Second Chances

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Yes you read the title correctly, it says second chances – plural. I know that a lot of folks never get a second chance – singular. They go through their lives either successfully, poorly, middle-of-the-road-ly, or otherwise and they never get another snatch at the brass ring or another bite of the apple.

I seem to have spent my entire life getting these “back-hand” second chances.

I remember when I turned my back on acting the first time. My first wife did not like me being “in the business” and since I was very young and very much in love, I turned my back on my passion. Years passed, the bloom went off the rose of my first marriage and I got divorced.

I didn’t handle it well. Too young and too broken-up, thoughts of ending it all danced around the periphery of my mind. Not seriously though, thank who-ever: but I was pretty damn miserable for a long time. I moved to England, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and not long after arriving in the UK, I was drafted into an amateur theatre group.

I was back to acting again and I was loving it.

Then my job began to interfere and I had to turn my back on it again. Time moved on. I got married again and just before I got reassigned to The Netherlands (Holland) a mate of mine got me a job as an extra on an American TV movie, The Last Days of Patton. I worked for over 12 hours playing a WWII soldier who goes through a rifle drill with a whole platoon and we then got to meet General Patton (George C Scott).

The giant mansion behind "Patton" head is where we filmed.
The giant mansion behind “Patton’s” head is where we filmed.

It  was a memorable moment. Mr Scott was personable and approachable. He spent his time between takes talking to us Air Force guys who’d learned to do a rifle drill after a couple of hours of training by the film’s technical advisor. I remember thanking the “guy upstairs” for giving me this, a sort of taste of what I’d been missing.

Later when we’d settled in at our new Dutch home, I got to do some radio work and through the AFN guys, I got some film and TV work. Again getting a little taste of what I had turned my back on so many years ago. My daughter was born on the day that I had two auditions for a couple of American television commercials. I decided that my daughter’s entrance into this world was more important and called the casting folks up to express my apologies.

I got a few more little jobs here and there and met some interesting people and almost got a couple of great acting jobs. But fate had another idea and these close grabs at the brass ring, missed.

Later, when we moved back to the UK, I got out of the Air Force (I didn’t retire, I got out via the early out cut-back program) and did some more voice-over work. I even did some extra work. But reality kept creeping in and kicking me in the face. I kept trying to write the whole time I was being diverted from the acting side of my life. That activity was as doomed as the acting. Something always got in the way.

Lack of privacy; lack of ideas; lack of concentration; lack of confidence. All these things interfered with any sort of creative process and more. I finally decided to turn my back on any sort of creativity.

All thoughts of creating something either physically or mentally were killed off and buried.

The proud, the few, the under-appreciated...
The proud, the few, the under-appreciated…

Life went on, I found a good job that allowed me the time to enjoy my family and watch my daughter grow up. The job also came with a great retirement set up. It wasn’t the best job in the world and it was not anything that I’d have chosen for myself as the “last” job I’d ever do.

Then, injured at work and off for just under six months. Right after I start back to work, I have a heart attack. Two surgeries; one an emergency surgery that left me with pretty much permanent damage. The end result of this was my life was saved, barely, and I was ill-health retired from my job.

I won’t lie. I was a little depressed about losing this job that I’d done for just under ten years. I didn’t love it, but I like most of the people I worked with and I’d finally gotten top pay for my job. I felt like the character on films and TV that shrugs and says, “Eh, it’s a living.” But I was panic-stricken.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

I still don’t; but I’ve finally woken up to the fact that, for what ever reason, I’ve been given another second chance.  I’m not sure how many this is now, but it’s a lot. I don’t know if I’ll wind up doing anything creative or not. I do know that I’ll keep blogging, because it is a bit addictive now that I’ve started it, but I kind of feel like the sky’s the limit at the moment.

What is really evident to me is that of all the second chances I’ve been given, this one is perhaps the most important. All the previous ones were sort of career or personal goal oriented.

This one is a second chance at life.

I am going to try not to waste it.

Boldly going to where I've never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk...
Boldly going to where I’ve never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk…

When Retired Doesn’t Mean Retired

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So, I have been “medically” retired. I am now Michael Smith Prison Officer (retired). But I’m not. Not really. My medical retirement pension is on a lower tier which means two things: 1) I’ll get the pension until I shuffle off this mortal coil and 2) It is a damned small amount.

Not enough to live on and the amounts of benefit I am eligible for are very small and not at all certain. I am eligible for a lump sum, but taking that will drop my yearly pension payment by well over 1500 pounds per year. I also have a slight financial problem that is not going to go away and if I take the lump sum, my situation being what it is, said lump sum will disappear into my creditors’ pockets.

Dear me!

I have gone and spoken to the “not-so-helpful” folks at the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (admittedly it was not their fault, it was my circumstances) and found that I seemed to fall into a giant crack where no real benefits actually applied. I cannot get any of my state pension as a “top-up” as I am under even the earliest age where you can retire. I have a feeling that I will get the same response from the American Social Security folks.

I have often used the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” and each time I used that phrase I honestly felt that I was “in” that metaphorical place. It is amazing how naive we can be in our lives. I now truly understand what that phrase really means; I have only now come to realise that my lack of understanding was normal and I am now in that place.

I have always been a flexible chap, not exceedingly so, but flexible nonetheless. I always knew that I could bounce back from almost anything and I could usually turn my hand at anything.

But now?

I am completely utterly lost.

The one problem with my current circumstance is the heart problem. Because of the condition of my aortic tear, my local cardiologist won’t even assess my fitness for cardio rehabilitation. Not until I’ve had my second follow-on appointment with my surgeon in February. So I have no idea what I can or cannot do in the area of work. I do know I cannot do my old job in the prison service because I cannot have any contact with prisoners; hence my medical retirement.

But the heart problem aside, I don’t even have a CV (resume) on file to apply for work. I have not had a CV for ten years. My last “game plan” was to retire from the Prison Service. We all know how that turned out.

I have learned to my consternation that being medically retired is not the same as being retired. In fact, if you look at it from the benefit point of view, I’m not. I don’t know about the disabled side as I cannot really fill in any forms or get a straight answer until I get my medical retirement paperwork and monies finalized. That will not happen for at least six weeks.

Theoretically, I now have six weeks to get things sorted out, but that is not likely to happen, either. I have discovered that you cannot plan for benefits or income support. I also don’t know if I will get my next pay packet as promised so that I can pay for another month’s rent or even eat. I will be able to contact the financial folks who were helping me to sort my finances but since I’ve no longer got a job, will have to cease ( I suspect) their efforts on my behalf.

I now have to “update” my CV (which of course means writing from scratch) and tailor it to meet the latest CV requirements. I have already look to see what jobs I might be qualified for (not a lot) and who might be interested in hiring a 54 year-old ex-prison officer with a dodgy aorta.

I would consider busking (that quaint English custom on standing on street corners and singing or dancing for coins from the general public) but I don’t think my voice is in fine form and the dancing could be dangerous to my heath; not to mention my inherent lack of coordination in relation to dancing. I briefly considered applying to Tesco as a shelf stocker but I’m not sure they’d have me.

My YouTube channel has not even made enough to warrant a payment yet; there is a threshold of 60 pounds that I am miles away from. I have held onto a “deliver pamphlets” job advert where I could, according to the advert, make up to 500 pounds a week. I am not sure how many pamphlets I would have to deliver for that huge sum of money, but I suspect it is way more than I could deliver in my current state of healing.

But I will continue to look on the bright side. Any other alternative point of view is just not going to happen. As one wise man once said, “You’ve got to laugh, ain’t you? Otherwise you’d cry.”

So as another wise man once said, “Laugh? I nearly paid my television license.” I know, it’s something of a “local” saying, but strangely appropriate.

So I’ll leave you with this little fact: Retired doesn’t really mean retired when it is a medical retirement; at least in this country and if you are under the age of 55. I hope this proves to be helpful to someone who may be facing a similar situation. If not, they say that misery loves company and I have lots of room here in the space between a rock and a hard place; so welcome to my little world.

I’ll put some coffee on and get the cards; I’ll deal.

5 card stud anyone?