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Alan Hamilton - Author & Editor

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Friends & Relationships

Serendipity: the occurrence . . . of events by chance in a beneficial way. Exactly what I thought as I sat to write this next blog post on the importance of companionship and friends as one grows older, and found the media giving prominence to the report of the Commission set up in the name of the late Jo Cox, MP.


Nine million British adults suffer from isolation, it trumpeted. There ought to be a national ministry to deal with loneliness! Today, loneliness is as bad for the nation's health as smoking or obesity. 'It's a social epidemic'.


Well, I suppose a Commission has to try to justify its creation and output, and these days such bodies are not cheap to raise or run. But the numbers bandied about and the conclusions do rather tend to arouse my curiosity as to how the data was collected and analysed and just how much thought was put into coming up with conclusions and calls for action.


Putting aside my natural scepticism whenever any group with an agenda seeks to raise public concern by throwing statistics at us, I said at the end of my last post that loneliness is the scourge of old age. I can accept too, and hinted such, that it's not just the elderly who suffer from it, but many others across the age range. I suppose there have always been those who for one reason or another have no close friends, but for this now to be widespread suggests there have been seismic movements within the whole of British society, and in the other 'western' communities as well.


Over the past century, or maybe even slightly farther back, the glue that once held our society together has been dissolved. The list of constituents of this glue is long and highly significant. Christian belief and participation in shared rituals connected with it; close and extensive family connections, relationships, and obligations; a shared recognition and pride in national history and achievements; a broadly homogeneous population; generally responsive relationships and awareness of matters in common between neighbours, whether in urban or rural environments; a largely subterranean, though widely accepted, conformity to cultural norms – a recognition of what made us British.


All of this disintegration of society, though to me regrettable, has been an inevitable development. Much as it would be comfortable to put the blame for this on 'do-gooders', pressure groups, followers of 'isms' of one kind or another, and politicians, it would be a gross over-simplification. That's why the recommendation that 'we ought to have a minister to deal with it' is such a daft idea and reflects a mindset that doesn't grasp what's actually been happening.


The situation is not one where we can put back the clock. Any minister tasked with trying to do so might as well go down to the seaside and do a King Canute. We're already aware that isolation is becoming a creeping condition for more and more people. Large parts of the population are inward-looking, their 'friendships' only those on line, their identities fantasy and therefore not to be exposed to the real light of a genuine relationship. There are men, designated as MGTOWs, unable to cope with their perceived changed status vis à vis women and reluctant to engage with them in any relationship that might be long-term.


There are also those who spend many of their waking hours in withdrawn and isolated computer gaming. People living within an area, harbour suspicions of and avoid contact with, those in the same street. All this suggests that as these cohorts age, they will do so friendless, not part of any family, and negative in their contribution to society. The only exceptions to this may be those who form part of a strong religious group – Moslems, Jews, or members of fundamental and generally exclusive Christian churches, and I'm not inclined to see that as a wholly unalloyed social benefit.


As for those of us, the subject of this blog, who are at or have already passed through the gates of old age, many experience a great deal of loneliness. A small anecdote, but nevertheless relevant to the subject, a senior staff member at my GP surgery told me some time ago that they are fully aware that older people come for appointments with the doctors because, first they are in company with others in the waiting area and then for ten minutes someone takes a sympathetic interest in them. These patients are, in fact, presenting with loneliness. And the number who do this is increasing.


What to do about it? 'There's the rub'. It seems like wishful thinking to believe that through exhortation younger people will be persuaded to provide more company and commitment to the elderly. A few will do so, probably without being nagged by authority. But one result of longevity and a combination of family breakdown and the movement of population is the huge increase in the number of 'oldies' in residential homes.


One of the saddest sights is the residents in such a place sitting round watching endless TV programmes, each a world unto him or herself. They are institutionalised, and those connected to them probably regard that as the only option open.


As for me, I am not, and never likely to be, lonely in my old age. I have a deeply-loving wife many years my junior. We are the best of friends and her company a constant delight. I have fond and concerned children, although I, and I hope they, appreciate that my domestic situation relieves them of worries about what to do with their father in his senescence. I have beloved grandchildren in whom I take a great interest.


I've also, while I still can, joined groups of like-minded people who share my interests, and I do my best to play a full part in and to contribute to them.


I'm lucky. But I'm also, as with many of my age, deeply conscious of not wanting to be a burden to others who still have a life to live. And I know that one day, in the not too distant future, I'm going to have to face the decision that entails.


The next post looks at sex and the 'oldie'. On the face of it, a brief discourse. What possible substance can there be in that? Well, in lubricious details, no, hardly! But there's quite a lot of general interest in what the over-sixties get up to and some anecdotal evidence that those who would have once been considered totally 'past it', still seem to enjoy as much if not more than those many years younger.


My 5th blog about growing old....