So today I sat in an empty room with white walls across the desk from a man in a grey suit. The only things between those four walls were a desk, a laptop computer with a small flashing light on the side of it, a miniature printer and two men sitting on plastic office chairs, one of which was me.
The man was visiting from one of Denmark's largest banks and he was trying to get me to increase the amount of money I put into the private pension fund I am compelled to have by law. Lying between us on the desk was a piece of paper with my details on. At the top, just under my name, it said Retirement due date: October 2038.
The man began to warm up his sales pitch, saying that these were 'uncertain times' and that I needed to 'secure my future'. There were insurance products he could offer me, as well as golden nest eggs and money trees that needed planting right away. I held up one hand for him to stop.
"Wait a minite," I said, "before you go any further you should know that I'm leaving your country in less than a month and never coming back."
He looked at me, one eyebrow slightly arched. Leaving the country? Why would anyone want to do that?
"So you have a new job then - a new career?"
"Kind of," I said. "It's a bit complicated. I doubt you'd understand."
"Try me," he said.
I told him about the forest. About coppicing and making things, and about growing a forest garden and practicing permaculture and making charcoal. I said my wife would be restoring furniture, upholstering things, sewing clothes and looking after needy old people.
"I'll also be a doing a bit of writing," I added, superfluously.
My words hung in the air like a stale smell at a vicar's tea party. It didn't sound like much of a business plan in that white office with only a desk in it.
But he had heard of charcoal. "So you will be doing a lot of barbequing?"
"Maybe," I said. "Mostly squirrels and fish, I imagine." It was supposed to be a joke, but it died the moment it left my lips. The man in the suit didn't know it was supposed to be a joke.
It wasn't really a joke.
There was quite a pause. "But you will still need to contribute to your pension for when you retire."
"I'm retiring now," I said. "This is my retirement."
Did that sound pompous? Maybe a bit arrogant? If so, I didn't mean it to.
"What, did you win the lottery or something?" he asked. His expression looked somewhat eager, like he was onto something.
"Nope." I said
I tried to explain further but he had a wait till I tell this to the other guys smirk on his face so I didn't press on. He asked how I would pay the bills, the mortgage, put the kids through university, pay off the car and all the other things that are deemed necessary for a modern fulfilling life.
I told him I wanted to reduce my expenditures first and that the kids would be okay and he shouldn't worry about them not going to university. "They'll survive," I said.
Not convinced, he went on to explain that his company's pension plan was expected to grow at a rate of around 4.7% per year into perpetuity - or at least until 2050, which was where his graph went up to.
I had expected this. "I don't think it is going to do as well as you say it will," I ventured, a little weakly for my liking. I had a whole load of words in my arsenal if need be; words like catastrophic deleveraging, financial supply chain contagion, ponzi scheme and equity meltdown - but I was only going to get them out if I was backed into a corner.
"It's guaranteed to grow," he said. "Here, read this," he said, pushing forward a suave brochure with a picture of two young-looking old people walking barefoot along a beach and wearing white clothes and smiling.
"But what would I do if I waited until 2038 to retire?" I asked. "I might die in the meantime. I'm not really into gambling."
"What would you do?" he asked in mock astonishment. "You could do whatever you wanted. Play golf. Go on a cruise. Spend time with your grand kids. Your call."
"But I'm retiring next month," I said. "And I don't like golf. Or cruises."
He cracked his knuckles, sighed and then leaned a bit closer. "What you're saying you want to do isn't retiring," he said, "it's a recipe for having to work hard until you drop dead."
"I know," I said.
"Perhaps," he added "you should consider continuing your pension plan for a few more years until you can be sure that your, er, business plan is working out."
"I don't think so," I said.
He frowned at me. His frown said I am a realist and you are not a realist. I looked at him. I guessed he was about five or six years younger than me, although he was going a bit bald around the edges whereas all I have is a grey streak.
"I know," I said. "But at least I'll be doing something I like."
He leaned back in his chair, sighed and looked at the ceiling.
"Is it possible to just get the cash payout now?" I asked.
He thrummed his fingers. "If you want," he said, resigned to the fact that I was a no-hoper. "It's your right to do so - but you know you have to pay a 60% punishment tax."
"I know," I said. "I looked into it when I was first made to take the policy out."
The printer took at least five minutes to chug out all the forms I had to sign. We both pretended to look at different spots on the white wall as we waited for it.
"What about a mortgage?" he said. "You can't buy a house without a steady income."
"I know," I said. "In the long term I'm planning to build a house in my forest."
"A house in a forest." he repeated distractedly.
"Yes. More of a hobbit hole actually, like in Lord of the Rings. I've already designed it on paper, I reckon it will take less than a year to build."
The financial adviser looked at me soberly. He didn't seem to have heard what I'd said. Perhaps he chose not to hear it. Perhaps he thought I had gone too far. I signed the papers and pushed them across the desk.
"Thank you Mr Heppenstall."
We both stood up and shook hands.
"Good luck," he said, handing me a business card. "Email me if you change your mind and I can get it all reinstated. Talk it over with your wife."
"Thanks," I replied.
Outside the office the next employee was waiting in line to be processed. I went for a walk in the park and looked at the icicles hanging from the trees.