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So this is what they mean by retirement.

For years we have been nagged and nagged. Italy Retirement Pic resized

Aspirational advertisements everywhere we look display pictures of content grey-haired people smiling as they reap the full reward of a working life of conscientious saving. In every publication we read, column kilometres of copy deliver dire warnings for our retired years if we don't do so.

And that's even before the financial services industry gets hold of us. Unless we listen carefully to the retirement industry and act on its sage advice, we will apparently end up huddled over the stub of a candle as the winter winds howl through unrepaired windows, sucking on pebbles to stay hydrated until we can replenish our empty cupboards with enough budget cereal and Pedigree Chum to see us though until the next time our state pension arrives.

That's if we even qualify for one.

Ok, the 'industry' is hardly objective when it comes to commentating about retirement issues since, if it didn't make billions of pounds from its own words, it would not exist in the first place. Deep down, of course, many of us wish we lived in a Utopia where the industry did not, in fact, exist because it was surplus to requirements as the autumn of our lives are fully funded by the taxes we have dutifully paid.

But we don't - and they are right.

I now know this because I am writing this on my tablet in the hallway of a 15th Century Manor House (the only place I can get a mobile signal) which nestles in verdant hills on the border of Umbria and Lazio. Italian spring sunshine lays a bright blanket over the folds of olive trees and manicured Cypresses which stretch beyond the horizon.

It is nearly lunchtime and tendrils of temptation slither from the kitchen and sharpen yet another appetite. Perhaps, after lunch, I shall have a swim and play with the children who run giggling and shrieking through the gardens. Then again perhaps not.

You get the picture, I assume, or do you want some more obnoxious boasting.

The point is that the whole family is here to celebrate the 70th birthday of my mother-in-law and their encroaching Golden wedding anniversary. Their grandchildren run carefree and safe in the sun and we, the mid generation, get fat in the shade. The laughter mingles with birdsong and everyone is having the time of their lives.

That's what a well-planned retirement is, I suspect. It's about choices.

Better get saving, methinks.

By Steve McDowell

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