For ten minutes one morning last week, I had the swimming pool all to myself. There are few things at my stage of life more sublime than swimming through unbroken water. I even had a guardian angel sitting in his high chair to look over me. Perhaps, I thought, I should hire the swimming pool for my exclusive use.
I am not in that league of the 62 billionaires camped out in Davos who own half the world’s wealth. Incredibly I am , according to Oxfam , among the privileged 1% of the richest people in the world. This means I can afford a season ticket at Prudhoe Waterworld and could even hire the entire complex for a day if allowed to do so.
But my morning swim is as much about belonging to the select group of early birds who brave the waters at that time in the morning. The backchat at the end of the lane or under the showers about the cost of dental treatment, the declining health of our parents or the poor performance of the football team are all part of a long running soap opera. In some cases, these are people I have seen with their clothes off for over twenty years.
I was presented with a tee shirt last week by one of the other swimmers inscribed with the words “I swim therefore I am.” So, I take this opportunity, on a week, when this column has been shunted from a Monday to a Tuesday to restate who I am.
In case you are under any illusion, this column is really all about me. Some weeks this underlying theme is more cleverly disguised than on others. As any longstanding reader may recall, I am a man struggling with retirement. Aged 66, I stand on the diving board of what the American social anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, calls Adulthood II. Should I jump in and make a splash?
It is the age of “active wisdom”, according to Bateson in her book ‘Composing a Further Life’ lasting twenty years or so if we are lucky. Full time work is completed and infirmity has not descended like a fog around us. If I make it to the grand old age of ninety, I have a one in three chance of dementia.
It is “a time for perspective and reflection combined with the willingness to consider new ideas and acquire new skills, to speak up about issues that will affect future generations, particularly issues of the environment, and engage in bringing that future to pass” Don’t our cousins have the gift of the gab?
Bateson says that Adulthood II is a gift and offers new choices. In my case, there is an additional gift of a small pile of pills prescribed to maintain my membership. My choices depend partly on the buoyancy of economies on the far side of the world but which somehow pay my pension.
It may take time to assess the possibilities, Bateson warns. I emphasised this point to Jean Burnside, who retires this week after leading St Chads and then the Key Project brilliantly in a voluntary sector career spanning thirty years. Enjoy the sunshine I tell her, but It will take more than a week in Madeira to adjust to the next stage of your life.
“Old men ought to be explorers” T S Eliot believed but few he feared “found new lands”. There is however no harm in looking. I am increasingly convinced that one should sail, if not swim, towards such uncharted territories without looking back.
However this past week Simon Stewart, the man with the impossible job of running the NHS, has said the government should be cutting back on the generous benefits available to the twoers in order to fund their needs later in life. He calls for a new political consensus on how to fund social care to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS in 2018.
Pensioners are pandered to by the politicians because they turn up at the ballot box . The triple lock on pensions means that the extra 2.5% in my pocket every year until 2020 will prevent the Chancellor meeting his deficit reduction target. The extra 2% allowed for local authorities to spend on social care will go nowhere near meeting the needs of those at the end of their lives. Stewart goes up in my estimation for speaking the unspeakable.
I was amused that one of the elderly ring leaders of the Hatton Garden heist travelled to the scene of the crime on his Freedom pass. As a lifelong criminal, this was a man hanging on to Adulthood and that was his downfall.
I will myself brandish my bus pass next week to travel to Hexham for the ever popular Hexham Debates on justice, peace and democracy. The ninth series starts next Saturday at 11am at St March Church with a talk by Professor Chris Kilsby from Newcastle University on why we need to hurry to tackle climate change. The hall will be full of twoers changing the world so get there early if you want a seat.
published in The Journal Tuesday 26th January 2016
photo taken by Jan Hepburn in Sydney Australia