George Hepburn: I am yesterday's man - and I have not hidden the fact that I'm bored

Having reached the age of 64, George Hepburn thought it was time to retire. Now he tells why it's boring him

Chris Trotman/Getty Images The sunrise in St. Petersburg, Florida
The sunrise in St. Petersburg, Florida

It is kind of you to ask how I am coping. Giving up full-time work has been far more traumatic than I anticipated.

I stopped working at Shepherds Dene at the end of last year. I was a duck swimming serenely in a calm pond with feet flapping furiously under the water. It was exhilarating to be so busy but all-consuming.

I set up a consultancy practice advising voluntary organisations and so sidestepped being ‘retired’. In this capacity I dust off my suit from time to time as in days of old but I have still found myself disorientated with a lot of time on my hands.

The structure of my life has crumbled away. I am still the first person out of the house in the morning by virtue of heading off to the swimming pool but then return with the newspapers for a leisurely breakfast watching the world go to work from the front room window.

The week has no routine, save for the post falling through the letterbox mid morning and the email edition of Third Sector Magazine arriving at lunchtime. I have never read so much junk mail or faced an empty inbox which displays a message to tell me “Looks like you’re done.” Too true.

I sympathise with the way Roger Federer was written off at the age of 32 after he lost the Wimbledon final. I am exactly twice his age but know how he must feel.

I realised with a rude awakening only the other day that I was no longer the boss. I have been fortunate to lead a number of different organisations with a moral cause, where I have been a top man cumulatively for the last 37 years.

Some might say I have always been too pig-headed to work for anyone else.

All of a sudden I am only in charge of the laundry basket.

Running a charity and managing staff can be stressful but there are benefits and rewards. Everyone is obliged to laugh at your jokes and most of the time you are giving the orders rather than taking them. Sometimes you can teach the younger staff a trick or two.

Being the boss is not just about the power. It is a constant state of alert that occupies all waking and sometimes sleeping space. At Shepherds Dene, it literally involved being called out in the middle of the night on occasions.

My best ideas came when walking the dog. I was always chewing away at some problem, looking for an angle or dreaming dreams.

That’s what working life at the top of a small pile is all about until the day you collect your cards.

I am now yesterday’s man. The invitations to receptions and nights out have dried up. I always thought that I was invited because I was a witty chap with a charming wife but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s the role, stupid, and I’ve no longer got it.

There are some compensations. When you buy your own ticket, you are not on duty and touting for new business. Like T S Eliot’s ageing hero, J Arthur Prufrock, you can say what you like and can dress with your “trousers rolled”.

I have not hidden the fact that I am bored. Advice on how to spend my time has flooded in. “Join U3A”, suggests Veronica. “Research the family history” says Gordon. “Join the silver surfers on Tynemouth beach” proposes Pauline. All worthy ideas for the day when you don the pale cardigan of old age.

My financial adviser stresses the importance of drawing up a bucket list – things to do before you kick it. I reply that I would like to go to St Petersburg for the weekend and the pension man says it would be in order to do so.

I recall a colleague with an ambition to holiday in every country in the world before he died. I have been lucky to travel the world but apart from visiting friends abroad, I increasingly doubt whether all the hassle of airport departure lounges is worth the pleasure of sitting on a warmer beach. I may not renew my passport.

With all this time on my hands, I look up old friends and distant members of the family. I set off on a walking holiday without having to book annual leave. I discover that the mobile library stops outside my house and have already read most its books.

For the first time in 10 years, I have managed a day at the test match. Since I was last at Headingley, my favourite stand has been demolished. But at least the opposition is still politely applauded. The cry of “Good shot, sir” rings out in a way you would never hear at St James’ Park.

I used to treat myself to the cricket when I had earned a day off. As I sipped my beer in the sunshine a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t really feel I deserved to be there. Enjoyment for its own sake is a new experience.

I seek guidance from the Bible which helpfully falls open at that chapter in Ecclesiastes, made famous by the Byrds, which tells me there is a time for everything and a season for enjoyment.

Before the tempting arms of sloth enfold me, I have the privilege of listening to Bruce Kent speaking at the Hexham Debate. Kent was Secretary of CND in its glory days. He is now 84, exactly 20 years older than me, and as passionate, articulate and committed to his cause as ever. That’s the man to follow.

“Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. We grow old by deserting our ideals,” the American poet Samuel Ullman once said.

Why are we spending £6bn on a new aircraft carrier? I may return to this subject in my next column.


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