I sold my publishing company four years ago come January.  For the first couple of years when people asked me if I was retired, I’d say no.  When they questioned me further about what I did, I’d find myself scratching around for convincing answers; some conference speaking, the occasional interview, regular blogs for two magazines, some book reviews.  But it all sounded a bit feeble and it clearly didn’t add up to a fulltime job.

So, after a while, I changed my strategy and dealt with the question by launching an attack on the whole concept of retirement.  I claimed, a touch hysterically, that retirement was a lousy idea, that retired people died of boredom, that the government wants us to lead fulfilled lives by working until we drop……..and so on.  Then, when that failed to deflect discerning people, I had to admit that I was indeed retired but added defensively that I was still very busy doing good works but no longer getting paid.  In other words, retired!

And now, my denial has taken another blow – possibly a decisive blow from which there is no recovery; I have started to go to events that are conspicuously aimed at oldies.  Let me give you some examples.

Recently, I have been to two matinees for the over-sixties at the British Film Institute.  Wonderful films (Gone with the Wind and, yesterday, The Innocents) but you can’t help but notice, before the lights go down, that everyone is, well, decidedly old; the whole cinema is a sea of bald/silver haired heads.

Every Wednesday morning my wife and I go to contemporary dancing classes at the new Rambert studios, immediately behind the National Theatre.  This may sound impressive but the class we go is called Mercury Movers and is restricted to the over-sixties.  A large part of the session is given over, not to any dancing, but to stretching/balancing exercises (very necessary!).  The vast majority of the participants are women – only three men.  This rubs in the fact that men tend to die before women.  So, as we skip and march around to music (amongst other tunes, These boots are made for walking), I cannot help but feel I’m (a) a rare species and (b) on borrowed time.

On Thursdays I play croquet at Roehampton Club and I have to admit that most of us are, well, old.  The only young ones (well, middle aged!) are rich enough to be able to play croquet on a weekday.  A lot of the conversation in the pavilion is about funerals, strokes and heart attacks.  Last Thursday I told my (old) friends that I came to Roehampton to enjoy myself, not to be constantly reminded of illness and the Grim Reaper.  How we all laughed.

And so it goes on – daily reminders that I’m getting old.  On the underground young women leap up to offer me a seat, people hold doors open for me, young participants at conferences express astonishment that I’m still alive!

Never mind, acceptance of reality is less exhausting that the constant struggle to shore up crumbling denial and I have to admit that being old, so long as you don’t have too many aches and pains (I don’t – yet), is very enjoyable.

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