Once it was said that life begins at 40. These days it can be 50 or even 60. Lionel Morris takes a look at the pros and cons of growing old and meets some people who have used it as a golden opportunity to embrace a new life. Once it was said that life begins at 40. These days it can be 50 or even 60. Lionel Morris takes a look at the pros and cons of growing old and meets some people who have used it as a golden opportunity to embrace a new life. It’s no fun growing old, but it’s better than the alternative – not being allowed the chance to do so.
You get forgetful, really forgetful. For example, you don’t just forget whether you’ve taken your tablets – you don’t remember that you have taken them. So you take them a second time, as I did once. And overdose – with the result that I slept right through Sunday. Nobody noticed, or if they did, they didn’t bother to wake me. I can’t think why. It’s a long, slow, gradual process growing old, of course. It started, I think, when I had my hair cut and the barber asked if I was a pensioner. I was in my mid-50s at the time. Unfortunately, I told the truth – and paid full price.
I hoped her eyesight didn’t reflect on the quality of the haircut. Then, a few weeks later, came another blow. I passed a drop-in centre for the “elderly”, with a sign in the window saying the qualifying age was 55. So I was now officially old. Never mind, I had a vacation booked. A cruise, naturally. After all, that’s how old people holidayed. Either that or a coach trip somewhere. Or a week in Bournemouth. But back to our break. We took a train to King’s Cross, changed for Waterloo en route to Southampton. What has the ageing process made you think about life?
What tips would you pass on to a younger generation? My wife and I manhandled our suitcases, God, they were heavy, really heavy, on and off the train and just about coped, until we had to get them up and down the steps at King’s Cross. “Could we give you hand with those? ” enquired two teenage girls, politely. “No you can’t,” I replied indignantly. “Yes, please,” said my wife gratefully. Yes, I was definitely, officially, old, unable, so it would appear, to even carry suitcases.
And so, gradually, the years edged upwards – until I was eligible for my free bus pass. And free prescriptions. And a senior citizen’s railcard. The list was endless. Free eye tests (perhaps that hairdresser could do with one of those), reduced-priced glasses, concessionary-priced meals. Suddenly, growing old was good. Getting there was even better. I could be grumpy (OK, grumpier). It was expected, welcomed almost. People grew suspicious if I was cheerful. So, to help them out, I wasn’t. I didn’t have to hold doors open for people any longer, or give up my seat on a crowded bus. People who paid, stood.
And those with free passes sat down. There were even seats reserved for elderly (and disabled) passengers. Life couldn’t get much better. And with old age came greater wisdom, so I was told. That bit, I must confess, seemed to have passed me by. I acknowledge, for example, that despite their bad press, politicians are honest, decent, sensible, upright professionals, who only have the best interests of the country and of their constituents at heart. I was left baffled, therefore, by them changing the laws to allow all-day drinking and then complaining when people binged on alcohol, risking their lives.
Or how could they send our soldiers, our young people, our future, to fight in Afghanistan, the very country that routed a Russian invasion force so spectacularly around 20 years earlier? Or how could they preside over a system that denies ill people vital drugs because of expense, yet can throw vast sums of money at overpaid bankers without stopping their bonuses? They tell us inflation is falling, yet petrol prices are rising. They say we must all pay the price of the economic recession, that there will be job cuts and tax rises. But surely the people who caused it all should pay the price? Or am I missing the point?
Yes, all this and more has left me baffled. But then, of course, I am not as wise as our politicians, nor would I pretend to be. So I can leave the running of the country in their hands, while I get on with running the remainder of my life. And what a choice there is. They say that 60 is the new 40, therefore perhaps 65 will be the new 30, working on the basis that the older you get, the younger you become. Shall I work on beyond retirement age? The Government wants us to, but do our employers? Do our colleagues? Are they quietly ticking off the days until you, that grumpy old duffer in the corner, bids that final farewell?
Should you do what your kids have done and go backpacking for a year or two? Maybe even take the wife? Then again. . . At the time of writing, I have two years, six months one week and five days to go until I retire. Plenty of time to make up my mind. Or should I just stand for Parliament? Or become a banker instead? Life began at 50 for Chris For years, the people of Bourne had been able to bank on Chris Briggs. And so they should, for Chris was the manager of the local branch of the Midland Bank, now HSBC, in charge of a team of about nine staff.
He had been in the banking industry for 32 years and, at the age of 50, decided to ask for early retirement. “The bank had been incredibly good to me, but I felt the time was right for me to look for something different,” said the married father and grandfather. And so it was that he retired from the bank in August 1997. For about five months, he “pottered around” his home in Spalding, designing and creating a new garden. Then, in January 1998, Chris decided it was time he started looking for another job, with daughter, Helen, at university and son, David, due to start shortly.
After applying for jobs and getting a temporary role in a city centre office, Chris’s fortunes changed. “I bumped into an ex-colleague, who had worked at John Lewis as a Christmas temp. She thought that I would fit in there and suggested that I contacted the personnel department to see if there were any vacancies. “There were three – and I applied for a position as credit interview clerk in the customer accounts department. “After three interviews, I got the job and immediately felt at home. I was extremely happy. ” Then, a couple of years later, he was asked to join a semi-managerial training scheme.
This was followed, about a year later, by secondment to the training department to cover maternity leave. “I had always hankered after a training role when I worked for the bank, so this was a golden opportunity,” said Chris, who is now 62. But there was even better news heading his way. “The colleague I was standing in for wanted to change her hours, so another position was found for her and I was asked to stay on permanently in the training department,” he said. He’s now a learning and development coach dealing with recruitment, induction, health and safety, till training – and other issues. It’s an evolving role,” he explained. And it this role that has made him a well-known face around the store. “It’s brought me into contact with the 500 to 600 partners – as the employees are called – who work here. ” Outside work, his hobbies include gardening, driving, walking and ornithology – the latter two he is able to combine as he and his wife, Gillian, walk along the Norfolk coast, or stay in one of the five hotels around the country which are owned by John Lewis. “I feel very lucky to have ended up where I have. “When I left the bank, I didn’t have any firm thoughts about what I was going to do.
I even applied for a job as a van driver – which I didn’t get,” he said. Couple enjoy cruising through their retirement Margaret and Brian Ogden have taken retirement in their stride. Literally. For among their many interests is ballroom dancing – an activity that they had no time to pursue when they were both busy working. Brian was a quality manager with Perkins and Margaret a district manager for the South Kesteven Citizens Advice Bureau based in Stamford, but also visiting offices in Market Deeping, Bourne and Grantham. I miss the people – there were 12 staff and 60 to 70 volunteers, they were all so dedicated – and I miss the work,” she said. “But there was so much I wanted to do in retirement, and I knew that ill-health could come along suddenly and rob you of your plans. ” So Brian paid for a dancing lesson for Margaret’s birthday – and now they are both hooked, travelling from their Market Deeping home to the dance studio in Fletton once a week. “It’s a great way of keeping fit. There are some dancers there who are much older than us and they are extremely active,” said Margaret (61). We had never done it before, it was a completely new activity for us. ” In addition, tea dances and evening socials are arranged. “We really enjoy attending the different events. ” Going to aquarobic classes was another way of keeping active, said Margaret, who attends classes twice a week at Bannatyne’s Health Club, in Werrington. All the time that Margaret worked, she was too busy to engage in another great passion of hers – cooking. “These days, it’s no longer a chore. I have time to be adventurous, time to plan, to shop, it’s much more enjoyable,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brian (63) spends much of his time playing bass guitar in a six-man band, Blues Mandate – that’s when he’s not fishing with Deeping St James Angling Club. He’s played the bass guitar since he was 18 and in the ’60s and ’70s was a member of a Manchester group called Movement Family. Indeed the couple – they have a married son and daughter – are returning to Manchester when a plaque to the band is unveiled. “That’s something else you can’t do so easily when you’re at work – you have to book days off,” said Margaret.
Together the couple also enjoy visiting art galleries, going on long-haul holidays, and more recently they have been on cruises. “We’ve already got one planned for next year,” said Margaret. In the meantime, Margaret is often on school pick-up duties for her two young grandchildren and also works as a volunteer one morning a week, helping Year 6 children learn to read. “I think it’s very important for youngsters to be able to read by the time they leave school,” she said.