The annual statement from the Church of Ireland pension fund came in the post yesterday. It still suggests that 65 will be the age at which retirement will be possible, despite a warning in May that changes will be introduced next year raising the normal retirement age from 65 to 68.
Being ordained in days when the retirement age had recently been reduced from 70 to 68, the raising of the age is simply a restoration of the original terms of employment. What has changed since those days is that life expectancy seems to have increased year on year.
Ninety is becoming a routine age to reach – and not ninety sitting in an armchair or in a nursing home, but ninety and living a full and active life, like the ninety-four year old man in the parish who is rebuilding a 1950s Ferguson tractor, making some parts on machines in his own workshop and acquiring other parts through buying them on the Internet.
Physical health is, naturally, important, but so also is attitude, the capacity to see age as a number and not a handicap. A memory that will remain is visiting two sisters who were sat looking through old school photographs. Faces from the 1930s stared at the camera with a freshness that could have come from that morning. It was hard to imagine that the lacrosse and hockey teams had probably been long ago called to a different league.
‘My friend Kay used to play in that team’, said one sister. At eighty-eight, she was two years the younger of the pair.
‘Where did Kay live?’
‘Oh, she and her husband still live in England’.
The younger sister pondered for a moment, reflecting on thoughts of Kay.
‘Do you know?’ she said, ‘Kay and her husband took their car and caravan across to France every year until last year. I can’t think why they didn’t go this year’.
‘Kay was in your class at school?’ I asked, wanting to ensure I had understood the story correctly.
‘Oh yes, we are the same age’.
It would have seemed the height of impertinence to have suggested that at eighty-eight years of age, Kay might have felt that her caravanning days were done.
It was a special moment. Watching the face of that indomitable little lady for whom age was no barrier whatsoever.
If it is possible to go caravanning in France at the age of eighty-eight (though a camper van would be preferable), then the raising of the retirement age is a mere biographical detail.