Being retired is very stressful. No really! It’s been four weeks and I haven’t checked off enough items on my bucket list. For a list-person, that’s very stressful. Everyone told me that I wouldn’t know how I ever had time to go to work, and every single person was correct. But working is real time. Retirement is a different category. Parkinson’s law is alive, well and active in retirement time. At the end of the day, items on my to-do list remain unchecked, and even though I know I can do them next year, I’m beginning to feel the pressure.
But it’s amazing to have time at my disposal and unless we actually have some place to be at a certain time, time is now fluid. The days are a blur. Someone sent me a picture of a retirement clock divided into days of the week instead of hours of the day and said that’s the only alarm clock I will now need. We are so defined by the time of the day. At boarding school in Nairobi, time was told by the ringing of a bell. I’m sure I had a watch, but I doubt I ever looked at it. We were woken at 6:30 a.m. by the matron ringing the bell – a big brass bell with a handle as long as her arm. There were 10 boarding houses and two houses for day girls. Your house defined your allegiance. Fifty girls from second formers (first years – I don’t know why there was no first form) to sixth formers – lower and upper sixth, belonged to a house named after famous women, such as Baden Powell (wife of Robert – I’m glad I wasn’t in that house – reminder of THAT dog!), Beale (Dorothea), Darling (Grace) and Nightingale (Florence). I was in Nightingale. There were two dormitories with 20 beds each; seniors got a cubicle with a curtain on the top floor – don’t worry, you could still hear the bell up there. We stripped our beds to let them air, washed and dressed in school uniform – white shirt with short sleeves that we rolled up higher, grey woolen pleated skirts (in Sub-Saharan Africa), neckties, and white socks. Downstairs we went to put on our outside brown lace-up shoes and filed past the prefect who checked that our shoes were clean, our nails short and not polished and that our hair did not touch our shirt collar. If it did, it had to be pulled into a pony tail – even if that pony tail was a half-inch long. Then we lined up and waited for the next bell. In line, we were not allowed to talk or fidget. I remember asking once why we had to keep so still and the matron said it was to teach us self control. Years later, in a line at a bus stop in London, when we all waited and waited for a No. 9 bus that never came, a man turned to me and said, “You are so still – you haven’t fidgeted once.” Ha – matron was right! When the bell rang, we filed up from our houses over the five-acre field (a grassy area) and into the dining hall. More on the food and descriptions of 600 girls eating a meal in 30 minutes in another post. We returned to our houses to make our beds, which had by this time been nicely aired – with hospital corners. To make a hospital corner, you pull the sheet up at right angles and turn it back down and then tuck it in. Matron would check those hospital corners and if they weren’t done correctly, you would find your bed stripped. I still make the bed with hospital corners. The rest of the day was one bell after another – assembly, start of classes, break, lunch, rest time (where we had to go back to our houses and lie on our beds), afternoon classes, tea, activities, time to bathe and change for supper (yes, we changed into dresses – another post to come), study time, back to the house and then the final bell to go to bed before lights out. One bell after another, and it started over the next day and the next.
I don’t think I actually thought about measured time before we got a microwave in the 1980s. The first microwaves were huge and had a knob you turned for minutes and seconds – not digital like today’s versions. I recall then specifically noticing the passage of a minute or 90 seconds. Now, with all our devices, we measure time more frequently than we realize. Because I have so much time, I spent some of it this week measuring how much time I take to perform my nightly dental ablutions – I know, sad huh? I used to have an electric toothbrush that timed four 30-second segments so you could be sure you brushed upper and lower, inside and out for exactly 30 seconds each. When my toothbrush died, I didn’t bother to replace it, but I now time myself using my iPhone stopwatch. And I use the time to balance on one leg. This isn’t an original idea – I read it in the New York Times. The writer recommended standing on one leg when you brush your teeth to strengthen your balance muscles. But changing from one leg to the other in 30-second increments IS my idea. It’s actually amazing how you improve over time. So, the other night, I decided to keep the stopwatch going because it’s not just brushing that we have to do, according to our hygienists – right? There’s the gum pick thing that you poke between every tooth and wiggle around to get every last bit of whatever stuck between your teeth. And then floss up and down back and forth. Then the Listerine – everyone at the office knew when I had been in the ladies room at lunchtime because I use Listerine every time I brush my teeth. So that gets swilled around for several seconds (I might time that separately one day.) Well, it takes 6 minutes and 40 seconds every single night – I’m not going to add that up to calculate how many years I will have spent on dental ablutions by the time I don’t have the strength to raise my brush any more. But by that time, my balance will be absolutely perfect. Gotta go brush my teeth. And in my pink nightie and one leg raised delicately, I know I look just like a flamingo.