The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?

Who wants to go Dutch?

                There are joys too numerous to count about being retired. I know that for many, financial demands mean that they must continue to work, and that yes, we were lucky to be able to stop slogging and take our public sector pensions, but I’ve never felt, as some do, that I needed to work for my own wellbeing. On the contrary it is only now, without the constraints of daily routine, that I can do the things I like.

                Some, of course are obvious. I only ever had a chance to read novels when on holiday and now I am able to sit down and read a book when I choose. I read a lot. I can spend vast amounts of time nurturing the garden, weather permitting, and even grow things to eat! I can go out for a walk-on a weekday-during the daytime. I can go to the gym-in the daytime. I can have coffee with friends, or a meal, during the day, or spend an afternoon perusing the shops [not necessarily purchasing anything]. When the weather improves we tootle off in our small camper van for unspecified periods of time.

Some activities I’ve come to hate less, however, are a little unexpected. There are a number of chores that I used to find sheer drudgery when I went out to work. Cleaning was one; so much so that we resorted to getting someone else to do it [and a lovely job she made of it, too]. We’d been spending every weekend hoovering, polishing, mopping etc, leaving no time for anything else [like reading a book]. Nowadays I regard cleaning the house as satisfying, relaxing and good exercise [and I can listen to excellent Radio 4 at the same time!].

Cooking is another task I’ve warmed to, and one which has benefited from the extra time and effort put in. Even the food shopping is not unpleasant. I feel soothed by hanging up washing on the clothes line outside, folding it and putting it away or ironing things. I’m not unhappy to stand at the kitchen sink washing up.

                What all this says to me, is that the more ‘work’ is created to fill up the hours, the more people will cut corners by buying convenience meals and using expensive appliances. I have a conviction, based on my own working years that a lot of ‘work’ [especially administration-type tasks] is not only unnecessary but deliberately handed out for the sake of appearances. I wonder if it is really necessary for workers to spend all lunchtimes at their desks and keep later and later hours? Years ago shops closed for lunch, had half days on Wednesdays and weren’t open on Sundays. No one starved or went without anything because of it. I’d have thought the current economic squeeze would be the ideal time to get back to shorter working hours, proper weekends etc.

                The Netherlands, who have some of the shortest working weeks in the world, have made wholesale moves into the 4-day week. Employees, for the most part may choose to work longer for 4 days and take an extra day off! Wonderful! A whole day to catch up on chores, or spend time with children, or cook things, or exercise, pursue a hobby…or even sleep! How much more rested, rounded and motivated everyone would be!