Do you set an alarm when you don’t have to get up? Sundays used to be the only day for a lie-in. But with no kids to get to Saturday school sports at sparrowfart anymore, why not sleep in on Saturdays too? And what about those weekdays now I’m not working full-time? Should I set the alarm anyway? Or just sleep blissfully on?
Funny thing is, I’ve found I wake up anyway, sometime round the usual alarm-going hour of 7am. It seems we’re such creatures of habit, our brains are wired to wake us up at the same time every day after decades of doing so alarm-assisted.
My neighbour, in his 80s, fetches the newspapers off the drive every morning before I’m awake and drops ours at the gate. He’s usually coming back from his morning walk by nine, even though he doesn’t have a full schedule to get through each day. At least two old friends of mine are at the gym at seven every morning – a whole hour later than they used to go when they were working – because that’s the way they’re used to starting their day, and they say they still feel that much better for it. They certainly look pretty fit and healthy too, as does the retired office worker buddy who is out early pounding the pavements with their equally fit golden retriever. Another semi-retired friend is up and in the garden before breakfast most days, enjoying what she says is the best time of the day – the best time for thinking, for working through any problems, and for enjoying nature at its best in the new light of day.
Several of my SuperGold-Card carrying friends now working part-time find themselves getting up at the same hour every day, work or leisure, because they now have so much to cram into those precious non-working days. And, they admit eventually, because they’d feel guilty lying abed on a weekday when they should be keeping themselves busy.
Is that what a lifetime of the protestant work ethic does to us? Makes us feel guilty for taking it easy?
Science tells us it’s more likely to be our body clock, our circadian rhythms, that stir our brains to wake up around the same time every day in much the same way they’re telling us we’re feeling tired and should go to bed around the same time every night. We should listen to these cues, apparently, because we’ll feel much better for following our body clock. We’ll be much more alert during the day and we’ll sleep better at night. We’ll be getting all the sleep we need, and therefore we won’t need to catch up on sleep at the weekend. Best of all, we won’t feel the need for that stigmatic sign of old age – the need for an afternoon nap. Shoot me if I ever!
However, I can see how easy it could be to lose track of the days. There was a period a few weeks back, when I was, as they say “in-between jobs”. One contract had finished and there was no work on the horizon. The days did kinda blend into each other. And they seemed a lot longer. I’d look at my watch and be astonished at how slowly the time was passing. I’m used to it flying by. So when my fully retired Third Age Buddy claimed one morning it was Saturday when I was pretty sure it was Thursday, I realised the truth in the famous words by Downton Abbey’s Dowager Duchess: “What’s a weekend?” Those whose days are all the same, without having to go to work every morning, without having to get the kids to school or to Saturday sport, are quite understandably not going to be hanging out for the weekend or the TGIF after-work drinks.
Those like me who remain sitting on the retirement fence (i.e. working part-time) might believe we have the best of both worlds – of the joy of workmates, the intrigue of office politics, the thrill of the deadline and the job well done, combined with the leisure of having coffee or lunch with friends, taking the grandson swimming at Tiny Turtles, or simply lying back on the lounger reading a book on a sunny weekday afternoon.
But then, stretched out in the sun, one of two feelings surfaces: boredom or guilt. I’ve read four chapters and it’s still only four o’clock. What else can I do? Or, I should be doing housework, writing something, cooking something, achieving something, no matter how undefined. I write lists. Send emails. Fill up the almost-empty inbox, phone a few people, go onto Facebook. What’s happening in the world out there, the world that’s passing me by?
And then I’m back in the real world, there are meetings to get to, the diary is filling fast, the days are clearly defined. I know, once again, exactly when the weekend is due, and what day it is today. And just to make sure my body clock is on the right track, I set the alarm.
Felicity Price ONZM is an ex-journalist who now writes bestselling books – funny, fast-paced romance-suspense for the over 50s. Read more on www.felicityprice.com.