Last week we went to the funeral of an elderly aunt. She was a feisty lady, well read and well respected. She reminded me a little of my mother. She had two sons, now in middle years, who arranged the funeral beautifully and, as a mother of two sons, it took my imagination forward to the potential moment of my own funeral, with my sons arranging the readings and music for me. This made me wonder what they would choose. It would, perhaps, be controlling of me to leave them a list …?
It is discomforting to accept that I have reached this stage of life. It means I truly have to start thinking of myself as grown up, as of an age when my own parents were getting ill and more vulnerable. I prefer, of course, to think of myself as a svelte, slightly rebellious rather pop-mad teenager but there is no way I can pretend that this is who I am these days – especially when I look in the mirror!
And moving house – when we finally get an offer on our beautiful Hampshire home – brings this all to the foreground of my attention as we have to begin to consider what life might be like for us over the next 10-20 years. A rather unsettling prospect, really. My younger son told me off the other day for talking too much about ageing and legacies (at least it’s good to think he isn’t waiting for that one!) but the reality is that as we look at houses we do absolutely have to consider our needs in the years to come. We certainly don’t want to be giving the government and estate agents the benefit of our cash in exorbitant taxes and fees by having to move again, unless we absolutely have to.
So this involves us thinking about whether we shall have dodgy hips, wobbly ankles, rheumatism or arthritis, will we go a little doollally with dementia, will the staircase be too steep for us, will it (awful thought) fit a Stannah chairlift? Is it close enough (but not too close) to children and grandchildren for us to visit them – and of course for them to reach us in an emergency?
Alongside the possibilities of frailty come the tricky questions of Wills and legacies and Inheritance Tax and how much money one might need, outside the bricks and mortar, to pay for a care home, or care at home, should we need it. And all the more complicated having come together later in life with what they call a ‘blended’ family.
Someone commented to me the other day that we were unusual in wanting to move from the countryside towards London at this stage of life but I responded that my understanding is that this is quite a trend with us Baby Boomer generation. Personally at this and the next stages of life I would much rather have life and cafés and art galleries (not to mention doctors, chemists and hospitals) on my doorstep than cows and sheep. Don’t get me wrong, I love cows and sheep and would make sure to visit them frequently from our urban home. I just don’t find them stimulating enough on a daily basis to keep me feeling young. David and I both enjoy the bustle of an art gallery, the provocation of a lecture, a walk in a park, the escapist enjoyment of a movie or play.
Then there is driving. In the country you have to drive everywhere and living in Alresford, our very pretty Jane Austen-style market town, I notice the elderly drivers, the way they park in the middle of the road, the way they scratch your car as they head for the supermarket or chemist. Although I accept that the young are also a risk, I don’t want to become one of those doddery drivers. They can be dangerous. I prefer to think of getting on a tube, train or bus and letting those ‘take the strain’ as the ad used to say.
Countryside is, in my view, a marvellous place for families with children, where they can run around. It is also a wonderful environment for those in middle years who can, as David and I have, enjoy the beauty and yet feel energetic enough to drive to theatres and museums. We are so fortunate in our little spot of Hampshire to have theatres in Chichester, Guildford and Southampton so easily available, and the Pallant Gallery and Farnham Crafts Museum as well as some of the most beautiful Cathedrals one could ever wish for. It has been great.
But right now I am ready to return to the smoke. I like to think we can get a train for a nice weekend in the countryside or to stay with friends. Also it is surprising how cheap London can be. Wonderful lunchtime concerts in churches, thought-provoking lectures, access to any number of museums all for virtually nothing. Not to mention a Freedom Pass if one is fortunate enough to receive one – and if one has the courage to battle the crowds.
So the flashforwards have forced me to consider the reality of our situation, the aspects of life we may have to plan for in these years to come. We are agreed that in choosing our new home we will take all this into account and ensure that what we buy will support our aspirations. There is much to look forward to but nonetheless a few things to worry about.
And I am afraid, my darling sons, that I have already started to make that list for my funeral – and I do hope you will find it and make sure that you read Wendy Cope’s marvellous poem My Funeral [see http://lastwordcelebrant.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/poem-my-funeral-by-wendy-cope.html ] which is about the importance of keeping a funeral short and not allowing it to be a eulogy. My mother was adamant about this towards the end of her life – “for goodness sake don’t go overboard on the praise, I am fed up with listening to eulogies of my friends that don’t describe them one jot”.
I am ashamed to admit I was reminded of the Wendy Cope poem while listening to The Archers recently (Caroline’s funeral, for those of you similarly hooked). The Archers addiction is, I fear, another sign of age, as I’ve always vowed I would never listen and am now absolutely glued. Oh dear, the slippery slope downhill? I justify it as being 13 minutes of harmless village gossip.
But really it reminds me that I have probably always been a city girl at heart, not truly one interested in the everyday life of heifers and pigs. So am looking forward to our move back towards London when it happens. That particular flashforward makes me excited. And I don’t suppose David will be too sorry to hand the lawn-mowing over to a pair of younger hands either!