. I haven’t lived off that much for several years now. Okay, so I won’t be parking a Lamborghini in the drive or going to New Zealand on holiday, but so what. Even if I make a pig’s ear of investing the tax-free part of the redundancy money and write it all off to zero, I still have a couple of years’ salary saved in AVCs. So there really not too much that is scary and it’s easy enough to get an intellectual handle on that.

After all it’s been common enough in the past for there to be gentlemen of leisure in the sense of this definition

A man who derives a living from their own financial assets or has other sources of irregular income leaving them financially secure without any typical employment, duties, or financial responsibilities. Such a man may be self-made, or they may be the result of inheritance, a trust fund baby, or an “idiot son”.

as opposed to the second definition in the Urban Dictionary ๐Ÿ˜‰ And self-made, I’m happy to say my parents are both still with us.

However, people of independent means do normally stick out as being hellaciously wealthier than their fellow-men. I don’t – I live in a semi, drive a 13-year old car. What I spend money on is very different to a lot of my peers, however. The proportion of my net worth held in property is a lot lower than the >40% typical of most people according to HMRC, and that’s even allowing for a slightly unusual property portfolio of not just my house. Clearly I should have been aspiring to a much more fancy house!

Scary is inherent in charting a course according to different lights to most people, but it’s not necessarily wrong. I’ve done the best I could and have tried not to lie to myself about the reality of what I’ve tried to do. If I could have shortened the three year period between starting to save to leave early and actually doing it I would have done, but I couldn’t see my way to achieving the goal in a compressed timescale. The corollary to that is once I’ve achieved the goal, then it was time to take the logical course of action. Each and every day I lose one day of remaining lifetime, just like you do too, dear reader. Therefore, if I wish to live life intentionally, I need to do aim a little higher that working for The Man in order to win beer tokens each day. And that’s what I have done. Who knows what the future will bring, after all the current long-running financial crisis could be the harbinger of Peak Oil overwhelming the assumptions underpinning industrial civilisation. Working for The Firm another eight years wasn’t going to protect me against that. Hopefully the future will look more like this.