AS OLD AS YOU FEEL?

DIANA WHITE

 

 

I had a thoroughly disagreeable experience recently which set me thinking about all sorts of unpleasant things, primarily age related. Since my salad days are fairly distant, getting older is not on my agenda for stimulating discussion. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that at the dawn of another year, it is quite unwelcome. I know I am no longer young, but being reminded of the fact is not the way forward.

 

The unpleasant incident was the unsolicited arrival of a catalogue. Just the front cover was enough to set alarm bells ringing, but when I tore off the plastic wrapper, (more rubbish for land fill!) I discovered the interior was worse than I could possibly have imagined. Clothing and footwear of the most repellent, all designed for those who have long since given up the will to remain in the present tense when it comes to fashion. Now, as my family will testify, I do not do haute couture; my clothes tend to be practical and comfortable but they do reflect current trends. I do not huddle inside floppy, synthetic, floral cardigans of unrecognizable pedigree; neither do I wear knickers reminiscent of something great-granny might have considered sensible, and as for sweetly-pretty- blouses- and sagging skirts, the less said about them the better! What is more, I know no-one within my fairly wide circle of friends and acquaintances who does sport these monstrosities; and since our ages vary from forty to well over eighty, I should like to know for whom these clothes are intended?

 Age is a highly relevant and sensitive issue at the moment and likely to get more so. The government has recently brought in an act designed to prevent age discrimination when it comes to the workplace. No longer will it be legal to terminate employment at the age of sixty-five if the person concerned wishes to continue working, neither can a company refuse to interview older applicants in job applications. This is all very laudable, and it’s nice to think if I want to apply for some high powered role I can’t be rejected because of my age, but what the government has clearly overlooked is the general public’s traditional and anachronistic perception of age and how it reflects on a person’s abilities and personality. As the catalogue senders clearly demonstrate, age matters. Anyone over fifty-five is automatically assumed to be heading straight for the elasticated waistbands and easy fit footwear department. Hardly the kind of applicant any go-getting company would wish to employ.

However, there is another question to be considered. Why should anyone over the age of sixty-five expect to be considered for work when there are millions of youngsters desperate to start a career? Historically, retirement was not merely a financial issue for the government; it was also necessary because young people need opportunities to build up experience; if everyone hung on to their job until complete infirmity struck, what career prospects would youngsters have? A young man I know recently left his employment precisely because his chance of promotion was nil; he would have had to wait years, doing a job he loved but getting nowhere, before the men at the top retired. Dead men’s shoes, as they say.

There is also another aspect to the new law. The more people who take up the option of continuing to work on into their seventies, the more the work ethos will take hold of people. I can foresee a future when retirement will be a dirty word to be seen as shirking your responsibility rather than having earned a well deserved rest. The UK already has the reputation of being more concerned with earning the pennies than having a quality of life. Our school children are apparently much more concerned about future employment than their European counterparts whose view and hopes of life encompass much more than mere money.

 Age gets even more complicated when it comes to insurance policies. The older you are, the cheaper will be your car insurance, particularly if you are female; sadly, the reverse is as true. A cautious and sober minded young man of twenty-three will have to pay more for his insurance, even though he is less dangerous than the myopic male of seventy who still sees himself as a contender for the Le Mans. When it comes to house insurance, being over fifty is a definite plus as, of course, you won’t be holding raves and your home will be properly protected, making cover cheaper. However, you will be heavily penalized if you wish to travel abroad. Once passed sixty-five, only specialized companies will take you on. What you gain on the roundabouts, you lose on the swings.

Age is truly a thorny subject. The older you get the less of a liability you are, but then, being old is a liability in itself. As an example, take sheltered accommodation. No such premises will allow you to have any gas appliances, neither will you be allowed your own washing machine; why? Because, old and foolish as you now are, you might cause an explosion and flood the building! These opposing viewpoints, despite government legislation, won’t be easily reconciled. I can gripe as much as I like but those catalogues will still keep coming even though I hold down a responsible job that requires me to look smart and have a clean driving licence. On the other hand, the cars will stop to let me cross the road yards from the controlled crossing as no-one wants to kill a granny, and drivers will usually let me enter a stream of traffic because, poor old soul that I am, I need all the help I can get!

So, can there be a best age? Rather surprisingly, Oscar Wilde and the Bible agree there is, and it’s thirty-five; half one’s allotted span. Too young to be doddery, too old to be daft.