Issue 45: 2016 03 17: Retirement Now (Lynda Goetz)

17 March 2016

Retirement Now

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.

P1110408Miles 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.

*Issue 08.10.2015

 

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Issue 34:2015 12 24:interview Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewlay

24 December 2015

Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley speaks to the Shaw Sheet

John Watson discusses the development of Europe’s Islamic Communities with  Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley, Rector of the Muslim Faculty for Advanced Studies

shaykh bewleyWhen it comes to understanding the sensitivities of the relationship between the British Muslim community and the host population, Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley is in a privileged position.  Brought up in the Church of England and educated at Christ’s Hospital, he lived the ordinary life of an Englishman until, after an extensive spiritual search, he converted to Islam in 1968.  He was then 22 years old.  His religion has taken him on something of an odyssey, first studying in Morocco and then teaching in Nigeria, the US, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Spain, the Caribbean and South Africa as well as in the UK where he is now Rector of The Muslim Faculty for Advanced Studies.   He has just moved from Norwich, a city known for its British born converts, to Bradford in Yorkshire where a flourishing Muslim community is served by 140 well-frequented mosques.  It was up the M1 to Bradford then that I drove early on a Monday morning to interview him in a substantial Victorian house with a good view over the city.

Before discussing the issues facing Muslims in Britain, I asked Shaykh Abdalhaqq a more general question about the Islamic approach to mixing with unbelievers.  Was it true that a Muslim had a duty to struggle against them?  To answer this, it was necessary to start with something more basic: the fundamental focus of Islam on the worship of God.  The Shaykh explained that everything in Islam was designed to promote this.  For example, Muslims had adopted a simple way of life as bringing them closer to God: essentially the reason which drove early Quakers to adopt a simple style of dress.  There was an important difference though.  Unlike Christianity, where the injunction to “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” sanctions a separation between the spiritual and secular, Islam permeates everything which its followers do, from their prayers and studies to their business activities.  Indeed it was probably the integrity of Muslim traders which enabled the faith to spread during the Middle Ages.

Mohammed, of course, was, among many other things, a warrior and there are verses in the Koran exhorting his followers to attack the enemies of Islam.  These had to be read in context, however.  In Mohammed’s day, Medina was been under constant attack and had to take an aggressive military line for its own preservation.  It did not follow that there was still an ongoing campaign against the infidel and indeed, even in the days of the Prophet, there was considerable coexistence with those of other faiths.

Although, as part of its promotion of the worship of God, Islam has always welcomed converts, it has never had a missionary movement as such and, indeed, the exact way it reached places as far flung as Nigeria and Indonesia is still something of a mystery.  Also, there is no tradition of structured spiritual (as opposed to political) authority, something which make a diversion of views within the community hard to check and limits the extent to which one part of the community can influence another.

Shaykh Abdalhaqq pointed out that many of the Muslims in the UK were now third- and even fourth-generation and had pretty much completely lost contact with the countries from which their ancestors had come.  England is now their only home.  However, when looking at the way in which they interact with the native community it was worth reflecting on what the expectations been when their ancestors had been allowed to settle here, or elsewhere in Europe, in the first place.

Countries like the UK and France already knew a great deal about Islam from their imperial experience and, of course, the expectation was that the new arrivals would practice their religion within the laws of the countries which took them in.  At the same time they would, like all immigrant groups, influence the culture they joined and would contribute to it as they were absorbed into the mainstream.  For this to be a success it was important that they should understand the host culture and not be separated from it.  English Muslims should therefore learn about British history and culture and should be given a thorough understanding of the Christian background which underlies it, even as they study and learn about their own faith.  This is important if they are to participate fully in British life and to make progress in the society of which they now form a part.  The cross fertilisation will enrich both cultures, the conservative values of Islamic “futuwwa” or “noble qualities of character” – in many ways similar to traditional English values – helping to combat secularism and materialism.

The news that morning had included an item on the recruitment by Siemens of Syrian refugees as apprentices and the value which their work ethic was expected to contribute to the company.  In Shaykh Abdalhaqq’s view the contribution which the Muslims could make to wider society went a long way beyond economics, as had the contribution of earlier immigrants, such as the Huguenots and the Jews.

Although there was now a considerable movement of upwardly mobile Muslim families to better neighbourhoods, perhaps reminiscent of the spreading out of the Jewish community from the East End of London, the integration of the Muslim community was likely to take longer both because there were more of them and also because there was, in most cases, a greater difference in appearance.  Still, in the end the process was essentially the same.

Moving to the more contentious aspects of integration, I asked what the Shaykh thought drove young people to go and fight for Isil and against the country which they called their home.  In most cases he thought that those who went to fight or became radicalised did so because something had gone wrong with their lives.  Perhaps they had drifted into drugs and petty crime and Isil presented them with the opportunity of continuing to indulge their proclivities while giving them a kind of religious sanction for doing so.  Perhaps they felt unloved and unwanted; maybe there was an unhappy marriage or fractured family relationships.  Perhaps they felt frustration at not being able to get jobs or about the living conditions and problems encountered by Muslim communities in Europe – most notoriously in the French banlieues.  In most cases, then, the root of the problem was here at home although it was fair to add that the early success of Isil had added a glamour which might in some cases be attractive.

The Shaykh was sceptical, however, at the suggestion that some of them had simply gone out to fight for Isil out of religious conviction.  He pointed out that although Isil claims to be Islamic, that was not really the case, since its members are considered by many to fall under the category of being “kharijites”, and respected Islamic scholars had been universal in their condemnation of it.  In fact none of the leaders of such terrorist groups seemed to be truly knowledgeable about the religion and their treatment of innocent people was every bit as abhorrent to Islam as it was to western values.  Actually the savagery of the movement probably contained the seeds of its own destruction since its claims that those whose views in any way differed from its own could not be Muslims would inevitably lead to more and more schisms and infighting and, if it were to be left to itself, would undoubtedly lead to its self-destruction.

The Shaykh exudes an optimism about the contribution Britain’s Muslim communities could make to our culture and also about the desire of most Muslims to make it.  It is a privilege to talk to him and also a relief to listen to someone who looks beyond the present problems and sees an endgame which will enrich everyone.

 

Issue 30:2015 11 26:Interview Kevin Hurley

26 November 2015

Kevin Hurley speaks to the Shaw Sheet

Kevin Serious

Kevin Hurley

John Watson talks to Kevin Hurley TD, Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey about challenges facing the police.

Kevin Hurley has policing in his blood. Coming from a family which has produced three generations of police officers, no one can have been surprised when, despite his degree in Civil Engineering, he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1979. He rose to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent and retired in 2011 as Borough Commander for Hammersmith and Fulham.

Quite apart from his broad career in civilian policing – he was from 2001 to 2005 the Head of the Counter Terrorism and Public Order Department of the City Police – he also gained experience of a different sort when, as a major in the Royal Military Police, Territorial Army, he served as CBRN adviser to the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. With such a strong policing background he was an obvious choice to be one of the new Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012 and the voters of Surrey thought so as well, electing him as PCC for Surrey.

A Police and Crime Commissioner is a political officer whose principal function is to secure the maintenance of an effective police force in the area and to hold the Chief Constable to account. Responsibilities also include the production of the Police and Crime Plan, which sets the objectives for the local police force to pursue. Out of the forty-one PCCs in England and Wales, only seven have a background in policing and five of those are independents. Kevin Hurley is one of them and he regards being an independent as an important adjunct to his experience. It means that his views are seen as being free of political bias; also that everyone, regardless of their politics, feels able to speak to him.

Surrey, as a policing authority, has advantages. Because it is such a wealthy area, an unusually high proportion of police funding (54%, the figure in neighbouring Sussex is 35%) comes from local taxation rather than government grant. That means that, when grant is reduced, it is less vulnerable than those areas which are more heavily grant dependant. Still, the reduction in police funding is a major worry and Hurley is particularly concerned about the effect on the capacity and the capability of the Surrey force. There are a number of issues which build on each other. The first is that Surrey will lose about 10% of its personnel and that will inevitably reduce what the force is able to do. Less officers means less visibility but it will also reduce what he describes as “the force’s footprint”, its level of contact with the community. That in turn limits its ability to gather intelligence and to prevent crime.
But it isn’t just the reduction of numbers which worries Kevin Hurley. Cuts undermine the quality of the force as well as its size. The package offered to policemen has reduced in value since 2010. Wage rises have been kept to one percent a year and mandatory contributions to the pension fund have hit the policeman’s pocket. Without retirement at thirty years service, the career has become less attractive and the result is that it has become harder to attract the best recruits. Worse still he sees good experienced officers leaving the force.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Training too has been cut back and a Detective Constable now gets four weeks training when he would have had ten. The Police Staff College at Bramshill has been closed and the six-month periods of training for newly promoted senior officers is a thing of the past. It worries Hurley that Surrey will have fewer officers, of lower calibre and less well-trained, and all at a time when the demands falling on the police service are growing.

Some of this growth is an indication of success. Hurley points to the increase in reported sex offences as showing how confidence in the force has improved. Now people believe that if they report such offences they will be properly investigated. Still it places further demands on Surrey police, as does cybercrime and the need to round up migrants who escape into Surrey. As he points out, if ten men escape it takes many times that number of officers to catch them. The terrorist threat following Paris is likely to involve more offices in firearms training and there are always the many functions the police carry out as the “helper of last resort” – some with little real link to enforcing the law.

How then can more resources be made available? Hurley points to the duplication of having forty-three separate police authorities, all with their own administration. What is the point? In his experience nobody cares what badges the officers attending an incident wear. They just want them to deal with it. He points out that McDonalds produce the same product across the country through a large number of outlets with a single central administration and asks why the police cannot do the same.
The answer, he says, lies in the funding. As long as much of the cost of policing can be met by the rate payer, it falls outside central government funding and is effectively hidden from the government’s financial critics. Local funding means local police. In his view savings worth maybe £2billion are being sacrificed to cosmetics.

Meanwhile, however, he and his Chief Constable, Lynne Owens, do what they can by sharing a number of functions such as dogs and firearms teams with neighbouring Sussex, an innovation which he is hoping to extend further. Quite apart from the reduction of cost, this fits in with Hurley’s general philosophy of working closely with other agencies – such as the local authority – to improve results.
The interview being shortly after the Paris attacks, I asked Kevin Hurley what lessons there might be there for British policing. He replied that what stuck in his mind was the sound of automatic firing as the French Police moved into the Bataclan Theatre to take on the killers. The old ideas of containing terrorists and then negotiating with them are simply no use against this sort of attack. Any soldier would tell you that it is crucial to have sufficient firepower to pin the enemy down and then destroy it. That means a revision in tactics. It also means new weaponry.

Kevin Hurley would love the opportunity to advise the Home Secretary on police policy. Until he gets that role, however, he will continue to press for the changes he believes to be necessary and to work with the Chief Constable of Surrey to deliver the best possible service.

Why does he do it? Well, there’s his interest in the subject of course but there is also something deeper than that; a belief that a properly policed and law-abiding society is essential to the way we live and that you cannot have prosperity without it. That is one of the lessons he took home from Iraq.

Kevin Hurley has always fought for his vision of policing, zero tolerant, linked up, community-related, practical. As PCC for Surrey he continues to do so. Will he stand again in 2016? I think he will.

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Issue23:2015 10 08: Retirement now

08 October 2015

Retirement Now

by Lynda Goetz

In this occasional series, Lynda Goetz talks to people from different backgrounds about what retirement means to them.  This week she talked to retired investment banker, Kevin Rodgers.

 

As I arrived in front of a classic blue door in a classic Islington row of elegant white terraced houses, the sound of a vacuum cleaner on the other side led me to expect that a cleaning lady would open it.  Instead, following a few moments silence after my knock, I was kevin 1welcomed in out of the torrential rain by a serious looking silver-haired man with heavy black-rimmed glasses.  There was no vacuum cleaner in sight. I discovered later that the breadth of Mr Rodgers’ musical taste extended to music which to the uninitiated just sounded like the droning of a household cleaning appliance.  “Kevin Rodgers?” I enquired hopefully, wondering if perhaps, against all expectations, this was the home help.
“Yes”, he replied “wasn’t the bell working?”  I had to confess that the knocker had been the obvious choice and that I hadn’t noticed the bell.  I felt a slight concern that my lack of observation might be counted against me.
Settled in a high-ceilinged room overlooking a very green garden, distinctly decorated with a mix of old and modern paintings, including one eye catching Bosch-like work over the mantelpiece, I set about finding out why this ambitious, high achiever had decided to retire last year at the age of 52.  Had he felt ‘burnt out’, as we had been led to believe so often happened to such people, or had he simply become disenchanted with the world of high finance?  Neither, it transpired.  Kevin Rodgers had decided to take early retirement because he could.  The ‘Rule of 60’ operated by his bank means that if your age plus the number of years of service adds up to over 60 then you can retire without any loss of benefits.  In that case, I pursued, were there not queues of people lining up to take advantage of the situation?  Apparently not, although it seems that he may possibly have started a trend.  Most of those leaving the banking world, I learnt, did so because they were shown the door – in the nicest possible way of course.  This was quite different.
“I just felt it had all got a bit samey; rather like eating endless steak.  After a while you need something else.  I needed pudding”. So what, exactly, did pudding consist of?
“Well,” explained Kevin, “when you first start in banking, and it was not the first job I did as my first degree was in chemical engineering, the money changes your life – things like being able to buy a house.  After twenty odd years, you don’t need the money, but you do know that time is not something you can get back.  Since retiring, over a year ago now, I have been doing a number of kevin 3different things, including writing a non-fiction book; recording with my old band – I play the drums; working with Southgate opera (www.southgateopera.com) and next week I start a Masters in economic history”.
Well, clearly, this is not a man who lets the grass grow under his feet and his idea of ‘retirement’ may not appeal to everybody. On the other hand, if we are all to live into our nineties, the idea of endless rounds of golf, bowls or whatever may well get somewhat tedious.
I wondered how his wife had reacted to his decision.  He laughed. “My wife, Niki, is a writing agent – business writing.  She runs her own business.  She is also doing a part-time Masters in psychology.  She told me she married me because she liked being with me, so she welcomed the chance to spend more time together.  We actually manage to have lunch at least once a week these days, which is great.”  What about children?  Kevin and Niki  have three boys, aged nearly 20, 16 and 11.  Kevin is pleased to have more time to spend with them.  When he was with the bank he was frequently away on business.  He now relishes the lack of an externally-imposed structure and the randomness of his life.  On most days he picks the 11-year-old up from school.  The boys have already been warned that they are expected to earn their own money, as their parents are planning on a busy and fulfilling retirement.
So far, none of the boys seem keen to go into investment banking.  Indeed the middle one appears to have inherited his father’s talent, not for maths, but for drama, and is keen to pursue a career in acting.  I wondered if any of this had to do with the fact that banking was no longer as lucrative as it once was.  “I think it is less fun than it used to be”, replies Kevin.  “It has become more computerised and more impersonal.  I think it is a terrible idea to go into it just because it is viewed as well-paid.  That is a bonus.  I loved it.  As far as I was concerned it was purpose-built for people like me.  It was a brilliant job.  I wanted to live in London. I  made good friends.  I was very fortunate.”
I was interested to know if he felt the need to ’put something back’ or whether volunteering was not part of Kevin’s plans for retirement.  He hesitated.  For a man so clearly sure of his talents, he seemed unsure what he could offer the charitable world.  He admitted to being ‘energetic and bossy’ but was not sure he had any particular skills to offer.  I suggested his financial skills would surely be welcome in all sorts of fields.  He shrugged this off, but admitted that he always used to do some sort of volunteer work.  He felt however, that for the time being at least, his timetable did not really leave him available for such duties.  With his book out next summer and the Masters to be finalised around the same time, not to mention the recording he was doing with the band and the commitments to the Southgate Opera group, he did not really see that there would be time for much else.
Southgate Opera is a pro/am (professional and amateur) group which does two major performances a year, usually an operetta in the kevin 2winter and a ‘Grand Opera’ in the summer.  Actual rehearsal time is of course only the tip of the iceberg with this sort of commitment.  Sometimes days can be spent memorising speeches and songs, depending, of course, on how major one’s role is.  Music has always been a part of Kevin’s life, but he came to singing late, around ten years before retirement.  In 2004 he started singing lessons and so impressed his teacher, a lady called Zoe, well-known apparently in his area of North London, that she persuaded him to take exams and train seriously.  In 2011, still a high flying member of the banking community, he gained his third degree, (well, technically a diploma, but it does give you letters after your name) a licentiate from Trinity College, London in singing.  (The second, in case you were wondering, was that qualification so beloved of those in the business and financial world, an MBA).  Opera is now firmly entrenched as part of this retiree’s life and he envisages plenty of opportunity to indulge this late-flowering passion.
Kevin Rodgers may have left the world of banking and may technically be retired, but he certainly has plenty to get up for in the mornings.  This man’s natural drive and ambition have not been left behind in the world of work.  He is, as he freely admits, very fortunate to be in a position to indulge his interests and to continue with a number of projects.  Did it matter to him I wondered whether these are paid or not?  By way of response he referred me to and then showed me on his iPad, a clip on Youtube – Harlan Ellison – Pay the Writer.  This is an interesting rant by another man who clearly knows his own worth.
Kevin Rodgers is, I suspect, not really retired, in the sense that most people would understand it; just pursuing a more uncertain path than the one he pursued for twenty-four years in the world of banking.  Is this the world of retirement of the future or merely a path that only the driven and talented few can follow?
Before I left I was unable to resist asking about the ornately framed picture which dominated the room.  I didn’t just learn about the picture.  I learnt just a little more about the man who I had been talking to for the last hour and I discovered another of his interests.  He is definitely one of the lucky ones, but how much do we make our own luck?

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