Yesterday, as I read the first instalment of an enchanting new blog by Charlotte Sing (@oncealibrarian), the Pope announced his retirement. This was a piece of serendipity, as the blog-post was also about retiring and what it means. It doesn’t perhaps seem strange that a librarian of thirty-six years’ standing should retire, but it does seem – if not odd, then – worthy of comment that a Pope who has reigned for rather less than eight years should decide to retire, even though he is eighty-five years old. Apparently only four popes (out of a total of 265 since St. Peter became the first) are definitely known to have retired; four others might have done. The last documented papal retirement happened 598 years ago, in 1415 (interestingly, at a time when the concept of retirement was unknown to the common working man or woman). They are therefore very rare events indeed, averaging one every five hundred years or so; so Pope Benedict’s was very slightly overdue.
Why does it seem so odd, though? These days, most people expect to retire at some point. Typical exceptions are monarchs and monarchs-in-waiting – Prince Charles, aged 64, has yet to get started! – and people engaged in some of the professions. As well as clergymen of all creeds, lawyers, judges, academics and doctors often work far beyond the accepted retirement age. And authors, of course. I am conscious that one of the things that has always attracted me to becoming a writer is the fact that (unless my mental faculties decide to go AWOL) I shall not have to retire. P.D. James wrote Death comes to Pemberley in 2011, when she was 91; George Bernard Shaw wrote and saw performed Shakes versus Shav in 1949, when he was 93; and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest author to have a first book published was a British woman, Bertha Wood, who was born on 20th June 1905. Her book, Fresh Air and Fun: The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp was published on her 100th birthday, on 20th June 2005.
Personally, I find this a delightful state of affairs. It means that, although I have spent many years working as a bookseller, academic and researcher, I can, if I play my cards right, expect to spend even more time writing and always have a profession. I don’t begrudge the Pope his retirement, particularly as it is rumoured that he, a published writer, wants to spend more time writing himself. I wish him a new lease of life instead. And the same also to Once a Librarian: Welcome, Charlotte, to this world of bloggery! We writers are a hardy breed… and mischievous, to boot.