Rita

The best thing about getting older is confidence, I’m more able to stand up for what I believe in. Sadly too often, I feel that older people are unused in society. I’m 66 in April. I have just for the first time gone down to 4 days a week. I manage 120 volunteers at a LGBT charity. My work means a lot to me, it’s also often long hours and sometimes it’s not easy to do your work in the hours you have.

I am gay, and I have been with my partner for many years. Although I do have children, generally, in lesbian families, people are less likely to have children, and also less likely to have their families close to them, so as they get older they can have less support. Which is why we find that people often create groups of other LGBT people who can then have more informal forms of support around them.

What are the other options? Sheltered accommodation? But you know thats not for everyone — you see I am quite energetic, and I like liveliness, and being with people who are similar, which is also why I enjoy my partner being a lot younger than me. I heard about a collective of people who are collectively living together in Bow, which I think is a great idea.

Many of the people who use our services at the charity, are also older people, a lot of our volunteers are older people too.

One of the best things about getting older is being able to know yourself, and express yourself. That confidence means I’m prepared to try things without any worry. I’m political you see, and I used to be scared of saying what I thought. You can’t live in the world without absorbing things, now I can say exactly how I feel. I did stand up comedy for a few years and I loved it, but it was exhausting — I wish I’d tried it earlier, before I got so tired doing my normal job in the day then stand up until 2am.

Now I have got myself down to one day for myself, I am using it to write children’s books, I don’t want to make any money — I just know that this is what I want to put into the world now. My daughter is an artist so she is going to be able to draw them for me, and I’m starting my own website to share them. I realised in my 40s and 50s that computers were what it was all going to be about in the future, and I didn’t want to get left behind. So I taught myself everything about them, so I’m going to make my own website.

The downside of getting older, is feeling invisible. I believe that if you are honest about your age, people are nice to you. In some ways you feel more visible, like people letting me have their seat on the tube. People start reacting to you in a certain way, and in response you respond differently to the world.

Also what is hard is that physically you can’t do what you used to, I am energetic, and I can’t keep up with the pace of my mind. That’s really annoying. I love living in London, and I love living on a boat, because I get free travel, and that’s great for London, you can get really far and there is so much to do.

The harder things are the niggles, you worry about them more, and you know that now I fall or something that my bones aren’t as strong as they used to be.

I got pneumonia a few years ago, and I remember then having a horrible feeling where I couldn’t breath, and I remember thinking christ is this what it’s going to be like from now on.

What I don’t like is that feeling of people seeing us as ‘a burden’. People presume we are have nothing to offer now we’re older. Some cultures believe older people are wiser. Young people especially, I feel that I always meet young people with respect, because I believe that they are incredible. And I wish that I felt that with their feelings towards older people.

A lot of our volunteers are very old, but I can see the volunteering is taking up more and more of their energy, and they can see that it can’t possibly keep going for much longer, but it means so much to them. I do think that we are much more than the sum of our work.

Sometimes I see older people get stuck, and to keep away from that I like to stay young by having a younger partner, living on a boat, and being politically aware. I struggled when I turned 60. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want a party, so I escaped with some friends to Margate. But you know — It’s just a number and I know it’s just a number.

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