Norfolk will always be a great place for your twilight years
- Credit: Archant
Glorious Norfolk is great to settle down in at any point in your life, but is just perfect for anybody wishing to see out their twilight years, says Keith Skipper
It's not all beer and skittles striving to grow old gratefully on the Costa-del-Croma. Well, that age-old question keeps coming back in fashion – what to do with all those blessed pensioners exchanging memories, comparing ailments and organising fresh rounds of 'hunt the spectacles'.
I'm beginning to take this personally despite jogging along in the prime of senility at three score and ten plus a few. While I prefer old ones with homely wrinkles, new figures keep coming out to remind us our county is ready to outstrip the national average for people aged over 65.
Good old North Norfolk, where they firmly believe old age may be here to stay, leads the way with regular jumps in numbers of fully-fledged senior citizens. Well, more of a stagger than a jump and any future outstripping may be confined to elastic stockings.
However, all vital statistics linked to grey power should command close scrutiny until the official retirement age is raised to 87 or the Home Guard is restored to the clifftops of Cromer. Care and support agencies are worried.
I felt a bit like a tin of spam waiting for another Village at War Weekend at Gressenhall as one official lamented: 'I think the elderly have been left on the back shelf for years'. Only strength in numbers can provide a prominent place in the pensioners' pantry.
Back in the golden 1980s, when I gave up smoking, got married, became a dad and failed enough driving tests to appreciate the enduring bliss of a good walk, this teasing subject did emerge from the larder on several occasions.
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I recall a 1984 warning of Orwellian proportions that Norfolk was in dire danger of becoming 'a haven for geriatrics'. One county councillor, obviously a young tearaway, went so far as to call for barriers to go up to halt the influx of retired folk.
A couple of slipper-warming years later, Swaffham vicar, the Rev. Kenneth Reeves, said the vast majority of incoming retired people would be far better off staying where they'd always lived. 'They should adapt to retirement on familiar ground rather than take a long leap into the 'idyllic' Norfolk countryside'.
About that time, retirement-led migration from other parts of the country was increasing Norfolk's population by about 5,000 a year. Perhaps a Sunday sermon or two might have been built around this text from the book of Exodus: 'I have been a stranger in a strange land'.
Then veteran local politician Les Potter, still courting controversy whenever the stirring spirit moved him, said bluntly: 'I don't want to live in a county becoming some kind of working - class Bournemouth' as he opposed plans for another sheltered old people's scheme in Breckland.
The fact I felt compelled to jot down such snippets in my diary, along with many others since along similar lines, proves an important debate has not been completely ignored. Of course, I could easily pull rank and claim my proud native credentials entitle me to be just as much a Norfolk nuisance in my dotage as during all those eras of staying put to get there.
Advancing years, however, can spawn unlikely traits … like tolerance, benevolence and amiable contempt for figures and theories. Somebody ripe in wisdom told me recently old age takes away what we've inherited and gives us what we've earned.
So Norfolk will be better positioned than most to cope with traumas and travails of nasty recessions, not just through traditional virtues of caution and cussedness but also by dint of so many residents having been there before.
Make-do-and-mend missionaries, armed with darning needles, ration books and tallow candles, will set out from the Frugal North to preach austerity to less-enlightened areas. Keep-fit enthusiasts in sheltered accommodation will open their doors to show younger neighbours age is all in the mind. The trick is to keep it from creeping down into your body.
Beleaguered local services will benefit from retraining programmes for the over-70s to find much-needed police support officers, teaching and playground assistants and traffic wardens. All will be empowered to administer an old-fashioned ding o' the lug where necessary to save money, time and bother.
Norfolk is ready to turn the ever-rising tide of over-65s to exemplary advantage. Other parts where there is no known cure for the common birthday would do well to follow suit and ensure bright and dutiful twilight years.