Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Party time

A couple of weeks before my “leaving do” with work colleagues, my wife had organised a party to mark my 60th birthday.

This was a fairly extravagant evening.  It included a wine reception, a two-course meal for about 75 people, a beautiful cake, and after-dinner speeches.  It also involved the hiring of a jazz singer whose voice sounded very like old blue eyes, Frank Sinatra. The venue was Belfast Boat Club.

The last time I did anything like this was when I was 21.  On that occasion, my godfather had sent me a special birthday present - £10.  A tidy sum in 1970.  It was enough to rent a ballroom in a salubrious hotel close to the university, one of the few safe places of entertainment in those early days of the “troubles.”

That decision turned out to be a wise investment.  Contrary to my expectations and the impecuniosity of students, I received loads of presents such as Parker pens and bottles of alcohol.  As far as I can recall, it was a memorable occasion, despite the fact that I provided no meal or music.

Thirty-nine years on, this party was an opportunity to road-test my thoughts about being a pensioner and retirement to a largely non-work audience.  And perhaps use a line or two at the subsequent work do.

The italicised words that follow cover the gist of what I think I said.  Some details may have differed.  That’s what happens when you stand up, look your audience in the eyes, and extemporize rehearsed ad libs.  

I began by attempting mimic the then (2009) new President of the USA.

Fellow citizens

This week the world became a better place.
Strangely enough, I’m not referring to the date of my birthday earlier this week, or even to the events in Washington DC a couple of days ago.

It might even seem ironic for me to make such a claim when a new recession bites and my bank makes the biggest loss in UK corporate history.  I do, however, know that they are really looking forward to getting their hands on my pension even though it will not suffice to bail them out.

The reason the world is now better is that at long last January 19 has now been declared a public holiday.
The bad news is that so far only Americans have been able to celebrate my birthday (Martin Luther King Day).   I too have a dream.
Tonight however is a unique once in a lifetime opportunity.
Reaching 60 is not so much a milestone, more of a big deal.
So I am excited – delirious even – that it coincides with my retirement.
The question is – why should one so talented, so energetic, so youthful, so modest (false deleted) retire now.

I remember Woody Allen once describing his brain as his second favourite organ.
Since my two favourite organs seem to be doing just fine, the time has come for me to hang up Her Majesty’s Treasury Green Book.
I may be retiring from work, but I do not intend to retire from anything else.

It’s time to live a little.  Time to delete work from the phrase work-life balance.

I know that there is a lot of sex, drugs and rock’n roll out there waiting to be discovered; there are so many places for me to visit, symphonies to hear, books to read and maybe to write.
It’s time to live in my creative imagination – today I think that is the safest place to be.
Anyway, I am not a retiring sort of person.

I’m retiring from work because I can – before they raise the retirement age and definitely before they scrap pensions altogether.

I am one of the lucky generation.  While I have vague memories of seeing ration books and farthings, we baby boomers missed out on post-war austerity and on national service.
We grew up in the golden era of modern music – and that’s what paid our family’s bills in Omagh.
My parents’ business was record sales, not to mention bicycles, fireworks, TVs and radios, wet batteries, guns and ammunition, guitars – you name it my grandfather & father sold it.

On third level education, our generation received grants as Government regarded education as a good investment, and there were no fees.  Student debt was a thing of the future.
When I last had a party like this, my godfather sent me a £10 note, which was enough for me to rent the grand ballroom of the Wellington Park Hotel.  The occasion being my 21st birthday.

The only thing I envy about students’ lifestyle today is that now they take a gap year.
I realise that it’s time/overdue/obligatory for me to take a nice long one.

As a dress rehearsal for my new role, I have been on holiday for a week or two.  As a result, I am now in a strong position to reveal exclusive first impressions of what retirement is really like.
How I have managed to fit in full-time work into my hectic schedule non-stop since 20 August 1973 escapes me completely.

My typical day - if there is such a thing - (that is when I am not on the sun-baked snowy summits of the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites) begins with a leisurely breakfast with time to read the paper and to check share prices (then throw the paper away), next saunter down to the gym using my free bus pass, later go to a music gig in the Black Box.

If there is anybody here whose parents told them that life’s not a bed of roses, do not believe this.
I remember O-level French and the line from the great poet (Pierre de Ronsard) – «Cueillez des aujourd’hui, les roses de la vie» translated into Latin means carpe diem.
I wake up and smell the roses every morning.

Time for the reality check, however.
Now that I am 60 (not an OAP more a new Age Pensioner), it is time to stop wishing my life away.
No more living for the weekend; no more wishing that the summer holidays would come quicker.

I have to say that being in the present is impossible when you’re a town planner. You are either looking back to learn from the past or looking ahead to make the world a better place for tennis players.
Now for the first time I can try to apply my yoga teacher’s mantra which is to live in the moment, now, in the present.

This year 2009 is full of important anniversaries.
There are so many, that I have selected some that are relevant to this occasion.
It is the 200th anniversary of the births of Mendelssohn and of Charles Darwin; the 150th of the publication of the Origin of the Species;
It is the 80th anniversary of the very first North West 200 (the winner in 1935 being meus pater);
It is the 60th anniversary of Ireland becoming a Republic. 
And by the way, Ireland won the Triple Crown that year, having won the grand slam the year before (1948) – which means that not once in my lifetime have we won the grand slam;
2009 is the 30th anniversary of my Presidency of Omagh Junior Chamber of Commerce;
In addition, it is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
My connection is that along with four friends, we ran the 1990 Berlin Marathon which took place the same weekend as the political reunification of Germany and the race route entered the east for the first time ever.

I also share my birth date (not year) with Paul C├ęzanne, Edgar Allen Poe, Simon Rattle, Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton, Richard Dunwoody and Denis Taylor – there can’t be a single person in this room who is not insanely jealous that these famous people are in such illustrious company.

To conclude, in 20 years time when my grandchildren ask me what did I say at my 60th birthday party, I’ll be able to tell them that

  • I set out a history of the world for the last 200 years;
  • I paid homage to the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King;
  • I outlined a perspicacious analysis of the collapse of supply-side economics and the theory of monetarism;
  • I paid tribute to the my father;
  • I spoke in many tongues; and best of all
  • I can tell them that I spelled out the philosophy for a happy life and peace to make the world a better place.

Because apart from this (if anybody really does bother to ask), I didn’t really say anything other than
  • to thank you for supporting my charity bike ride and
  • to thank my beautiful wife for arranging this great party.


At this stage I presented Marie with a well-earned bunch of 24 red roses.  Happily, our guests showed their warm appreciation for her wonderful hospitality.

The roses do indeed smell sweeter.

©Michael McSorley 2015