17 March 2016
In this, the second of her occasional series of interviews on retirement, Lynda Goetz talks to Miles Hapgood on what retirement means to him. Unlike our first interviewee Kevin Rodgers* who was London-based, Miles Hapgood has lived and worked in the South West for most of his career.
Miles Hapgood is 66. He has been retired for 6 years. My first question to him was why had he chosen to take early retirement. His response was decisive and positive. “It was very much a planned retirement,” he explained. “It was an end-of-career choice as well as a relationship choice, discussed with my wife, Sally, who is 7 years younger than me. Although I was asked to continue, I knew I was ready to stop and as far as we were both concerned, it was perfect timing.” He went on to explain that his final job was managing Children’s Services for an NHS Trust. It was a combined role with Social Services and the aim was to integrate social and health care for children. He had earlier been involved in Child Protection. Under the NHS system, a final salary-based pension can be drawn at 60.
One of the things Miles was keen to emphasise throughout our discussion was how lucky he had been. He was very aware that when he first started in public service the deal had been pretty much that salaries were low compared with the private sector, but that one ended up with a good pension. Nowadays, although salaries can still be higher in the private sector, the public sector has to a large extent caught up and it is possible to end up both with a good salary and a final-salary pension rarely available to those in the private sector.
I asked Miles whether the loss of status on retirement bothered him. “I think,” he responded, “that it depends on what drives you. I was never driven by power or status. It was not a feeling of importance which motivated me, although I recognize that for some people the loss of position can be difficult to deal with. I think for me, the biggest loss was of social contact. Work always involved a lot of social interaction and a fair amount of office banter. The loss of all that was something I missed. However,” he went on, “ I was fortunate that my friendship group was strong and that retirement gives more time to nurture friendships. I was also lucky that the village to which we had moved two years before my retirement turned out to be a very social place. New friendships at this stage of life are an unexpected pleasure.”
I was interested to know whether he had moved far and what exactly had prompted the move at that point. “Ah, well, that was very much part of the retirement plan. The village was where my wife had spent part of her childhood and the house we bought was a renovation project – something to keep me occupied when I was no longer working! Like all such things it turned out to be a much bigger project than we had really envisaged. As we do not have large capital savings and our life has always been income-based, the idea was to bring in professional help, but also for me to acquire some of the necessary skills to deal with some of the work myself.”
“And is this what has happened?” I prompt.
“Well, the house itself is now pretty much finished, as is the garden, complete with chickens and orchard, but there are some derelict outbuildings we still need to deal with. I have acquired some new skills, although of course I’m not as good at all these things as I would like. When renovation was at its height I suppose I was working a 9-hour day compared with the 12-hour days I used to do at work.”
So is this what gets him up in the mornings? It transpires that the habits of a lifetime have not changed much and Miles is still an early riser, getting up between 5 and 6am. His wife, Sally, is still working, although she too will retire shortly. Does he consider that this will change things? He points out that things have already changed a great deal in the six years and that perhaps the next phase might be more of a ‘conventional’ retirement. I ask him what he means.
“Well, in the last six years there has been a lot going on. Occasionally nowadays I do wake up and think ‘What am I going to do today?’ I never had that luxury before. However, although the ‘project’ work has decreased there has been a ‘tsunami’ of grandchildren – from none at the outset, there are now 6 and grandparental duties and demands seem to be increasing. Although I have taken on being secretary of the village Snooker club and I am still very involved with my old sailing club, which is about 50 minutes away, I don’t seem to have had as much time for leisure activities as I imagined. Perhaps, when Sally is also retired we might do more.”
I am curious to know what future plans may consist of and it is clear that there are no shortage of ideas. Being an organized sort of person, Miles has already arranged a walking holiday in Spain as soon as Sally has finished work, to discuss ‘the next phase’ and what they want out of the next five years. Travel is not necessarily high on the agenda, although both Miles and Sally are fond of Turkey and Tunisia. They hope that perhaps when the present problems are resolved they might return for some walking in some of the unspoilt areas. They are also aware that apart from the grandchildren, there is the likelihood of both Miles’s father-in-law and brother-in-law needing to live with them (the annex has already been renovated). Then there is the question of helping their own children. Between them they have five, both having been married before, although they have been together 20 years now.
At this point, Miles returns to the subject of luck. He feels strongly that the young have got it much harder than his generation and that therefor it is their duty to assist the younger members of the family as far as possible. “The salary/house price gap is worse than it was when we were their age and looking to buy. They have got student loan debts, which we never had. They are not going to get such good pensions as early as we have. I feel we need to help them get started and we have already been able to help with deposits for four out of the five.” Future plans include passing any accumulated family wealth down to the next generations as far as possible. He considers this is complicated by the nature of the ‘reconstituted’ family, but is very insistent he wants fair outcomes for all of them. “We don’t want any of them feeling they have been unfairly treated, but this is made a little more tricky because of the different grandparents, their own allegiances and different fortunes. A not uncommon problem these days, of course. We are hoping these issues can be resolved so that there will not be any sense of injustice. We would like them all to continue to get on. An extension of this idea of ensuring financial equality is the wider concept of what we want our legacy to be.”
This thought brings us neatly onto the next question as to whether retirement has put into perspective any aspects of earlier life and whether the next generation might make the same mistakes or take a different stance. Miles Hapgood does not have to ponder this for long. He is clear he has enjoyed life hitherto; his only regret is his ‘chequered marital history’. “We have both been married three times; my three children (two sons and a daughter) are from the first marriage. Sally has a son and a daughter from her second marriage. I think it fair to say that our children have observed us and do not wish to repeat our mistakes. They have been more cautious about commitment to relationships; they all work hard but are not ambitious in the traditional sense and all wish to achieve a sensible work/life balance. On the plus side the behavior of their parents has probably drawn them closer as siblings.”
Miles concludes, “Looking at the generation above us, I think they also had a much harder time than we did. They had the war. It was much harder for ‘ordinary’ people to get ahead. I admire the way my father-in-law has dealt with the loss of his wife, to whom he was married for many, many years and also the physical deterioration and limitations which come with increasing age. He maintains his love of the small pleasures in life. He remains observant and notices things. I think it is important to continue to learn. I am convinced that to get the most from your retirement you need to be clear what you want from it.” With a combination of good luck and organization, Miles Hapgood looks set to achieve this.