In a recent retirement blog I wrote about an article I had read concerning alcohol use and the over 60s. The article said that we were drinking too much, surprise, surprise. I thought it was going to suggest that in order to live longer we needed to drink more, but no. The article went on to suggest reasons why it thought this might be happening. As you might expect there were a number of reasons ranging from the implausible to the improbable with the occasional not uninteresting. You can tell from my choice of descriptors that I wasn’t impressed but, among the ‘not uninteresting’ category, was the suggestion that we old gits drink too much because we lack a sense of community. In short we feel we don’t belong, have no sense of communal identity, we … hang on that’s not short and anyway you get the idea. It did set me thinking, can this be true? How might this apply to ourselves in our retirement? And PS this blog has absolutely nothing to do with retirement communities as in image above. I was in a hurry to find an image to go with the blog and this was the best I could find late Monday night. Sorry about the deception.
I think the first thing to say about the actual topic of the blog is that, from our point of view, we have never been great joiners of things. The old Groucho Marks line about never belonging to any club that would have me as a member perhaps, but, more to the point, I never found any club or group I really wanted to belong to on any long term basis. Looking back over my 60 or so years I think about the only time I had a sense of belonging to an identified group was in my cricket-playing years which I’ll admit did last a long time – over 30 years and during that time I was some time Sunday captain, grass cutter, committee member, editor of club magazine etc. so maybe I didn’t need any more in the way of belonging. But if you said something on the lines of which group are you a member of, I would have said, none.
So I read the article and thought well, I don’t belong and I don’t want to while recognising that many retired people do make a decision to join something when they retire particularly if they’re either, through choice or circumstances, living on their own. Fair enough, but not for us, thank you. I understand that being a member of a group or community can provide a structure to retirement life but for me and structure, read unwelcome commitment / demands. I understand that for some people it means someone to care if you don’t show up for a meeting but for me that’s just somebody interfering in my ‘peaceful’ existence.
OK, by now you’re thinking this is a particularly negative view I’m taking of belonging to something or other. And so it is but if you hang on a minute you’ll see why. The answer is that a few days ago all of the above certainty about not wanting to be part of a community was called into question in an unexpected way. We were both surprised to say the least. Let me explain. Last Friday night but one ago we went along to a celebration of Irish culture in Leeds. We went because the following day I was signed up for a DADGAD guitar workshop (it’s an aspect of my ‘continued learning’ programme that I do feel is important to my retirement well-being) and the tutor that day was chap called JEoin – google him if you like Celtic music I think you’ll enjoy him – and he was playing on the Friday night. I was pretty sure that Mrs Summerhouse, with all her Irish heritage, would like him and so she did but that’s not why I’m telling you this.
The folks who organise this annual (I think) event focusing on the contribution of Irish culture, in this case music and poetry, to Leeds life, I assume get a grant from the Irish government to run this month long festival. Grants inevitably mean evaluation forms, and so it was. Not a problem, easy to fill in the form and say we thought the whole thing was excellent, which it was. Mrs SH even bought a poetry CD from a woman named Siobhan McMahon and we don’t buy much poetry but she was excellent and very Irish. So I couldn’t say all normal so far but, similar to normal. Incidentally, to go off on a tangent in a very Irish way, she was accompanied by a woman called Sabrina playing guitar and Bodrahn (an Irish frame drum, pronounced Bow ron). She would be my tutor in the second half of the following day’s teaching session but that really is another story.
The point is, and I think there will be a point eventually, is that on the evaluation form, at the very bottom, it said, if you would like to become a member of the Irish cultural organisation in Leeds and be informed / involved in future events, please give us your email address. We had a bit of a discussion Mrs SH and I about our Irishness (her parents both born in Ireland and my father also) and whether we had any desire to belong to this community. Did we feel at home among these people and this culture? We thought well, maybe we do a bit and just perhaps we’re missing out here on a sense of community, identity and our roots. You know the kind of thing? No, I didn’t either. But quite keen we were for a while and then, true to form, we handed in the form contact details unfilled in.
And under normal circumstances that would have been the end of it and our community involvement. Except next day at the guitar workshop, same thing, same sense of Irishness, same form and same box to fill in or not. To cut the long story short and the Irish love a long story, I filled in my email address and left the form (and my glasses case but that’s another, another story). So far about a week later, I’ve heard nothing, so maybe the whole thing, the belonging to a community business will come to nought and I will go back to being the world’s best non-joiner. I’ll let you know.
I’ve probably written before that this retirement business does some very peculiar things to your mind, well, my mind anyway. Who would have thought that having got this far in my life without the slightest inclination to be a part of anything (professional organisations I avoided like the plague other than joining our union for professional protection) and now I’m retired, I’m kicking off the habits of this life time and contemplating joining something or at least opening us up to that possibility. Retirement and a sense of community, who’d have thought it?