What happens after work?

Years ago, when I last worked full-time as a copywriter in an advertising agency, what happened after work was simple.

I either went for a drink in a pub with a work-mate or two, or I went home.

In 1989, when I left the agency world to go freelance, the framework of my life changed.

I no longer got on my bike and cycled the five miles from Earls Court to Fleet Street, did a day’s work (and a little drinking) and cycled home.

I started working at home.

Change on every front

The first thing I noticed was that I had nowhere to ride my bike to.

Pedalling up and down the corridor in my flat seemed a pretty fruitless exercise. Given the confines, there was no way I could rack up ten miles a day.

The second thing I noticed was the way my work changed.

Instead of being asked to beaver away on projects for clients brought into the agency by the account handlers, I had to find some work myself.

For a while – and to my surprise – I felt like a man set free.

It was almost liberating to discover I no longer had to do what someone else had elected I should do, but could choose my own projects.

I felt a bit like a man released from prison who could decide what to have for lunch instead of having to eat what was put in front of him.

Of course, I soon discovered there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

Nevertheless, as the years went by, I did find my freelance diet was frequently more nourishing than any dish I’d been expected to sup from at the agency’s table.

Aside from anything else, I started working as a part-time photographer for Chelsea Football Club.

I was even stationed pitch-side when the club won the FA Cup for the first time in 26 years and the English league title for the first time in 50 years.

They weren’t just lunch breaks. They were cigar days.

More recently, as the economic conditions have faltered and the demand for copywriting skills like mine has diminished, I’ve found myself at the fag-end of my working life.

And I’ve discovered it’s a curious place to be.

On the one hand, I believe I still have all the skills I used to have.

On the other, I have to recognise that I may not be quite so adept at deploying them. What used to take a little while now sometimes takes a little while longer.

I think it’s what they call “slowing down”.

As a result, like so many other people my age, I’m having to find new things to do after work; new ways of staying connected with the warp and weft of daily life that will preserve the fabric of my own being as a working man.

This – as many will know – isn’t easy.

An idiotic suggestion

It certainly isn’t as easy as suggested by David Willetts, Britain’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, who recently floated the idea that people over the age of 60 should return to college to re-train for the world of work.

As so many others have said: the man’s an idiot.

First off, he doesn’t seem to have taken into account the cost of college courses in the UK.

They’re not cheap. And especially not cheap if you’re on a fixed income, with no prospect of it increasing.

Second, he seems to think the world of work is a place where there’s an endless supply of interesting jobs for people who – by the time they’ve finished whatever course they might have chosen – will probably be 65 or thereabouts.

He’s like a wide-eyed child who thinks the tuck shop will be forever full of sweets.

In truth, with Britain’s high streets struggling to survive the worst economic downturn in living memory, almost every tuck shop in the land is fearful for its very existence.

The bitter pill is, the jobs don’t exist.

Third, he seems to have based his thinking on what he’s described as getting retrained and upskilled.

If, by this, he’s referring to readying oneself for the world of computers and twenty-first century technologies, he’s possibly even more idiotic than I thought.

How can anyone over the age of 60 – no matter what they may have learned about computers and modern communications platforms – compete with young people who’ve been playing with keyboards and mice since they could crawl towards a screen?

It’s simply not possible.

Another approach needed

Nevertheless, for all his lunacy, Willetts is in tune with a real need.

Many of the older members of our society – and there are more and more of us as the years slip by – do need to feel as if we’re still able to make a contribution.

And some of us, for economic reasons, still have to work. For money.

But re-education is not necessarily the answer.

Perhaps a better solution would be to abandon the notion of retirement; to develop a collective mind-set that pays no heed to age only to ability; that allows anyone to work for as long as they want – whether it be until they’re 45 or until the day they slip off the dish.

With a fresh approach in this new employment utopia, the question of what happens after work need never arise.

Instead, work would be a continuum defined only by desire.

Do you want to work or not?

Of course, many will say that such a society simply encourages the feckless.

Is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn’t it be better if the feckless were allowed to feck their way through life without any guilt?

And what of those who want to work, perhaps throughout their lives?

Surely it would be for the best if they could do that, knowing that the feckless didn’t want their work, their jobs or their livelihoods?

In this fanciful new world there’d be no insecurity, only the certainty that those who enjoy work could have their fill of it and those who prefer to do nothing could revel in the barren emptiness of their alternative.

There would be no question marks over work and – by extension – none over what happens after it.

I guess we’d all just go to the pub for a drink.

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