Janey’s October Letter -Community Living? I agree with Joanna Lumley!

Years ago when I was about 40 I remember sitting at the lunch table of a – although the same age – more ‘grown-up’ friend:

‘I think we should buy a big house when we’re older, and fill it – with us all!  It would be a blast, we can bring in help to run it and cook etc.

‘We could each have our own tiny kitchen and sitting/bedroom, but all the rest would be communal. We could have fun lunches/dinners – and it’ll be such fun to see each of our kids when they come to visit – but more importantly – we would never be lonely’ she said.

Now, I mention the fact that she was a more sensible friend.  She had a vision of a future I hadn’t even begun to think about, but as the lunch wore on, and the Chardonnay (yes we used to drink it in those days) worked its magic,  I began to think what a fun idea this would be.

When I got home, I spoke to my husband, who was a realist.  ‘Don’t be stupid’ he said.  ‘What’s going to happen when one of you die off, who will fill that place? And if you wanted to sell your room you’d need a complicated arrangement to do that!’  So, like so many other good ideas in life, sense got in the way, curtailing the joy of making a good idea work.

joanna lumley for the telegrapjInstead, the years passed, and I didn’t think of it again until I read a Telegraph column written by my great heroine, Joanna Lumley, where she proposed the very same idea.

She is only 71, and although she said she classifies herself as old, we all know she’s anything but.  She spoke about the breakdown of society, and how people rarely communicate in ways they used to back in the day.

Then – she says –  people used to live surrounded by family, extended family, and various friends would sometimes move in a share too.   She blames the lack of community and high rise living as isolating ‘ leading to people ( especially the elderly ) feeling cut off and forgotten’.

So, like so many other good ideas in life, sense got in the way, curtailing the joy of making a good idea work.

At the time of reading, we all ( me, my kids – family and a great many friends ) were down at my house in Sussex for India’s baptism.  I hadn’t been there for a few weeks, and when last I was in the height of summer I had begun to think about selling up because of this MS. I worried that it could become too much for me – and I know that London full time is a better, more sensible option.

This time though, I had second thoughts.  The village has moved from high summer to autumn colour.  Bonfires and leaflets pinned onto trees advertising the harvest festival, well it was all a bit TS Elliot, and I began to think would it be wrong to move away totally.

Preparing for ‘the day’, – cooking, pouring drinks, chivvying the men up to get on with putting up the village marquee – it was such a jolly time and once again it flashed through my mind how lovely it would be for this to be a permanent way of life

It was wonderful having everyone around, and in 20 years’ time, when the pension pot gets a little smaller, how lovely would it be to think we would never be alone?  Probably a few of us mates would have shuffled off by then – and although that is tragic, the loss is easier to bear when shared amongst other loved ones.

We all fear to be a burden to our children.  We want to keep our dignity, independence, and sense of humour. The thought of admitting our vulnerability to them and having them worry about us is sad.   We are pack animals as Joanna said, and living alone can for some less able people, be a terrible punishment for being old, childless, broke – and no longer be able to offer much to society.  This, in turn, affects our sense of worth – which ultimately affects our mood, often leading to depression.

No quick answers or solutions, of course, and the questions my Husband once asked so long ago still stand.  I think though, we just be more aware of those around us, and try to be more inclusive, and one chilly night, I’ll bite the bullet, and write up that list of jovial friends with whom to huddle from the cold as winter descends.

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