Friday 14 November 2008

Computer says....

Another life stage has been reached, one that is little-heralded, but deeply significant. I have just made my application for the State pension. I am to become a pensioner.

I was prompted by a call from
a diffident young man from the Tax Office, who asked if I knew what my pension would be, presumably so that I could be cruelly taxed on it. Apparently I could apply two months in advance of my 60th birthday, which falls just before Christmas, and it seemed to surprise him that I hadn't raced to do so last month.

He would, of course, be unaware of how remembering to do so at the right time would be a task beyond my chaotic memory; he wouldn't have known how often I'm unsure of what day of the week it is, sometimes resulting in friends' cats being fed a day early, when their owners are still at home and somewhat surprised to see me. Recognising a two-month marker would be impossible unless it was written on the kitchen notice board, and even then I might not remember to look at it until a few days later.

I mentioned to Suzy that perhaps I should try to make Sundays different from all my other days, so that I would notice the transition of one week to the next, and she suggested, chortling, that maybe I should go to church. No, thank you; I had enough church-going and kneeling on hard surfaces in my youth to stockpile for life, and it took years after leaving my convent boarding school for my knees to lose their shiny flatness. Later, it was much easier on the knees to tell that it was Sunday again; shops were shut, television was unspeakably awful, and there was always a flurry of activity to get the Lovely Son's uniform ready, shrieking at him about last-chance homework and cleaning his rugby boots, and steeling myself for another frenetic week at work with, yet again, nothing much done in the house.

Anyway.... I rang the Pension Service, being unable to find the safe place where I had stored their letter sent far too long ago. My home is filled with mysterious safe places where important things have languished unfound for years. Maybe that's just the same thing as extreme untidiness.

Applying took about 15 minutes, and was an eye-opener. A pleasant woman called Susan did her best, although we fell at the first fence of the security questions. These were not the sort of things that are impossible to forget, like your own middle name, or your mother's maiden name, but focused on stuff that was all too easily/possibly deliberately forgotten. On what date had I got married? When had I got divorced? What was the name of the woman who showed you how she knew that your new kitten wasn't a male at, that's not true, it was my Auntie Olwyn... a very useful thing to be taught, too.

We got there eventually, and Susan was satisfied that I really was me, and could have my measly pension - let me say here that if this was to be the only pension I would have to live on, it would be spent almost entirely on vets' bills, and I would be in the workhouse within a year. What was startling about the process was how much 'they' knew about me already, including all the answers I couldn't give to the security questions. And to think that we agonise over privacy, and CCTV cameras, and identity cards, and fancy that we have some secrets from the State!

But a year was missing from their records. "I'll just go back to 1973" said Susan, deftly manipulating the super-computer that contained the secrets of my life. 1973!! I was a daft young single mother with a 2-year-old then, spending long hours on a frozen beach with an entranced child whose wellies were always full of sea water.

The missing year turned out to be 1981, when I was at college; I can remember it very well, as it had been a second year of enormous fun and liberation, and I had a long curly perm and red-hennaed hair. But after college, 25 years of intensely stressful work intervened to create a memory resembling a giant landfill site; full of interesting and occasionally-identifiable things amongst the horrors and the junk, but all jumbled up and indistinct, with bits broken off.
The Pension Service will know all about those years, I guess; maybe next time I get confused about things I should remember, I could just ring them and ask.

And the pension? Well, in typical Government-issue style, it can't be made too exciting, like a birthday present, so it won't actually be paid when I turn 60, but 4 weeks in arrears, in January 2009. Strange, isn't it - the tax man is getting geared up to take it now, and I won't even get it till next year!

I'm not sure I can get too exercised about it in any case. You know I'll only go and spend it, probably at the vet's.

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