Gone are the days of compulsory retirement and for Barry this is a real bonus because he tells us wants to work on until at least his 70th birthday. Is it all down to his Dad, perhaps?
At the end of 1959 my dad had worked for the Michelin for over 20 years but was staring down the barrel of early retirement. He had just celebrated his 56th birthday.
As a young man, well, a 13 year old boy, he went to work in the pits – working his way to Hanley’s No. 1 deep pit which was also known as Big Pit. Living in Bath Street Hanley, he was just a short walk away from the ‘Pit Head. Later, when living in Hulton Street, Far Green, he was virtually on its doorstep.
By the time he was 20 my dad was diagnosed as having pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs. Whether or not being a collier had anything to do with his illness there was no doubting that the two together would have a short, medium and long term effect on his health. Add cigarettes and, later in life, the continuous smoking of a pipe, it’s a wonder he celebrated his 56th birthday at all.
By December 1959 my dad’s health could no longer sustain the northern mid winters with each year being more desperate than before. By January 1960 he had suffered a longer than usual period off work due to chest and other infections. It was early January when mum informed him that they would be taking the short journey down Werrington Road to visit Drs McGee & McGarrity. He was simply too weak to argue.
Whatever was said in those doctors’ rooms on that cold winter’s day must have been the darkest of all personal and marital storms experienced by my parents. For a brief moment their world was spinning out of control. My dad was clearly shaken by it all. But my mum, Smallthorne born and bred, began to fire off questions to the doctor. It was quickly revealed that whilst the medical prognosis for staying in the British climate was one of my dad being dead within five years, there was every chance that by moving to a dry climate he could add twenty plus years to his life. And whilst the doctor was asking whether or not our family had relatives in South Africa, my mum was already finding solutions.
My sister and yours truly duly arrived home from work on that same January day and without ceremony mum announced that we were going to Australia. Our eldest brother was already living in Mount Magnet in Western Australia – having migrated to Oz in 1950. And for the first time that I can remember there was no debate. Mum calmly explained the reasons why. Dad just nodded his agreement. This was much more than a brave, courageous or bold decision because my mum was 58 years old at the time, dad was 56. My sister was nearly 20, and yours truly just 18 years.
Arrangements were made with such rapidity that by April 1960 we were in Western Australia.
After several short term jobs followed by a stint hospitalised in a chest hospital my dad won the Caretaker’s job at the nearby, newly built senior high school. However, because we had just moved into our new home, he asked if it would be okay if we did not occupy the Caretaker’s residence. There being no issue he duly started work for the Education Department in 1963 at the tender age of 60. The caretaker’s residence was converted into small classrooms.
For the next 5 years my dad’s health stabilised and, thankfully, the number of work days lost dropped dramatically. Now he was 65. But the anticipated notification that he should now retire did not arrive in the mail. Nor were there any prompts from the Head Master – now a very good friend of our family – to say it was time to take down his shingle and wave a fond adieu. So my dad just kept going to work, and the pay cheques kept coming in.
The years came and went and still there was no demand to retire: 65 became 66; 66 gave way to 67; 67 to 68; and so on until my dad’s 71st year.
What happened next finally called in my dad’s shingle.
The Education Department was transferring its records onto a computerised database and this required filling in missing information of all employees. Mr Spencer, the school’s Head Master, came by our house for an after school ‘cup of tea’ with dad during which time asked if dad wouldn’t mind filling in a couple of details for the staff records.
It was late spring in the land of the Kangaroo and we were sitting out back as the sun was setting on yet another perfect day. As they were finishing off their ‘cup of tea’, and time for Mr Spencer to make his way home, he took out a small card from his jacket pocket so as to fill in where indicated. Dad, in his inimical potteries style said ‘Orayte, what dost want teh know?’
‘Well’ said Mr Spencer, pausing and looking a tad embarrassed ‘Our records need updating with your date and place of birth’. In his usual laid back style dad answered that he was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent on November 22, 1903.
There was a long and somewhat eerily silence with Mr Spencer still looking down at the card he had just written on. My dad’s facial expression remained the same as he puffed gently on his favourite briar pipe.
Eventually the silence was broken when dad was asked to repeat his date of birth only to be followed by yet another, but shorter interlude. Then, in a faltering voice Mr Spencer indicated my dad had passed the compulsory retirement age by six years and queried why this hadn’t been mentioned before.
Dad, after giving his pipe a gentle tap to remove its burnt contents, was now refilling it with a fresh batch of tobacco. Momentarily looking up, and giving a cheeky wink and smile, he said to his boss and friend “Because I’m too young to retire”.
Events had now overtaken my dad and within weeks his employer, somewhat embarrassed by it all, gave him a huge send-off.
My dad died aged 77.
Compulsory retirement no longer exists for women 60 years and men 65 years. Today I’m celebrating my 65th birthday, and should anyone ask why I still want to carry on working I shall give them a cheeky wink and smile and say to them “Because I’m too young to retire”
See you later…
January 9, 2006