I still haven't quite got used to being an Over-Sixty. In fact I keep referring to my recent birthday as my fiftieth - by mistake of course, I'm sure I'm not fooling anyone! In fact my fiftieth birthday only seems like a couple of years ago, which is a bit scary. However, I'm a positive-thinker by nature, and I'm also aware that I have a lot to be grateful for: I'm still in pretty good health, have a wonderful family and lovely friends, and I've achieved my dream of becoming a published author.
AND I'm determined to enjoy whatever perks come my way for the privilege of reaching the age of maturity! I can't understand those of my contemporaries who feel insulted by being issued with their bus pass, for instance. I'm lucky to live in an area where the bus routes are good, and already I've saved myself a lot by taking the bus into town - especially at this time of year when the car parks are so full, as well as being expensive. OK, so it takes a little longer, and I've had to get used to not buying too much Christmas shopping in one go, or I can't carry it all home! - but after all, I have a more relaxed lifestyle now I'm not working in a day-job so why worry?
When I realised I was also (apparently) entitled to Free Swimming at my local pool, I was very excited. I like to swim a couple of times a week when I can - it's the only form of exercise I enjoy, so I'm keen to keep it up. So I applied (on-line, as suggested) within days of my birthday back in September. Heard nothing for weeks, but I'd been busy with Daughter's Wedding and then went on holiday, so eventually presented myself at the pool again and asked what was happening about my Free Swimming pass.
Receptionist: Oh, if you applied on-line, you won't hear back from us.
Me: But it said, on the website, that I'd get a letter.
Receptionist: Sorry. That might have happened once, but it doesn't any more. You just have to turn up here and collect your pass.
Me: OK. So here I am. Can I collect it?
Receptionist: Give me your name and address and I'll see if your details have got into the computer system yet. (Looks on computer). No, sorry, you're not on the system.
Me: But I applied over a month ago!
Receptionist: Well, I don't know what happened there. OK, I'll enter you on the sytem now.
(Puts my details into the system.) OK: have you got your proof of ID?
Me: Sorry? What proof of ID?
Receptionist: We need two proofs of ID - your driving licence and a utility bill.
Me: That wasn't mentioned on the website either. I don't have them on me.
Receptionist: Sorry. You'll need to bring them next time, then.
Me: OK. I'd better pay for today's swim, then.
Next time, I went along duly armed with proof of ID, and explained what had happened before.
Receptionist: Right. That's all fine. So I'll just get your pass for you. That'll be ten pounds, please.
Me: What? Ten pounds? What for?
Receptionist: The free swimming pass costs ten pounds.
Me: Then it's not free, is it?
Receptionist: Well, no, but you get in free every time you come, once you've paid for it.
Me (sighing): Well, I haven't got ten pounds on me today. So I'd better pay for today's swim again.
Next time, I made sure I'd got ten quid on me. This time I was definitely going to get a free swim!
Me: Here's my ten pounds for my 'free' swim pass.
Receptionist: Thank you. Here's your pass.
Me: And here's my parking ticket. (The cost of an hour's parking at the swimming pool has always been refunded to users of the pool).
Receptionist: Oh, sorry. We don't refund your parking if you're having a Free Swim.
Me: What! Why not?
Receptionist: Well, you're not paying for the swim, so you don't get free parking.
Me: But I've just paid ten quid!
Receptionist: Sorry. And you do know the pool is closing for refurbishment at the end of November, don't you? (This was the middle of November).
Me: Yes, but now I've got my pass, I can carry on using it after Christmas when you reopen, can't I.
Receptionist: Yes, until the end of March.
Me: What! I thought it lasted for ever!
Receptionist: No. It's for a year, from April to March.
Me: So I have to pay another ten quid in April?
Receptionist: I'm afraid so. But as long as you come back in January and swim at least once a week, it'll still be a bargain.
A bargain? I thought it was supposed to be a freebie! I get my swim free (for £10), but I now have to pay to park? How's that a such a bargain?? I'd go by bus (of course!) except that the bus route doesn't go to the swimming pool. Honestly, it's enough to make an OAP swear!
However, continuing to look on the bright side, I did get my pension at 60, and I realise this is something to be very grateful for. I'm one of the very last bunch of women to still be entitled to the State Pension at 60, before it's gradually phased up to 65, the same as men. As several people have pointed out to me, it's totally unfair, in this age of equality, for women to get their pensions earlier than men. Oh yes.
BUT ... I'd like to point out, in defence of all those of us born back in the 1940s and 50s, that in the era we were born into, raised and educated, we were NOT equal to boys or men at all. Things have changed so rapidly in this respect over the last few decades that our daughters have grown up not just expecting to be treated the same as boys, but not even understanding why there should be any question about it. And thank goodness for that. But when I started work, women's salaries were certainly not equal to men's, and lots of career opportunities were still closed to women. We were also expected to leave our jobs when we were having babies - we certainly didn't get maternity pay - and most mothers I knew weren't able to find decent jobs afterwards that they could fit around their young families, unless they were teachers. We mostly made do with part-time work that typically paid us only 'pin-money': a few pounds a week, to help out with the family budget.
I'm not complaining, because I loved bringing up my children, but that was the way things were. When my kids were older I went back to work in the NHS and paid into the NHS pension scheme as well as paying my National Insurance for many years - ending up paying double N.I. because I was self-employed as a writer, as well as working at my day job. My expectation had always been to retire at sixty with a full pension - and maybe it's not fair, but I am very relieved and grateful to do so. And whilst I agree that it's only right to phase the retirement age gradually up to 65, I feel sorry for those of my contemporaries who have just missed out by a few months and will have to wait a little longer for their pensions. I also feel very sorry for younger people - including our own children - who will have to work until they are even older. I just hope that they are compensated for it by having a better lifestyle, better jobs with good salaries, and all the other benefits to life that we didn't have when we were young. The trouble is, in this current economic recession with everyone's jobs being so uncertain, I don't know whether that's true.
So I'm quite happy really about having entered the ranks of the Senior Citizens. I certainly don't feel old, and I certainly hope to keep enjoying life for a long time yet. Whether I have to pay for my swimming or not!