|Shropshire Star - Flu Campaign|
When we arrive at just before two pm, the room is almost empty. The receptionist giggles at us :”read the leaflet and roll up your sleeves.” It’s flu jab day and we have come for our annual vaccination against the debilitating winter bug. It’s free for oldies and the chronically sick. We qualify on both counts. I’ve brought my IPhone to read Mark Haddon’s ‘The Red House ‘while we wait for one of the nurses; it’s a brilliantly claustrophobic novel. Haddon’s forte is drawing children and young adults, his adult characters are slightly bloodless; all suffer existential angst in their own way.
I don’t get very far, the room fills and the chairs are taken. Everybody knows everybody else. Greetings are called, chairs moved, news exchanged. Nobody is sick, all are here for ’the jab’. Somebody complains that they haven’t seen me for ages. “We often see J. but we never see you; how are you?” The atmosphere becomes that of a social club. Nurses come and call people by first names, two by two, into the treatment rooms. There is banter and laughter.
“Do you realise that they’ve booked the Ramblers’ Christmas lunch for the same day as the Senior Citizens’ lunch?” The voice is excited and concerned that they might miss a social occasion. It’s hard to believe that everybody here is over 60 and therefore officially ‘old’. Luckily, like so much in life, ‘old’ is relative. Some weeks the Ramblers walk for ten miles over difficult terrain, in all weathers. Boomers, bolstered by pensions, holding on to savings and brandishing freedom passes, cluttering up surgeries for free treatments, in possession of ample free time and adequate health and fitness, all of them owning their house, this is a generation which has it all. No wonder the hard-pressed young cry ‘robbers and thieves’.
Old age pensioners are a new demographic, a group which is getting steadily larger. We swallow up scarce resources, creating problems for national expenditure. The average life expectancy is around 80 in places such as Valleys’ End; I know plenty of 90 year olds too. Scrolling back 2000 years, life expectancy was 25, in Roman times you might get to 40 and the medieval peasant who survived into adulthood didn’t get much farther than that. Now ’50 is the new 40’ and as 60 years olds we do not consider ourselves old, if we think about it at all.
We’ve all been told to sit and wait five minutes after the jab, to make sure we’re okay to walk home. Hardly anybody does. We are perfectly capable to decide such matters for ourselves. Self-assured? Bone-headed? Full of vim and vigour and joie de vivre? Of course we are.