Growing older gets a lot of bad press. Body parts drop, brain cells evaporate, bones crumble and pension pots shrink. The worst thing? It happens to us all (if we’re lucky – never forget that old age is a gift). And then we die. But, as always, when I return from my annual trip to West Somerset I find myself thinking about the positive aspects of the golden years. This is an area of the UK renowned for its high percentage of senior citizens, yet it is one of the most beautiful, relaxing, life enhancing parts of the world that I know, with such enviable coastal and inland scenery, stunning walks and a huge range of social activities. It seems rather selfish of the oldies to keep it to themselves.
Indeed, word is out and the newest businesses set up in Porlock High Street are creative art enterprises ran by the under forties – possibly under thirties in at least one instance – and the local camp sites are bustling with young families making the most of the school holidays.
Now, before I go any further, let me make one thing absolutely crystal clear: I have no plans whatsoever to retire. Indeed, I am in denial about the whole process of giving up work and am more than happy to keep going for ever, if they’ll have me. Which they probably won’t! Seriously, one of my colleagues has taught in the same school for more than 50 years – and plans at least one more (which reminds me, I really must look into applying for an honour on her behalf). So, for many, work remains a constant throughout their lives and probably keeps them young in the process.
Looking around Porlock, though, you can definitely see the attraction of retirement (or semi retirement – perhaps the best of both worlds?). This is what you see …
- ‘Young’ retirees, couples with a dog (or grandchild), resolutely strolling out across the salt marsh or walking up onto Exmoor, with a definite spring in their step
- Widows (and, sadly, it does seem to be mainly women on their own), still resolutely strolling out, but this time with perhaps more than one dog
- All the aforementioned stopping regularly for a chat with anyone who happens to pass
- Cameras slung across shoulders of the keen photographers
- The odd set of paints and easel propped in a quiet corner
- Miles and miles of walks offering graded levels of challenge, all recorded in natty little booklets that tuck neatly inside your pocket next to a sarnie (or hip flask …)
- An abundance of convertible cars bombing across Exmoor to Lynmouth, roof down, making the most of the stunning views on the A39 (and I am eternally thankful to always be sat in the passenger seat of one when I visit, Fleetwood Mac on full volume, love that sixties vibe!)
- Posters stuck up everywhere about film nights, amateur dramatic performances, art exhibitions, free soup lunch (damn, the third Tuesday of the month and I am never there), outings to Torquay and other places, dog training classes, adult education, etc
- Quality care, whether from Ava Taxi (a lady who offers discount travel rates to the elderly and helps them to and from their front door), the local care workers or an abundance of nursing homes (get real; you might end up needing one)
- A busy library and a range of watering holes, not to mention fine dining or good old fish and chips
- Singapore street food at Porlock Weir – get down there, delicious!
Apart from always coming away with a sense of optimism about growing old, I also find myself spiritually and creatively renewed. In respect of the former, my ‘retreat’ is drafted for this time next year; in terms of the latter, the plan is to make some simple gift cards using scraps of fabric and a kit given to me perhaps a little prematurely, printing out some of my photos and doing something with them (possibly abstract) and to reflect on my recent creative writing efforts.
What is not to like?
If still unconvinced, take a look at this article