Swing on a swing; be frivolous; wear purple; run your stick against the railings; learn to spit, but don’t feel old!!
I was half way through a speech in London last week about the need to provide adequate social care for the older generation when it suddenly occurred to me that is a generation that I am about to become part of! Last week I received an e-mail asking for my bank details so that I can receive the state pension. I also received a notice that from 8th January I will no longer pay a National Insurance contribution. Yes folks as from 8th January 2018 I will officially be an OAP.
At this stage members of the Labour Party might be fondly imagining me hanging up my delivery bag, buying some slippers and learning to contentedly smoke a pipe. Sorry folks I am not retiring from active service. Neither do most people my age. We move from one sort of occupation to another. I find myself doing as much work as ever but mostly for free! That’s fine. I have some pension money put away and can afford to live decently but not opulently with Erica. Our wants are few and are supplied; our ambitions are fewer and need no fulfilment.
So I am not going to rage against ‘the dying of the light’. I am not going to define my future life against the inevitability of my death. The average age of death for a man in my ward is 82 so I can hope for some 17 years more of life and I want to use that to the full having had some sensible discussions with Erica. It always amazes me that people do not talk about death more because of either superstition or dread. This can cause huge problems for their family when they go up the chimney at their Crem of choice.
Erica and I have made a will which leaves our meagre possessions firstly to each other and then to our children. We have discussed a ‘living will’ so that each of us knows how far we would want the NHS to prolong our lives. We have discussed what kind of a funeral we want although acknowledging that it will be nothing to do with us!
So having done those things how shall I spend the rest of my life? Well for a start off there’s no bucket list. I will not be jetting off around the world or doing things I have never had the time to do before. I want to carry on doing the same sort of things that I have always done. I was joking recently that I seem to be working as hard as ever but mostly for nothing these days!
I love being a councillor for Church Ward. Every time I get on the bus to town I meet a constituent and we have a natter. It is a tremendous feeling to be part of a community. At a wider level I passionately want to rid Liverpool of Joe Anderson and his cronies. So much damage is being done to our City with catastrophes across the whole of the council and our reputation getting trashed globally because of our failure to enquire properly into the antecedents of property developers and festival promoters.
I love being a trustee of World Merit. This Liverpool based international charity involves young people over the World in doing good things within their own communities using the global power of social media. This re-energises me and I feed off the enthusiasm and bravery of committed young people all over the World.
I do want to spend more time with my grandchildren and, if she’ll put up with me the person that almost everyone in Liverpool thinks of as a Saint, my lovely wife Erica. I have not carved out enough time for them and want to contribute more to their lives.
So in short I want to gradually do less but still in the same areas; I want to spend more time with my family; I won’t be stopping working; but I do want to reduce the amount of responsibility that I cover now. I recognise that I am very lucky to be able to do this. I wonder if I was a refuse collector having to get up at 6a.m. every morning to put load after load into a bin lorry would I be as keen on working on!?
Why am I telling you this? Because I suspect more and more people are coming to the same summary of their lives but society and the institutions that serve society have not caught up with these new ways of thinking. The private sector has but not the public sector. When I was Young Liberal we helped a charity called the Chorley Old Folk’s Treat. This patronising society arranged a ‘treat’ every year for the older citizens of Chorley. A good feed and a party was the way old folk were treated. People went to live in ‘Old Folk’s homes’. It was almost as though we were trying to find agreeable places to ‘park’ those people of retirement age. As long as there were treats and bingo we can forget about them until they shuffle off this mortal coil. More people had to retire and do nothing because life was much more physical then. People also died a lot earlier. We forget that there has been a huge rise in life expectancy over the past 50 years.
Now most 65 year olds do not feel old. We look to continue our work and pursue things of interest to us. Our minds are active and we want to use them in a variety of different ways. Our health is better and we can do more for longer. Our bank balances are largely better and we ‘baby boomers’ can often choose to spend money on things sometimes without even ski-ing (spending the kid’s inheritance!)
A number of people I know have retired so that they can do the degree or doctorate that they had always wanted to but never had the time for. That’s far to cerebral for me!
But society as a whole still sees old age as a problem not as an opportunity. There was a suggestion some years ago from a Tory that retired people should have to do things for the ‘generous’ pensions that they are getting. I thought at the time, “Does this bloke never go into a charity shop?” Charities, trusts and foundations, the National Trust, school governing bodies; amenity groups et al are glued together by the enthusiastic volunteering of the recently and not so recently retired. That’s before you count the work being done by the many people I see on ‘Grandma/Grandpa duty’ pushing their grandchildren around and playing with them while Mum and Dad go out to work or just take a break.
So my impassioned plea is this. When you see us don’t see an OAP. See an 18 year old with a more mature body. Don’t feel sorry for and work out how to help us but make us an offer of something interesting to do to help you or your causes. We helping you means that you are helping us. Then when we do have to reduce the pace help us do it with dignity placing less demands on us but keeping us in the loop.
Now where’s my leaflets? I reckon I can get a couple of hours delivering in before catching the train to Bournemouth for a three day Conference on…..Adult Social Care!