Ten days of retirement

Ten days into retirement – I thought it was time to sit down and think about it!

I suppose the first thing to note is that it was always going to be a gradual process. Indeed, in the first week, it was difficult to realise I had retired. I had three events to speak at, by far the weirdest being an evening at the Wellcome Collection for a very large free-access public event on ‘Wild Ones’, in which I was hired to talk about one of my research interests, the bearded lady. I was to sit next to my favourite display case, which contains a lot of ancient votive offerings of body parts, for three half-hour slots, and talk to anyone who turned up. When I checked out the spot, with an organiser from the Crick Crack Club, we were concerned that nobody would find it, and hatched a plan in which, if nobody appeared, I would take a large poster of a bearded woman and stand in a lift talking to anyone who came in.

In fact, of course, it was all fine. I had around 50 people standing listening for the final slot. There were lots of questions and I enjoyed the discussions very much. I also had a great time in between my sessions, watching a life drawing event with a naked Minotaur and a woman who wore only her floor-length hair, and various exhilarating processions by the Haus of Sequana.

Now, here’s the question: if I hadn’t been retiring, would I have done this event? I suppose it counts as ‘impact’, in the hideous language of the REF, because there is a direct connection between my published research (e.g. this article) and the event. However, for REF I would have had to give out a questionnaire to those who came to listen to me (yawn…). So, as I no longer count for the REF, it was wonderful to be able to do it just because it was fun. Just that.

A few days after that, I was one of the speakers at a large and inspirational event on Ancient Science and Modern Science put on by a great state school – Cheney School – which isn’t that far from where I live. I am always very happy to help promote Classical Studies, especially when it’s only a bus ride away, and this was a brilliant event with lots of other schools visiting, as well as members of the public. I met some great students from the school and, as one of my PhD students and another student I know from the OU MA Classical Studies were running stalls, it also gave me some reunion opportunities.

Again, I’d have done this even if I hadn’t planned to retire. But thinking about it, what is great about retirement is that I haven’t had to attach this event or the Wellcome one to a full working day. I’ve been more relaxed, more comfortable, and just had a much better experience.

And then there’s the MOOC. Keeping an eye on the comments for each of the small sections into which it’s divided seems to be taking the equivalent of about half a day per week, but in small bursts of checking the site. We’re currently at nearly 500 comments on the first small section alone! I’m assisted by two ‘mentors’ – a former PhD student and an associate lecturer who also works on the MA Classical Studies – and I’ve also brought in two current PhD students who have made video or audio pieces and who can answer questions on these, but there are lots of comments which only I can answer. It’s been lovely to see how learners on the MOOC are sharing ideas and resources, and discussing the themes of the course, but doing this unpaid does feel very strange (especially as some of the learners feel a strong sense of entitlement, even though this is a free course!). I hope that, now the learners have settled down, I’ll have less to do here.

And the rest of the life of the retired? I’m sleeping more. I’ve read a novel and seen 4 films. I’m continuing with my over-50s T’ai Chi. I’m working on getting the garden reorganised and I’ve been doing much more house-cleaning than usual – even the horrors of horizontal blinds. I’ve been more active in terms of political causes. I’ve explored some volunteering opportunities. I’ve played more Scrabble with my mother. I’ve done more of the cooking.

There was a point last week when I had a revelation moment: instead of trying to steal a few hours from the working day to go and buy some new furniture, I am now stealing a few hours from the non-working day to keep up with my academic blogging, or with reading my PhD students’ drafts. It’s an interesting reversal!

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