Sunday, 8 November 2015

One year in the Bingo Club

I have just passed the first anniversary of my State Pension beginning. My entitlement ran from 6th November 2014. I was then sixty-two years and four months old, and I felt very lucky to be getting an extra £6,500 odd a year. Well, actually not quite so much - 20% income tax had to come off. But even so, a vital addition to income.

Instead of merely breaking even each month, I could begin to accumulate some savings, and in the fullness of time create for myself a financial safety net. I had walked a tightrope in that respect ever since finally selling Ouse Cottage in August 2011. Yes, I was free of a bankruptcy-threatening debt (that private loan from M---) but stripped naked so far as ready cash was concerned. It had been three years of spending all my income, down to the last penny, on whatever I did, with never a chance to put something by for emergencies. OK, the 'income' was my super-reliable Civil Service Pension, and not some meagre social security benefit that might get snatched away. And I need not have enjoyed holidays and a social life. But the sense of nagging insecurity, of frank doom, if I mismanaged my money or suffered some unlucky household appliance breakdown, was genuine enough. It was three years of watching every outgoing, conscious that the Bank of Mum and Dad no longer existed. Neither did I have a husband or other close companion to share that precarious existence with, laughing the worries away together. The relief of having an extra £500-odd every four weeks was enormous. The Seventh Cavalry to the rescue, no less.

But there were other psychological effects beyond feeling more secure. They call it the State Pension, but for much of my life this was the Old Age Pension, the thing old dears and old gentlemen (the 'OAPs') queued up for at the Post Office, when sixty-five was the Retirement Age, and life expectancy was shorter. I was joining their ranks. Would that 'Old Age Pension' label change my viewpoint?

I'd say yes, it has. I no longer feel separated from older people, as if an intruder from another world. I'm definitely one of them, even though (so far) I've suffered few of their aches and pains, and can whizz about like a forty year old. Even though their attitudes and prejudices and worries and naïvities and lack of tech-savviness are (as yet) foreign to me. I have joined the Old Age Club - as a New Member, yes, but in time I'll get a comfy chair to doze in, and more recognition - a seat on the Bingo Committee perhaps. Wow, what a challenge. Bring it on, I say. And one day, when I no longer look so good, when I've started to slow up and stumble, the world at large will assume that I am feeble-minded, and can be treated like a child needing gentle care and guidance, not a real human being at all, but an object to be patronised and tidied away, and denied choices. Not such a pleasant thought. I shall have to develop a protective front, and masquerade as someone much younger, simply to avoid constant indignities and humiliations.

But for now there is plenty of time to play at being an OAP. I love visiting museums, galleries and country houses, and asking for an age concession on the price of admission. Every 50p off (sometimes it's as much as £2) is a satisfaction that I savour. They get it back: if I save a couple of quid on admission, then I am that much more inclined to celebrate with tea and cake at their café. It's not about the money; it's about claiming a social reward. For it's a major achievement, not to be undervalued, to arrive in your sixties in good health and lissom enough to get out and about. Instead of sitting at home watching daytime TV, and dying a bit more every day.

Bus passes and railcards for senior folk are similar rewards. They say 'well done, you', but they also murmur 'that's the right spirit' and 'keep active' and 'don't stand still'. Good advice indeed.

All the time, though, I feel different from the average oldie, because of my particular personal circumstances. When you have no aged parents on your hands, no partner or siblings to get concerned about, no children to look out for, no grandchildren to spend time on, no dog to walk, no pets at all, and your social world is populated mostly by friends made only recently, you can't help feeling out of the ordinary, something of a misfit. Thank goodness I've always enjoyed being the odd one out!

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Lucy Melford