This ageing lark is a tricky business. A minefield of misunderstanding.
I reached the big 6-0 recently. Age had never previously bothered me having sailed through 30, 40 and 50. In fact, I wasn’t overly concerned about 60 as there were celebrations to look forward to. However, after the event I started to experience a niggling feeling of unease. Initially it was a sense of anti-climax. I expected life to automatically calm down but things remained as unremarkable at 60 as they’d been at 59. Then thoughts started to creep in about all the things I should have had/seen/done by this age: the house, the partner, the dog, the funds to take it easy. It was a massive thumbs down on all counts.
If you’re also of a certain age, cast your eye over my top tips for dealing with the advancing years.
Tip 1: Banish comparisons between what you’d hoped for and what you’ve actually got.
I started noticing reminders popping up everywhere telling me that my age was a ‘significant’ number. Questionnaires and application forms taunted me with age box selections. There’s nothing more sobering than reaching that last box option. The forms are basically saying that it won’t be long before they won’t even bother to create a box for my age. I won’t be relevant. Endlessly scrolling down the date menu to get to my year of birth has become another formidable experience.
I’ve stubbornly avoided the few savings this age can bring. It was a firm ‘no’ to cheap railcards and reduced travel – the term ‘bus pass’ still makes me want to vomit. On a recent cinema visit, I was asked if I was entitled to any discounts. In my head I thought the teller might think I was a mature student but I steeled myself to admit I was 60. When she took my word for it without a trace of disbelief, let alone a request for ID to back it up, I was distraught. I’d rather have paid the full price.
Tip 2: Don’t go fishing for compliments. When they don’t bite, you’ll feel the call of the knacker’s yard like never before.
People make assumptions about 60-plus. What does the ‘plus’ even mean? A non-defined time between 60 and death? Oddly, people nowhere near this age seem to have a set idea about it but how the hell can they possibly know? I’ve met many people in their 70s and 80s who are active, vibrant and engaged with the world, and I’ve encountered just as many in their 40s and 50s who are jaded, worn out and generally dismantled.
It still makes no sense when I hear myself say my age out loud. Now it’s now my turn to grin and bear all the unoriginal, humour-free gags about Zimmer frames, incontinence pants and stairlifts. To anyone I made a cheap commode crack about in the past, I belatedly and humbly apologise. Today, as the target of these barbs, I find myself unsure if people are joking or if they actually believe there’s a kernel of truth in all the stereotypes.
Tip 3: Caring how others perceive you once you’re a certain age is pointless. Just revel in the fact that they’ll eventually find out for themselves. It’s how YOU perceive yourself that counts. Also, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
So, what is 60 supposed to look like? I bet it’s completely different to what anyone imagines. In the same way that kids today are much ‘older’ and more worldly than I was as a teenager, 60-plus people are much ‘younger’. I don’t subscribe to the notion that 60 is the new 40 though, and I’m not delusional enough to classify it as middle age – statistically that means I’m going to live to 120 which seems unlikely.
Another common misconception is that you develop a desire to slow down or put your feet up. For one thing, as long as your health supports you, why would you want to come to a standstill and, with a view to what exactly? On a practical note, with the age of retirement now about 107, we’ll all be working until we drop.
Wanting to work to keep your mind occupied is as important a reason to stay employed as the monthly wage injection. However, this means finding yourself surrounded by increasingly younger colleagues. I knew I was past the point of no return when I realised I no longer worked with anyone who’d heard of Bucks Fizz. The 90s seem like a couple of years ago to me but many of my co-workers don’t recall that decade for the simple reason that they weren’t even born.
Tip 4: Direct people to Tom Cruise, Michelle Yeoh, Jon Bon Jovi, Lisa Kudrow, Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt. They are all 60 or over. They don’t strike me as being ‘past it’.
Am I now solely defined by my age? Do all of my life’s achievements and character traits suddenly pale into insignificance? Have I now become the ‘old one’ in my circle of friends? If I created a ‘man band’ I’d be Old Spice (oh Geri, how I now feel your pain).
I’m especially enraged by patronising adverts offering tips on how to get a job when you’re over 50. We all know there’s subconscious ageism by employers even though they go out of their way to say there isn’t. It’s poor judgement on their part as, in my experience, mature staff are reliable, turn up every day, have invaluable life skills, and a great work ethic.
I also appear to have been added to a mass of junk mailing lists spouting scaremongering headlines like ‘HAVE YOU PUT ANYTHING ASIDE FOR YOUR RETIREMENT? IF NOT, YOU MIGHT END UP LIVING IN A SKIP.’. They’re often backed up by insane TV adverts featuring a mad man in his greenhouse overrun by parsnips whose neighbour pops in to cheerfully announce that she’s just been to a lovely funeral. Who talks about death in such jolly terms? ‘Not dead yet then John?’, ‘No, I’m still clinging on Barbara. Parsnip?’. Surely such people only exist in a fictional Dibley-esque part of the UK? The man is so smug having all his arrangements in order that I just want to shove his parsnips where the sun doesn’t shine.
Tip 5: Rip up age-related junk mail and chuck it in the bin. Do not read it or be tempted to explore further just for the promise of a free pen.
Grim as it might sound, having a six at the start of my age has made me more aware of my own mortality. It’s come as a bit of a surprise because, whatever my age, I’ve always felt that things were just starting and that much was ahead. That level of stubborn optimism remains despite what the calendar says but I do have my moments, especially when I hear that someone (famous or otherwise) has died. It’s particularly sobering if they were younger than me.
I’ve heard of several sexagenarians – mainly men – who start to obsess over the age their fathers died. As they close in on that same number they wonder whether it might herald their own last gasp. Thankfully, I’ve never bought into that bleak prophecy. If anything, I feel the opposite, determined to sail past the far-too-young age of 68 that my own Dad reached, if only to compensate for the fact that he didn’t get as many years as he should have. The same with my lovely Mum who was just 71 when she died.
Tip 6: Unless there are hereditary factors, don’t focus on the age when others died. It will drive you nuts and might become prophetic if you dwell on it too much.
Having good health is important whatever your age. The inevitable aches and pains that come with getting older are unavoidable. I’ve been pretty lucky though I recently had my gall bladder removed and, although it all went well, there was a tiny part of me wondering if this was the start of the disintegration. I quickly snapped out of it on discovering that many friends and acquaintances have had the same op. In fact, it would appear that there’s barely a functioning gall bladder left in the UK.
So, to sum up, just do you. If people apply misconceptions to you because of your age that’s their ignorance showing, it’s no failing of yours. In my head I’m about 12. I still have the attention span of a dandelion which has got me into bother for as long as I can remember. If I find something dull, I cannot absorb it. Within seconds, instead of forcing myself to concentrate, I’m thinking about all the number one singles from 1979 or trying to remember the names of The Double Deckers gang. That will never change and I see no reason why it should.
Yes, age is a privilege and it’s better to get to the high numbers than not but, for heaven’s sake, let’s cut ourselves a bit of slack. I hate cocoa, haven’t worn fleecy pyjamas in decades, and I was born 20 years after World War Two ended so I don’t remember rationing, OK?
Final (and most important) Tip: Grow old disgracefully. There’s really no other way.
PS: To anyone moaning about how they’re ‘dreading’ reaching 20, 30 or 40…SHUT UP! You really have no idea. To finish, a quote from the great Joan Rivers. When an interviewer patronisingly introduced the legendary comic by saying ‘she’s 79-years-young’, Rivers replied: “Get real. That’s like saying [insert plump celebrity name here] is 30 stones thin.”