John Tapper’s retirement plan

cattle2My great grandfather John Tapper was a farmer who leased 90 acres of land in North Dorset near Shaftesbury. In 1919, being of an age, he decided to retire from farming and put up the 42 head of horn stock for auction.

The Auction catalogue tells us “Mr Tapper’s cows are a very nice lot, all young, of good size and colour and good milkers. They have mostly been bred on the farm and are nice dairy Shorthorns with just a few very good first-cross Herefords”.

The Catalogue opens to reveal details of the cows.


It is good to know that John Tapper was on first name with his cows (the heifers were un-named suggesting they were rather less close to the family (for obvious reasons).

John Tapper’s retirement plan would probably be criticised today. He had hardly diversified his assets (some would argue he had milked them dry). His plans had depended on keeping these cows healthy and though he had two horsed and the feed of the farm, there doesn’t seem to have been a plan B. I dread to think what the VAR calculations would have looked like.

There are long-tail risks and risks with long-tails. There was alos a 50 gallon cheese-tub a butter barrel, cheese vats, cream tins and  importantly – two cider barrels.

When I was a kid, I loved going to these sales. I went to the farriers in Victoria St Shaftesbury when it closed and saw the farmers picking up instruments that couldn’t have changed much the past two hundred years. This physical severance from the tools of work, through a public auction marked closure on the farrier’s working life just as the sale of Teddy Bovril and Punch did for John Tapper.


The idea of stopping work as John did was usual in those days. People retired and others took on the work.

So I was surprised to read Toby Strauss, CEO of Scottish Widows state in the Scotsman that over the past thirty years..

“There has been a golden era when people have been able to work and then retire. It is a one-off that is now unafford­able. We will go back to a world where people work part-time and, in that sense, it will be more like it was 100 years ago”

I think Toby Strauss has got his facts wrong, 100 years ago, people retired and a couple of years later they died- the rest of this blog gives examples of people who have retired recently who won’t stop working!


I call my first witness, I had my hair cut yesterday by a gent who told me that at 73 he had opened a new salon as a retirement hobby. He was so chipper that he looked good for a new career. He fleefully reminded me you could not get a digital haircut and that his was a business that would never fo on line

No sooner had I had my hair cut than I nipped down to Fontmell Magna to meet John Gadd, an 83 year diarist whose collected diaries now weigh over half a tonne. He showed me some of his work and delighted himself in how boring his diary was. I had to agree with him. John Gadd was a pig consultant in his day and knew more about Porcine matters than most. More evidence of off-line activities to challenge the blogger in me.

And then there’s my Dad, who is now 82 and two years into his retirement (he packed it in when he was told he had to record his work on a computer (perish the thought). For all the web-based quackery, my Dad’s style of medecine, based on seeing the patient, is still going strong.

All this tells me that we have moved a long way from the means of production. My means of production is a Dell Latitude computer and this blog weighs nothing. I am 10 years younger than John Tapper in 1919 but have no cattle nor the medical skills of my father, I can’t even cut hair.

My retirement plan consists of units in passive funds managed by algorithms dreamt up by mathematicians I have never met. There is no connection between these units and anything tangible.

It seems to me, reading those diaries, studying John Tapper’s Bill of Sale and talking to Dorset men like my father, the pigman and the barber that I am missing something! Perhaps my problem with retirement is that I don’t know what work is!


This blog is dedicated to Marek Stech’s right hand which was broken in two places in the 6th minute of Yeovil’s game against Birmingham after it colllided with the back of Byron Webster’s head.

May the hand heal by Christmas. (or Byron’s going to get you).

This blog first appeared at

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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