Time to get real about the future - and how to finance it

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Many of us are sleepwalking into old age without a thought of how to care for ourselves

Like most professional people of my generation, I have a pension plan. It will safeguard my future, provide enough for extensive foreign travel by budget airline, stretch to a finca in the hills of Andalucía and maybe even cover my winter fuel bills.

What’s my plan, you say? Well, I don’t want to broadcast it, for obvious reasons. But because it’s you, and if you promise not to copy me I plan to win the Euro Lottery. How fabulous is that?

Before you say a thing, I buy my tickets online, so I’m immediately informed by email if I win something. See, I’m not stupid.

But let’s suppose that by some unlikely twist, through a wormhole in a far-fetched parallel universe, my five numbers and two lucky stars don’t come up. What then?

I shall be sleepwalking into old age like the majority of the British population, falling down the proverbial stairs and lying there with a metaphorically broken hip.

According to a disturbing report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Association of Pension Funds, six in 10 workers over the age of 50 haven’t yet thought about how many retirement years they will need to finance, and a third of those aged between 52 and 64 have no idea what their workplace pension income will be.

Given that the average life expectancy for a woman is now 88 and a man 85, pensions are something we urgently need to apply ourselves to rather than Micawberishly insisting that “something will turn up”. It won’t.

As I’m not contributing to a personal pension at the moment (listen, those Lottery tickets don’t come cheap), what little provision I have is best described as “portfolio”.

Nothing wrong with that; why just last month I received an update telling me I have a pension of £875.

A month? Hurrah! Oh not a month. A year? Better than a poke in the oh, I see: it’s my entire pension pot after working at one company for four years. Time to stick my head in the sand again, I think.

The trouble is that for most people in the Sandwich Generation, the here and now children, mortgage, muddling through with elderly parents is so pressing that it’s hard to set aside head space, much less savings, for 30 years’ hence.

Thinking about being old when you’re not old is a bit like attempting to order from a menu when you’re not hungry. Try as you might, it’s strangely impossible to imagine yourself feeling ravenous or cold and frail and anxious about the next utility bill. But imagine we must.

Here in Britain, the middle classes pride themselves on their self- sufficiency. Independence is a totem of our identity, we instil it in our children when they are young, so, unsurprisingly, we cavil at the notion that we might have to rely on them indeed, impose ourselves on them when we are old.

Yet the unpalatable truth is that very few of us can afford to send our offspring to university, support them when they return (with a degree but without a job) and help them on to the housing ladder without making a financial sacrifice. And that sacrifice, more often than not, is our pension.

We might do it freely, but we are doing it blindly. I have an Italian friend who makes no bones about the fact that her children will be obliged to take care of her when she can no longer work. It seems oddly shocking selfish even to make such a demand.

But at least it’s realistic, as is the prospect of having to sell our houses to pay for decent care. And we need to start facing the future head on.

This week came a slightly bizarre clarion call for housewives to re-classify themselves as domestic CEOs, although I’m not sure why; to misquote Burns, a skivvy by any other name will still be up at midnight, washing school socks.

However, maybe there’s something to be said for taking a more businesslike, objective approach to family life. As any managing director worth their gold-plated pension knows, long-term succession planning is crucial. Just until the Lottery win comes through.

LIZ HURLEY AS YOU'VE NOT SEEN HER LATELY?

Well, I had a pretty darn Panzerlicious time at the German tank museum with my husband last weekend, thanks for asking.

He had a blissed-out look on his face that I haven’t seen for 200 years, and I swear there was a manly tear of gratitude in his eye when I took him for a birthday high tea and he ordered a metre-long Bockwurst.

But, ladies, as you will be keenly aware, the female ego is on a permanent slow puncture and by yesterday I was getting anxious that despite my efforts to please, I wasn’t the most perfect-and-exquisite creature he’d ever clapped eyes on, after all.

So I did what any woman would do. I waved a newspaper photo of Liz Hurley, her ex Arun Nayar and his new, fresher, 20-years younger Liz-alike squeeze at him, and attempted to pick a fight.

“I think that’s creepy!” I cried. “He’s upgraded to a practically identical version, except firmer. Men who do that are weird. And possibly evil.”

“Mmrgh,” he muttered through a mouthful of toast.

“Would you?” I demand, thrusting the photo of the lissome 26-year-old at him.

“Of course, I would,” he responded clearly misunderstanding the emotional complexity of the question.

“No, I mean would you ever divorce me and then go off and date a woman who looks like me only better? Turn into a sad-sack middle-aged cliché with a pert lovely, two decades younger, on your arm?”

“Good grief no,” he replied, as I embraced him, heady with affirmation. “Liz Hurley would do me just fine.”

THE BUSINESS OF PLEASURE

Whoever said girls are short of role models in business? Why, one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s old school chums has set up a company that organises orgies (if that’s not an oxymoron) for the beau monde.

Posh blonde Emma “bunga-bunga” Sayle, who runs the Killing Kittens club, describes herself as a “sextrepreneur”, which reminds me of a joke doing the rounds when I was at my Irish convent school.

Sister Immaculata is having a careers talk with her girls. She (SNP: ^SHEY - news) asks each one what they want to be when they grow up, nodding as they dutifully list “nurse”, “teacher” and “missionary”.

Finally, she quizzes the last girl: “And tell me, Bernadette, what would you like to be when you grow up?

“Well, Sister, I want to be a prostitute.”

At this, the nun slaps her in the face and faints.

Later, Sister Immaculata is brought round and comes to apologise: “I’m so sorry,” she says, giving the girl a hug. “Sure, I thought you said Protestant.”

I certainly know which I’d rather my daughter grew up to be. My feelings about sextrepreneurship are similar.

MEMORABLY FORGETTABLE FEAST

How magnifico to learn that Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts), has been named Waterstones’s Book of the Year.

Having holidayed in the Veneto last summer, I can say, hand on heart, that I had possibly the best meal of my life in La Serenissima.

We dined outside in the warmth, with friends, drinking Bellinis by way of an aperitif and watching the lights twinkling off the water as dusk fell.

The children played in the piazza as we eavesdropped a serenading gondolier with a tenor voice worthy of La Scala.

It was utterly magical, a moment of pure bliss. And what did we eat? I honestly can’t remember.

THE CALL THAT'S ALL TOO FAMILIAR

OK, here’s just enough blue-sky thinking to make a sailor’s suit, as my mother would have said and I’m saying now, because I’ve reached that age when the Latin names for plants mysteriously trip off my tongue and I really do want new oven gloves for Christmas.

Anyway, now that everybody on the entire planet has opted to have an absolutely identical mobile ringtone makes me downright nostalgic for those Crazy Frog days we are all to be found scrabbling in handbags and coat pockets at the first peal of an old-fashioned brrrrring!

It surely can’t be beyond the realms of i-technology for the ringing to be just a little more specific? What about a voice calling: “Oi, Dan, it’s for you!” or “Stand down Judith, stop frisking yourself, we’re not at the airport.”

Just a thought.