Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Friendly Club

Usually I don't go much to places where I have to pay for admission. The minimum sting exceeds £5 for an adult nowadays, and might easily be around £10, even for a museum or a country house.

You can't visit many such places on holiday without noticing the drain on your slender resources! For instance, two days back I went to Westonbirt Arboretum, and paid £8 to get in. Yesterday it was the American Museum at Claverton, near Bath, and I had to pay £7. And there's all the rest. I will usually visit the café and have a cup of tea with something to go with it, and occasionally I will buy a book or a card at the shop. Today it's Dyrham Park, but that's a National Trust property and being a member I can get in for nothing. In two days time I'm off to Oxford, and it'll be the Ashmolean Museum, but that's actually free. Mind you, it'll be an expensive nightmare parking Fiona, and I'd better resign myself to not having afternoon tea at the nearby Randolph Hotel. Or a drink in their Morse Bar, even though I'd quite like to see that. Anyway, the point I'm making is that almost nothing you might do on holiday is without some cost, unless it's stopping by the road to see a view - assuming you can find somewhere to stop, and they don't charge for parking! You've definitely got to be careful with your pennies on each and every occasion.

So finally qualifying for a senior citizen concession at many of these visitor attractions is a useful little saver. Even if it's only a pound off the full charge, that's a pound towards the tea and cake later on.

Actually, it's still a novelty, asking for an age concession. I'm not yet used to it, and I feel I'm chancing my arm, getting away with something that I really shouldn't. As if I might be challenged, the whistle blown, the police called, the arrest, the cell, the humiliating appearance before the judge before the sentence is passed, and then, with my reputation destroyed forever, spending the next ten years behind bars, with only one option on release: to sell my story of shame to a tabloid. The ultimate degradation.

But there's an alternative challenge that crosses my mind. It goes like this:

'One concession, please' 'You mean an old age concession, madam?' 'Why, yes.' 'Please forgive me, but you don't look old you have anything to prove your age? I'm really sorry to ask, but...' 'No problem. Will my passport do? I've got it here.' 'Ah, thank you, madam. If I may say so, you don't look nearly old enough to be sixty.' 'Thank you! But it's just luck, you know. Good genes, I think.'

Enough to make you cringe, narcissistic dialogue like that! And - mark this - it doesn't happen! Both at Westonbirt Arboretum and the American Museum my claim to concessionary admission was accepted without a blink of the eye. So no prison cell. But no recognition of wearing extraordinarily well either. So, crestfallen and chastened, but no doubt wiser and more realistic, I have to accept that my youth has gone, and I'm now just another bent old crone, a hag, a sagging-faced old biddy, ravaged by time and many cares, a leathery worn-out husk. Not a yummy mummy any longer, but a mummy in the sarcophagus.

But then there's a silver lining. A bright, shining one. I have automatically joined the vast Club of Older Women who Go To Places! At Westonbirt, for example, I was having lunch at an outside table - the autumn colours had brought people there in droves, and there were no free tables inside the restaurant. There were still two or three empty tables in the courtyard, but my table was under a roof overhang, and so slightly sheltered, the pick of what was left. I was lucky to get it, especially as I'd 'reserved' it simply by plonking a cup of coffee there while I queued for a burger. But British people respect such indications. It was however a table for four, and as there was only me, I felt slightly guilty about hogging it.

Then a lady approached, and asked me whether she could sit with me till her friend (who was with a photography group) joined her. Of course! So I had the pleasure of her company for the next twenty minutes until her camera-toting friend found her. We chatted a lot. It was, as usual, so very easy. Mind you, my burger was so massive there was no elegant way to eat it, and I could only nibble around the edges, with apologies for any unladylike behaviour (I never in fact finished it). When she arrived, the friend and I soon fell into a conversation about cameras and autumn shades. Then I left them to explore the Arboretum. It wasn't the end of meeting members of the Club. On the way in, I'd met a lady who was struggling to find where she was on the map of the place. Two hours later, we encountered each other again. She was still hunting for her sequoias. I said I was delighted we had met a second time. She clearly felt the same way. I said it 'completed the circle' so to speak. Just a few words more, and we went out of each other's lives forever; but the nice feeling of being recognised stayed with me.

So I may look like a Hallowe'en witch, but obviously there is something about being one that draws people together. My goodness, the rain has stopped, it's brightened up, and I'd better make the bed, get washed, and get out. On my broomstick. (Only kidding, Fiona!)


  1. Sadly I can't offer free parking round the corner from the Ashmolean - at least not in the day time on week days - but would lunch in the employee restaurant at a well-known Oxford institution suffice?

    Standard advice for Oxford visitors is always to park-and-ride it.

    1. Jenny, I gratefully accept. Let's finalise arrangements by email - mine's Your call.

      And yes, park and ride. Well, maybe.


  2. Go for it, Jenny gets subsidised gourmet food right in central Oxford...

  3. I smiled at your thoughts regarding the watching of pennies, the costs of admittance and how it affects the spending power at the local cáfe or dining rooms. I sometimes get through twice the amounts down at the pub! Each to their own of course.

    Shirley Anne x

  4. A touch of the PG Wodehouse in there....? ;-)


  5. Hmm age concessions? I wonder how many of them still set the bar for women at age 60? I achieve that a year come January but I already know my state retirement pension went from 60 to 63 and is now 65. An organisation I administer ( gives the age concessionary membership rate to those of an age to qualify for a state retirement pension and who have relinqiushed their professional work. Intrigued to learn other organisations still give concessions to young women of 60.

  6. i have found out that you will not get chalanged for age when you are around ten years older than the person who would do the chalanging, whilst in Puerto Rick i would ask at each place how old do you have to be to get the age discount and in some it was 55 and in others it was 60 and i must look older than i am as i could always get the discount from being 55 onwards and never asked to prove it which is not so good when only 55 and had to be 60 but never mind if it gets me a discount then i don't care if they think i was 60 when i was only 55.


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