This week Campaign supporter ‘Granny Smith’, from Lewisham, reflects on companionship, colleagues and the University of the Third Age.
The campaign to prevent loneliness is brilliant, so why are relatively few lonely people flocking to join? Loneliness, unlike simply being alone, is a taboo – only failures, Nobby –no-mates, are lonely.
A few weeks ago Esther Rantzen bravely admitted her own loneliness on BBC Woman’s Hour, voicing many dilemmas I recognised. Yet she apparently had shoals of emails telling her to ‘pull herself together,’ denying that anyone with her career and lifestyle could be lonely.
For many of us who no longer have a partner or family still at home, solitude is often a pleasure or even a choice, but not for 24/7. Sure, we can do what we like with no-one else demanding attention; read at all hours, cook – or not- when we please, choose our friends and activities without argument. But no-one spends all their time in the same room as a partner or children, or even talking to them, (not in anger, simply because we are all busy) but it’s not easy to ring a friend and invite them round to ‘Be quiet and read a book.’
And there’s the ringing to be done first, staving off loneliness is hard work. We take for granted the live-in holiday, concert or meal companion. Family members have their own lives – no-one wants to sound needy, Grandma can be useful but not make demands (nor would wish to). Evenings are the most difficult for those who no longer drive or are willing to brave dark streets – so it’s fewer meals together and more sinking into a chair – not good for the waistline.
But it’s more than arranging to see a film with a friend; intimacy is what prevents loneliness, sharing the crossword, discussing the latest TV drama. Companionship helps, but may we not be allowed the occasional whimper of sadness?
Lacking any kind of companion is worse, though. I’ve published books early retirement – on many Retirement Preparation Courses very little attention is paid to the vital need to replace colleagues and skills. These ‘leisure’ years can easily lead to isolation and even depression.
The University of the Third Age (university only in the early meaning of ‘community’) is a self-help organisation run by volunteers and can replace most of, and often even more than, these missing factors. Want to meet new people, learn a language, write a novel, play scrabble, travel? There are almost 800 U3As in the UK – find your nearest on www.u3a.org.uk.U3A has enriched so many lives – give it a try.