Keeping on top of things

Shirley Stott Despoja muses on a lack of wiser counsels in the third age, the authority of a female voice and the expectation that seniors will volunteer their expertise.

It began with the festive season, as a lot of hairy stuff often does. It set me wondering whether the picture I paint of old age in these columns needs updating. Basically, the problem is that there’s no one to help you through it but your peers, unlike the other ages of humankind. The young don’t understand or, as sometimes happens, understand and exploit. It is an age when supports are often lost through natural attrition. Younger people can call on older and wise supports. We can’t. When things get really bad (quietly, to myself, I assure you) I want my mum. Look Mum, I wish I’d listened better when you were in your third age and been a lot more supportive. How the heck did you get through it? One can feel cheated in old age of wiser counsels. That’s an aspect of bereavement not often mentioned. As though hearing my bleat, my best friend sent me an ad for an ornament in “solid pewter” to help if you’re missing your mum. “The heartfelt message of hope will lift your spirits,” it said. This is the message: Merry Christmas from heaven. I love you all dearly, Now don’t shed a tear, I’m spending my Christmas With Jesus this year. It did not help. Topping up petrol, I was asked to pay $20 more than the price on the pump. Then, after a protest, four dollars more than the price on the pump. When the visit to the pump’s price screen backed me up, the person in charge said that must be the amount run up by someone before me who could have left without paying. A small restless, grinning queue formed behind me. I suddenly realised that my voice lacked authority. It is a female voice. What I needed was a strong male voice. To my mind came Adelaide’s adorable eccentric of the 60s, the late Bernard Hesling, who used to tell a story about Sally Army women singing, “Oh for a man, Oh for a man, Oh for a mansion in the sky.” No man appeared to be my voice of authority, so I ended up paying four dollars extra and feeling bloody old and unsupported. Then, both remote controls for opening my car stopped working. I drove to my local car repairer where, of course, they worked perfectly well. Back home the remotes did not work. The obvious people I rang were not encouraging, not quite believing me, but not quite saying so. I began to experience the world through a film of prejudice against old people, a target for the unscrupulous and the disbelieving. My good neighbours took the trouble to define the dead spot as five house-fronts, either side of the road. And a clever great nephew on the other side of the world worked out that someone was probably playing games with a cheap jammer and because my remotes were older than those of my neighbours, the jamming worked on my remotes’ frequency but not theirs. Sometime after midnight, the jamming stopped. The petrol station and the jammer had made a dent in my confidence as an old person. I was furious but… of course the bushfires, suffering animals and humans, and then Charlie knocked my fury off the map and I probably won’t even bother making complaints.

The question of volunteering

For people who want to add value to their third age by volunteering, lots of information and encouragement are available in a new book, Positive Ageing: Think Volunteering, edited by Louise Rogers and Joy Noble (published by Volunteering SA&NT Inc 8221 7177). Volunteers write about how helping others enriches their life and experts on ageing write about the mental and physical benefits of these activities to the old. Volunteering supports many of our social services to the extent that if the retirement age were increased, the decrease in work by many volunteers would likely produce a crisis in care and education. As social policy expert Professor Jeni Warburton puts it in her chapter, “volunteering makes a large economic contribution, through volunteers’ personal expenditure and savings to government”. For anyone thinking about volunteering, this book has good, even inspiring information. I am not a disbeliever, but I am not sure that I understand why a person who has acquired skills over many decades should be expected to work for no pay simply because of age. We need to moderate the idea that old people need to find something to do with the less ageist aim of making employers understand the value of older workers. But that is not to disparage this valuable guide to what old people may choose to do in their communities and to enhance their skills. If I were young now, perhaps one of the things I would consider when choosing a career would be whether I could continue in it as long as I wished, as long as I am capable. The young are not thinking like that now. It seems to be hard enough to get them to be serious about superannuation. Remember, paying taxes is an excellent way of “giving back”.

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