In six-and-a-half decades of a life that has taken me from a humble farm worker’s cottage in rural Kent to a similarly-humble semi in beautiful uptown Selkirk, there has been one constant I could do without.
I have always been mildly skint. Err, well, I should maybe correct that by saying there have also been interludes when I was flat broke, and others when dame fortune has smiled briefly upon my existence.
To many this might seem a curse and a source of concern, but I can tell you although many other matters have kept me awake at nights, I have never missed much shut-eye on account of a lack of personal wealth.
Being relatively honest, I confess there have been times when a little more in the bank would have brought a little comfort, but that is only natural. I am an intermittent player on the various lotteries – with a rational understanding that my chances are borderline nil – but the same as everyone else, no matter how many chances you buy only one set of numbers is drawn each time.
On the basis of the above information, readers will maybe find themselves better prepared to understand why I am acutely aware I am teetering on the magic date when I draw my old age pension, for that is still the best term for it.
As any of our more mature citizens will tell you, the actual money involved is not huge, but has always been a useful sum to those who get it. Introduced in January 1909, it provided single folk with five bob, 25p in decimal dosh, and seven shillings and sixpence (37.5p) for couples.
This was possibly the starting point for one of society’s biggest myths: that two can live as cheaply as one; or maybe that was the founding ethic of the grand Scottish institution of the “bidie in”.
Anyway, from very humble beginnings the old age pension system has always been riddled with conditions, altered, extended, increased and fought over by politicians, but thankfully remains a right for just about everyone.
The old age pension will always be an inclusion to any political election manifesto because although the bill for this benefit is massive, many more folk are reaching the qualifying age and living for a long time beyond.
Even the numbest electoral hopeful can work out that a voting revolt by the ever-increasing over-60s faction could profoundly influence the result of any general election. Politicians annoy them at their own risk, although once in power governments tend towards some pretty selective amnesia.
In 1909 the qualifying age was 70 years, and that was in times when the average life span was a lot shorter than today, and cracking the three score years and 10 barrier was considered an achievement.
When the mortality rates of the First World War and the subsequent influenza epidemic are taken into account, by the 1920s the old age pension bill must have decreased by a very large sum of money.
I have great sympathy for those who now learn they will have to toil away for longer before joining the official branch of the grey panther movement; and knowing this reflects a greater life expectancy will not be of any great comfort to them.
Over the years I have received payment for performing a wide variety of functions: farm work, soldiering, mending motors, copping, scribbling and a few more that I am not going to reveal because of uncertainties about the statute of limitations.
In all cases the cash was a form of recompense for doing or not doing something. This time, I am slightly bemused to be given a wage for just getting old. I had never once given thought to the ageing process as a money-making scheme, rather than a part of the life cycle which attracted nothing useful, only an increasing variety of aches and pains, shuffling walks to the health centre and an unfailing talent for finding nothing good to say about anything to do with people less than 30 years of age. After all, what could they possibly know? They have seen nothing of life!
There are, however, one or two small details I have yet to fully accept. I am beginning to feel quite cheated, as to date a number of the symptoms, if you can call them so, of old age have not appeared. I still cringe at the thought of playing bingo, coach trips, singsongs, denture swapping parties and so on.
I have resolved to wait until I am 70 before I start making enquiries.