Predictably, at this time of year, newspapers and magazines are full of optimistic advice about how to lose weight, get fit, keep your brain active, make and keep new year resolutions, and all the rest of it. Another noticeable trend – perhaps it is only me noticing it? – are features about getting old alongside lists reminding us of people who have died during 2010.  I’m already 73 and I know it is a sad admission, but I got my calculator out to work out the average age (I suppose actuaries do this sort of thing all the time). In case you are interested it came out at 83 – excluding those who committed suicide when relatively young or were murdered.  However, according to the Office for National Statistics, one in six of us alive today will live to 100.  That is approximately 10 million people in Britain. 

Unless you are already old, it is hard to imagine it will happen to you. Janice Turner put it very well in The Times (1st January); ‘Just as every generation thinks that it invented sex, so each generation cannot imagine itself getting old. Well, maybe glowing, Saga-cruise old, but not dreary, dependent, old-old’. She goes on to predict that without some forward thinking/planning, ‘we will find ourselves, like previous generations, staring at communal TVs and smelling of wee’. 

At 73 I guess I still fall into Janice Turner’s ‘glowing, Saga-cruise old’, but, despite watching my parents succumb, and my growing obsession with obituaries, I’m the first to admit that I haven’t really faced up to being old-old.  I never even planned to be this old!  Come to think of it, I have never really planned anything about my life; it has just happened to me in a reactive, meandering sort of way.  I once ran out of work – serious for a freelance – and I decided that I would have to gird myself and be proactive. This fallow period happened to coincide with a particularly fine summer; a wonderful excuse to procrastinate. So, I gardened like never before, took the kids on outings, painted watercolours and generally had a carefree time. Then September came, the kids went back to school and the house fell quiet. I knew the time had come to do some planning and, better still, take action. I made myself a cup of coffee and was psyching myself up to be proactive when the phone rang. It was a call from a past client offering me an intriguing project. Encouraged, but conscious that one project was not enough, I made myself another cup of coffee and started to psych myself up again. By lunchtime, the phone had rung three more times offering work and I hadn’t done anything except react. I put my shorts back on and went out into the garden.

As the years go by, I know I’m going to have to give up the habit of a life-time, to stop all this complacent reacting and face up to becoming old-old. My wife and I need a contingency plan just in case it happens. I think it was John Lenon who sang, ‘life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans’. In my case that should read, ‘life is what happens to you full stop’. Not knowing where the full stop will fall is the problem.

Still, whilst in denial about getting old-old, at least I have accepted that I am no longer young.  I composed a lament for my lost youth which I inflicted on my guests at my 70th birthday party. You need to imagine it being chanted, Gregorian style, with the audience joining in the chorus (I insisted on a practice run just like they do at the panto).  Here are the words. Try it when you next visit an old people’s home.  A sing-song will lift their spirits.

A lament for lost youth   

Oh, I remember when my skin used to fit and my six-pack rippled in the midday sun. Now things tend to droop with bags under my eyes, some extra chins and a six-pack that has long since submerged without trace.

Chorus: Keep taking the pills with vitamin C and omega 3 

Oh, I remember when a sense of urgency was a commendable state of mind causing me to accomplished many laudable things.  Now it has taken on a completely different meaning euphemistically referred to as ‘calls of nature’.


Oh, I remember when I could hear pins drop and even everything my wife said.  Now I am afflicted with selective hearing and, for reasons I’ve never quite fathomed, this means that I hear everything pretty well – except my wife.


Oh, I used to stand six foot three inches tall in my stockinged feet without cheating.  Now, at a recent health screen, I stood as straight as I possibly could and the nurse said I was six foot one.  Then she weighed me and got that wrong as well.


Oh, I remember when I had a fine head of thick dark hair.  Now, my hair is thin and grey and there are only three places where my hair still sprouts enthusiastically – from my nostrils, my ears and my eyebrows.


Oh, I remember when my fingers were long and strong and could effortlessly grip and twist.  Now, general wear and tear has taken its toll and opening packets, those tins with loops you have to pull, and especially jars with screw top lids, is an unequal struggle.


Oh, I remember when my brain was razor sharp with instant recall of names, pin numbers, pass words and all sorts of fascinating things from what I fondly imagined was an extensive knowledge bank.  Now I struggle to remember who you are and where I last left my spectacles.


Oh, I used to be supple and I could bend and stretch and easily touch my toes.  Now when I stoop to tie my shoelaces, I ask myself ‘what else can I do while I’m down here?’


There are of course other things I could tell about aching in the places where I used to play. But I’ve come to realise that the best antidote is denial bolstered with plenty of red wine.

Final chorus


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