Its been strange celebrating my 65th birthday this week for lots of reasons. I think for people of my generation 65 was a significant ‘coming of age’ point as it was the default retirement age when I was young though no longer legally binding today. Nevertheless, I have become an OAP, an old age pensioner. Senior citizen Senior if you like. On FB this week someone wished me well and called me old timer, tongue in cheek i assume. Well, never did the words ‘old timer’ have such a welcome ring about them. I made it to 65, pretty cool! So excuse me if i wallow today in reaching this age it just feels good. Here’s a collage taking you through my changing shape and size.
I got the usual cards and best wishes from close family and friends but what struck me too is how birthdays are now spread across social media. In some cases whilst it feels good to get best wishes from Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Barnsley FC you do feel it’s just an algorithm and I doubt anyone at BFC or YCCC really gives a damn. But on Facebook and twitter it gives many people a chance to wish you happy birthday and that takes a decision for people to do. It’s just nice to get upwards of 100 best wishes from those you know well and those you know less well. It was good to share the evening birthday meal with my son whose birthday is next week and a 23 year old also having her birthday on 11th May which of course we share with Salvador Dali, Irving Berlin, Holly Vallance, Eric Burton, Phil Silvers and Jeremy Paxton, not that I got a FB message from any of these good souls. Admittedly some are no longer with us but Jeremy must have time on his hands now!
It was never a foregone conclusion that I would reach this distinguished age. This seemed particularly challenging since my diagnosis in 2012 when the medics speculated two years, though I had conjectured whether I would make retirement age since my first bout with cancer in 1982-3. Your sense of immortality is blown away by such illnesses and I have been conscious of my mortality ever since. Not that this is a morbid thought. Far from it, its a logical thought following a life threatening diagnosis. Strangely it pushes you to think about dying and death and having put that into some kind of context, I have found myself focused on life and living. Its as if, having to come to terms with one’s mortality, it is just the stimulation you need to make you focus on your life and the richness of that rather than the barren wastes of the end of life. My Dad had had a heart attack around this age and though he survived that time it was another reminder of how life can slip away too easily. I would recommend a bit of introspection about the ‘final frontier’ to rid yourself of any demons in your head and to make sure you use the time productively and positively. I am trying to do just that.
I know people are living longer now. Europe is getting older. The ratio of Europeans over 65 years to the working population (known as the old-age- dependency ratio) has increased steadily from 21% in 1990 to 26% in 2010. This figure is projected to reach 34% by 2025 and 52% by 2060. But yet we remain surprised when a pop star or other celebrity icon dies at 50, 55 or 60. We assume that life will stretch into the distant future and that our main problem will be finding a way to feed ourselves as government policies against the elderly make long term economic survival a bit like a lottery. But we do not question our very existence and yet many will die before or soon after retirement.
Companies and workplaces seem a long long way away from preparing people for a gradual transition to retirement. Some stages of the working life – access to further education, child care and elderly care responsibilities are improving but i saw no sign of assistance towards understanding retirement in my circumstances and it was a particularly hard change for me. I loved my work and had not really considered retirement until my health kept telling me ever more insistently I could not cope with full-time work. I was supported to make a phased retirement very well but no wider help and I was left under my own steam to determine how i might deal with this time. Consequently I slipped into retirement reluctantly, uncertainly and a little bemused. A year on I am still grappling with this and without a partner I have no one to work it out on a day-to-day basis though friends and family do help a lot.
I think I am getting there now and beginning to organise my life in mostly satisfactory ways. I wish I had more energy to pursue more things or to complete projects but that is something I am also seeking to come to terms with, how my health impacts on my daily plans. But mostly now it’s good and at 65 I feel a growing maturity. I can think of no better words to complete this piece than the aphorism by Stephen Fry who proffers:
“I don’t need you to remind me of my age. I have a bladder to do that for me”
My week in photos.