Mary Woodward Review

Edinburgh International Book Festival, Moving On – Joan Bakewell in conversation with Richard Holloway

**** (4 stars)

Journalist, writer, TV presenter and life peer Joan Bakewell lived in a large Victorian house in Primrose Hill [one of the posher parts of London] for 53 years.  When her children had left home and her body began to grumble, she realised it was time to move on, to find somewhere more suitable in which to face the end of her life.   In conversation with her contemporary, Richard Holloway, she talked honestly about the challenges of her decision and her feeling that “everyone over 60 should be thinking about how they are going to live to the end of their days”.

As someone who, on moving to Edinburgh, had to let go of most of the contents of the house in which I’d lived for the previous twenty years, some of what she said resonated strongly with me – going through one’s books, trying to decide which to keep and which have to be let go; finding homes for the pictures one no longer has wall space for, or the things one no longer has anywhere to put; and working out what exactly one needs for the next stage in life.  The emotional demands of this decision-making are not to be underestimated – but there can also be huge therapeutic value in letting go of stuff!

But then I started to get cross: it’s fine for people who have a large property which has greatly increased in value and can provide the money necessary for the move, and any adaptations that might need to be made – but what about people who have no equity to release, who maybe don’t have a property to sell, or who have no hope of being able to move to somewhere better suited to their changing physical, mental, and emotional needs? 

The more Joan Bakewell spoke, the more I felt she was talking to a limited audience – the “haves”.  Yes, she felt uncomfortable about the enormous windfall that came her way without having to do anything but live in her house – but she decided to spend most of it in buying a property to move into and, with the help of a team of experts [accountant, architect, designer etc] making it meet all her future needs.  No doubt there’s a large tinge of envy in my reaction!

The artist’s studio she has moved to sounds absolutely perfect: would that we could all be so fortunate!  Staying in the same neighbourhood, near to everything familiar – this is not always possible.  And without sufficient funds, we are at the mercy of whatever “social services” may prevail in our neighbourhood.   To be fair, Joan Bakewell also had a lot to say about the misery of retirement homes where everyone is plonked in a large room in front of an over-loud TV showing rubbish [with the remote well-hidden] –at which point Richard Holloway intervened to ask what provision might be made for neurotic introverts such as himself, who might need care but would hate to be forced to be sociable…

She enthused about a retirement village built by a wealthy Victorian philanthropist in which only people on social benefits are eligible to live, and suggested that our current billionaires might better spend their money building similar retirement villages instead of trying to get to the moon.  She waxed lyrical about the Scandinavian model of co-housing which works well there – but again, you need the money from the sale of your house to buy the land as well as build the houses in which you are to live…  She suggested that, in the absence of a ‘windfall tax’ on people such as she, people might consider spending their assets on their own later-life care rather than on keeping them intact to pass on to their children.  She pointed out that the NHS was created to care for people “from the cradle to the grave” but that this was only to provide their medical care, not to care for their well-being and social welfare.

As someone who has given a fair amount of thought to what lies ahead, nothing that was said today was particularly startling – but for anyone who hasn’t spent much time contemplating the future and attempting to make some sort of provision for it, this conversation will hopefully have prompted them to begin to address the subject, and talk about it with their nearest and dearest [always assuming, of course, that they have any…].  There is a huge problem looming in the lack of any proper plan for the social care of the elderly: apparently Boris J keeps promising to reveal just such a plan, but continues to remain silent – what a surprise!

I do wonder how much of what Joan Bakewell said only applies in England and Wales – I don’t know enough to make an informed comment.  I do know it sounds as though her book The Tick of Two Clocks: Moving On would be a good starting point for anyone who wants to investigate the challenges but also the joys of finding the new possibilities that could result from letting go of the past and looking to the future.

Edinburgh International Book Festival , Moving On – Joan Bakewell in conversation with Richard Holloway available on demand go to: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk

Mary Woodward

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