Five years ago I sold my publishing company and ‘retired’.  I put the last word in inverted commas because I don’t actually hold with retirement; it kills people.  Despite this, people I meet either assume I’m retired or ask me point blank if I am.

For about three years I was hopeless at providing a convincing answer.  I used to mutter about doing some public speaking, writing blogs and being busy with charity work but, in truth, it didn’t really stack up.  Not in the least convincing.

Gradually I came to terms with being retired and started to admit it.  However people rarely leave it at that; they want to know what I used to do.  I have a number of answers depending on my energy level.

The swiftest answer is to say I used to have my own small publishing company.  People then want to know what sort of books I published and I say books for managers on learning and behaviour.  This clearly puzzles people; how could two such obvious things provide the subject matter for a book, let alone books?  I’m then told about hopeless managers they have known – the implication being that my books were obviously inadequate.

A less efficient answer is to say I was an author.  People get excited about this assuming I’ve written blockbusters and know the likes of Jeffrey Archer.  Their disappointment is undisguised when I tell them I wrote management books they would never have heard of.  If I’m in the mood, I might attempt to rescue the situation by admitting that I’m writing a novel about my father-in-law who was shot by the Japanese.  But explaining the gist of the plot takes time and seems futile since I know the book will probably never be finished or, if it is finished, never see the light of day.

The most troublesome answer is to say I was an occupational psychologist.  Eyes light up as people mistakenly conjure up images of Freud, with uninhibited patients spread eagled on couches telling me about their sex lives.  I can hardly bear to tell them the truth; all those management meetings, coaching sessions with autocratic managers determined to prove they were right and I was wrong, living out of a suitcase, flying to exotic countries and only seeing the inside of airports and hotels.  Sometimes I risk an anecdote or two and tell them about 50 Cautionary Tales for Managers – the only paperback I’ve written that might, just might, entertain the man/woman in the street (and the only book of mine that I’ve actually seen a stranger reading on a train).

Sometimes I skip over what I used to do in the past and stick to the here and now. Two admirable diversionary tactics are to admit to playing competitive croquet and painting watercolours.  Croquet doesn’t work too well  because people start talking about hitting the ball into rhododendron bushes and explaining that this isn’t the real game is utterly exhausting and pointless.  Watercolours are a better bet – especially now that I have illustrated a book, That Strange Necessity; Visions of Portmeirion.   Having 54 of my watercolours in a book certainly impresses people, though the effect tends to be short-lived once I admit to being self-taught and never having exhibited.  Recently someone even asked if I had a studio. I said no, just a corner of the kitchen table.

If I’m feeling really lazy, I’m tempted to suggest people Google me.  I doubt if anyone actually does this, but if they did surely they would be impressed.  I’ve just tried in myself and up come 44 million ‘results’ in 0.33 seconds!  (44 million what exactly?  Characters?  Words? Sentences?  I have no idea, but 44 million is a lot of whatever they are!).   Admittedly these include some bee products (‘at low prices’), Peter Honey’s fig from Sicily (‘the skin is a beautiful shiny yellow green when ripe’) and  a lawyer in Cooktown, Australia, and, fascinatingly, a hand crafted rabbit called Silly Peter Honey for sale on eBay for £16.58.

However, the vast majority of the 44 million things on Google are about me and my writings.  I’m amazed to find a new copy of Improve your People Skills on Amazon for sale at £100.39 (published in 2001; where could this copy have been languishing for 14 years?).  What a clot I was to have given numerous copies to a charity shop when we downsized.

Ah well.  Perhaps the answer when people are kind enough to enquire is simply say I’m a contented has-been and refuse to be dragged backwards.  After all, they can Google me if they are really curious.


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