I live in a rather untidy work-intensive home and would move into the Lawns in a heartbeat. Independence, a weekly cleaner, social life on tap and lock-up-and-go holiday capability? Haud me back! I’m just not sure I’m interesting enough to meet their requirement of an interesting past, plus of course the place doesn’t exist . . . damnit.
A long time ago I was a letting agent (I have been many, many things in a fairly turbulent career) and I had a few retirement village units on my books. People would buy them, then want to rent them out until they were ready to move in themselves. So what is a retirement village? How long is a piece of string?
They all had one thing in common, available to anyone over the age of fifty five. Let me quickly tweak your perception of people over fifty five. This blog is liberally scattered with celebrities who qualify—it has to be said that none of them do live in retirement villages (unless of course Beverly Hills counts as such) but they are all over fifty five in these photographs. Fancy one or more as a neighbour? (I should probably say here that I don’t earn a penny from this blog and am posting these pics in admiration, ack, please don’t sue me!) Kevin Bacon and Michelle Pfeiffer just scraped through the age restriction. Sean Connery could have been there since 1985 (In fact most of the pics are clebs born in the forties who could have been there years.)
So, back to retirement villages I got to know in my letting days: I had one unit on my books in a purpose-built apartment block in the heart of Rosebank, which was a very upmarket suburb in Johannesburg. The apartment was large and sunny, there was a showpiece (award-winning) large shared courtyard, oh, and an excellent restaurant set-up, with meals at extremely good prices. Rosebank was a shopper’s dream back then (as best I know, still is) with superb restaurants, cinemas, and easy access to theatres. The security, always an issue in Johannesburg, was faultless. It was, without question, the sophisticated urbanite’s ideal choice. As it happened, the first couple I took to see the place were put off by the elevator (we saw someone hurrying over to join us, the husband put his elegant walking stick out to stop the doors closing, and the elevator chopped his stick in half and swept us upwards and away, eek) but the next people I took, a very energetic jet-setting couple in their late fifties, signed up promptly on a five year lease.
Another on my books was a charming one-bed cottage in a complex in Bryanston, which is some twenty miles into the countryside. There were about thirty chocolate-coloured face-brick attractive cottages, each with their own little garden, in the high-walled facility, and a central building with an excellent library, lovely reception rooms, and good frail care facilities for when life throws a hiccup. I let that one to the first viewer, who was delighted. I think what sold it to her, as much as anything else, was that as we passed the good local shops there were two horses patiently waiting in the parking lot while their riders were getting fish and chips, and renting a DVD. She loved that, the town-and-country feel of the place.
My personal favourite called itself a country club, rather than a retirement village. It was well out in the countryside, any prospective tenants had to be able to drive or be forever reliant on the place’s minibus service. It sprawled across about ten acres of land, superbly laid out and maintained. Tennis courts (four), bowling greens (two), inside and outside pools (one of each), and the houses were free standing, two bedroomed, spacious, and mouth-wateringly attractive. There were no frail care facilities, if you got sick nobody liked you any more, you had to leave. And the rent on that one was as much commission as I earned in a good month, but oh my it was lovely.
You’ll understand therefore that to me a retirement village is a desirable place to spend your leisured years, and I am constantly taken aback by the perception of a shabby old age home smelling slightly distressingly of wee. I should probably explain that I write whodunits set in a Scottish retirement village. Reader perceptions of retirement villages are definitely of interest.
Grasshopper Lawns has drawn from all the places I got to know but also from the place where my mother finally grudgingly moved, which was for Europeans only (i.e. not white people, but people of any colour who were originally from Europe) and had a hodge-podge of cottages, one bed apartments and studio units set in lovely gardens with good security. Her neighbours were German, Dutch, Scottish, English, and one Russian (so exotic), and she absolutely loved the place and wished she had moved earlier. Told you and told you and told you, Mum.
Grasshopper Lawns has alternating bachelor and studio self-contained units, around a central house with library, pub, etc, is in the beautiful Scottish countryside some twenty miles from Edinburgh, and you have to be single, and be an interesting person with an interesting past, to apply. Murders do happen, but only a few have been on the actual premises. Only one actual resident has been murdered; well, so far. And now that I think about it, since I invented the place, they have to let me in. Now I just need to look the part. No worries.