Friday, July 19

Looking Over the Hill

The other night, I thought I’d met the Man of my Dreams. I encountered a crisis with my laptop, which suddenly manifested a phenomenon I found was called the Blue Screen of Death. It sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie, and it wouldn’t budge, not over about twenty minutes. The message on the machine said it was meant to stop and restart, but nothing happened. The thing remained frozen.

But I found a local computer techie, and wow! He looked at the laptop, and instead of madly thumping on various keys as I’d done, he restored the machine within a couple of minutes. And he didn’t charge me! Even when I told him I had cash on me.

Had he taken a shine to me?…. Well, no. It was a swift task, and he was nice. He would have wanted repeat business as well – especially from a retiree who came across as computer-illiterate, and who thus might need help again very soon. Not to mention financially challenged (that cash).

There are many questions that could be posed about retirement, some of them serious. Is the current National Super system sustainable? Are we paying for people who don’t need this money, while making it hard for those who have nothing else but who would benefit from a higher rate? What about later generations who might face straitened circumstances because of the largesse being distributed now? And what of the increasing costs in the health system for an aging population? But this piece is instead a brief canter through observations of how people respond to retirement when financial worries are not top priority, and they no longer undertake significant paid work.

That cash, for example. In my case, there’s quite a hoard, and this is because I ran a couple of fundraisers last year, for which people paid with a mixture of cash and internet banking. Supportive people of all ages will bring their cash if alerted in advance – but then, how do you deposit the fundraiser takings, in the current dearth of the physical banks the people of my age grew up with?  What I did was to hold on to the cash itself – after depositing the same amount in the bank via internet banking.

So yes! I am quite competent with internet banking, and so are many in the 65+ generation. But, cash notwithstanding, for those who won’t or can’t use internet (or phone) banking, the loss of cheques as a payment option has been significant. A convenience of our past that has gone for good. I gather too that, because many of our age-group made regular charity donations by cheque and now can’t do that any longer, this is a source of real disappointment to them, and creates a sense of being left behind. Moreover, the revenue of some charitable organisations has taken a tumble – surely an unintended consequence?

Moreover, if there’s no physical entity you can access, you’re likely to spend more time on the phone – and time is what a lot of retirees have. I wrote on Plainsight some months ago about the frustrations of dealing with organisations where the phone staff have no access to hard information about anything that may (or usually may not) happen. Last week the story emerged of 87-year-old Colin Harvey of New Plymouth, who for four years has been trying to get his local council to chop down a tree-branch that hangs over his driveway and stops the ambulances from using it. These are ambulances which Mrs Harvey has required on several occasions. Mr Harvey calls the Council, but he cannot reach anyone who can actually tell him anything relevant, and so nothing happens. Again.

There is therefore the time you put in pressing buttons, 2, 5, 1, 8, etc, and hearing how much the organisation cares about you, and, did you know you can do nearly everything on Our Website? (No, I haven’t yet reached the stage of dementia where I voluntarily wait 45 mins on the phone to accomplish a task that’s achievable in two minutes on the website…) But there’s also a problem that can be self-induced, unfortunately. That is, spending ages on the phone because, well, you don’t really have anything much to do. That’s a real potential pitfall of retirement. I’ve been on the receiving end of the interminable phone call, and it is frustrating and awkward, and boring – but I know I’ve been guilty of it a couple of times, too. Just filling in the hours is not a life.

There are two popular ways of occupying time in retirement which have their benefits, but which I’ve not essayed myself. One of them, most common among women, is to absorb yourself in the lives of your children, and especially your grandchildren. (I don’t have children.) Retired mothers and grandmothers have the chance to see much more of their families, and to assist them in multiple ways. Harried parents juggling childcare and work would appreciate this a great deal. This tendency applies to males as well, but what I observe more in them is a preoccupation with fitness. Spending hours at the gym, or example, or devoting themselves to running. It reflects an understandable concern about health, of course. But in the case of unpartnered men, it is obviously what they consider the essential factor in attracting a new partner: all that pumped up flesh and evidence of endurance is what women are assumed to want. Retirees of reasonable means are also a significant market, so we’re constantly being urged to believe that 60 is the new 40, 70 is the new 50, etc. It’s flattering – or would be were the commercial motives less obvious when flogging exercise equipment, or indeed cruises or upmarket retirement living. My problem at 67, post-orthopaedic surgery, is that I figure that the new 67 is actually the old 67.

The tendency in myself I have to watch, however, is the temptation to become the manic committee woman. Anyone who’s done admin is likely to be identified as ripe to become a committee member, and ideally a group Secretary. Having been in such roles both professionally and voluntarily in the past, I can see that there are a lot of such opportunities when you retire. I’ve been wary so far, but it is very tempting to segue into these fields, when they do draw on your actual skill-set, in a way that becoming a gym aficionado obviously doesn’t in my case. One thing you do learn about voluntary organisations, too, is that there are many members who want things organised for them, rather than by them, even when they’ve a lot of time.

In any case, I’ve found having a variety of activities is important for avoiding the pitfalls of becoming too obsessed with one thing, or boring friends on the phone. Pace some of the grandmothers, it’s good and healthy not to live entirely through other people, but to have independent projects and interests. Retirees I know have published books, or are well on the way to doing so. Meanwhile, voluntary work is rewarding for oneself and others, as long as you don’t make yourself (or consider yourself) the lynchpin of everything.  And who am I to knock fitness? Interacting with a variety of people is also worthwhile. Among other things, I keep up my French, and have recently learned that one group member is (unexpectedly) a fan of the late Efeso Collins, while another believes that Joe Biden is dead and has been played for the last five years by a series of actors.

And they do want your blood. No, that’s not another conspiracy theory. That’s the result of a decision that people who lived in the UK, Eire or France for six months or more between 1980 and 1996 are no longer considered a risk for blood donations because of the presence of ‘mad cow disease’ in those countries over the period. That group will include a lot of us retirees, who can recall our OE, study or career moves of past decades. Even if my computer literacy is limited, it’s just so gratifying no longer to be connected to mad cows….