50 is the new 40

21 02 2010

When I was 21 I had lots of invitations in the post, to nightclubs I had previously had to sneak into. This morning I had an invitation to participate in NHS Tayside’s bowel screening programme. Welcome to my 50’s.

But it’s not all bad.

Looking back I remember my 10th birthday. Lots of my schoolfriends came round to the house.  We drank diluting orange juice, probably kia ora (I’ll be your dog-remember that?) and ate salmon paste sandwiches and crisps. The girls wore hot pants and the boys matching flowered shirts and ties.  We were all excited, on the thresh-hold of being “top juniors” and then off to big school.

By 20 I was at university and a party at Genevives Night Club (I wonder if it is still there? I’ll google it later. You couldn’t do that in 1980! ). That’s as much as I remember of the night. I had moved away from home, had a wonderful fiance and the world of work and independent living beckoned.

Ten years later I had been married and divorced and had just moved to Scotland to set up my own design and advertising  agency. Once again my new decade was full of possibilities. I was making a fresh start in a new country.

When I turned 40 I was at the centre of the dot.com boom, with investors queuing up to put higher and higher valuations on my fledgling retail business. I remember having lunch at the Gleneagles Hotel on the day of my birthday and not wondering what I should order or considering the price but casually wondering if I would be able to afford to buy the hotel!

And now I am 50 and at the very start of another new venture.

Each new decade has brought fresh possibilities and fresh opportunities.

We give some dates particular significance; birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas and all of the other festivals we use to mark the passage of time. I notice this particularly in the community at Corbenic where I work each week. The year is structured around festivals, most Christian but some old rural feasts and some entirely arbitrary like the masked ball that accompanies Shrove Tuesday. The celebrations give a structure to the year and create the pattern for life in the community. There is always something to look forward to.

While these significant dates can have a purpose, give focus and structure to life both in planning forward and in looking back , we shouldn’t be controlled by them.  Lots of us make resolutions at the start of each year which are broken by the end of January. If something is worth doing it is worth doing at any time. Why wait until lent to give up chocolate? Why wait until 1st January to drink a little less? That is why we started a campaign to encourage people to Do Just One Thing. To make a small change. It needn’t be onerous. It needn’t be huge but the process of embracing change and trying new things is an important one.

So, in the words of one of the magazine columnists, I intend to age with attitude. Not just on my 50th birthday but from my 50th birthday and for each day forward.

Getting Old

19 11 2009

Well, we all are, aren’t we? So why am I compelled to write about this now?

My grandfather was 94 yesterday.

He’s an absolutely fabulous old man and is still able to live in his own home,  supported by regular visits from his daughters, my aunt and Mum. He has smoked a pipe all of his adult life and despite an industrial accident suffered in his early 40’s that left him with a limp and prevented him taking regular, vigorous exercise, he keeps great health…excellent health in fact as he takes no medication.  He is becoming increasingly frail and worryingly forgetful. This doesn’t worry him, of course, but it is a concern for the rest of us.  For example, when he stayed with me a couple of months ago he told me at pretty much hourly intervals that he was getting a new TV ahead of the digital switchover. The new TV duly arrived and when I asked him a couple of days later whether he liked it he was adamant that he hadn’t got a new TV! However he can still do the maths puzzle on countdown much quicker than me! So what to do next? When to intervene? He isn’t going to get any less frail or forgetful. My friends uncle has dementia and is unable to care for himself but has sufficient clarity that he has decided to refuse food and water. What should be done? He is in hospital and clearly the NHS cannot allow him to die of hunger even though it appears he has decided he has lived long enough.

And my cousin, who I grew up in constant competition with as we were the same age and constantly compared to one another by our grandmother, was 50 yesterday. So I must be 50 soon. I don’t feel 50.  Not that there is a universally accepted definition of what 50 feels like, of course.  What I should say is that I don’t feel how I thought I would feel at 50 when I was looking ahead aged 30! I still feel the same in m head looking out as I have for the past 30 years. Standing outside and looking in through the mirror tells a different story. I look as I thought I would look when I was 50.

And I am a fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Yes, who would have thought it? I don’t think that Arlene Phillips was the best of the four judges and I guess that if the programme was in need of new faces, she was the obvious one to go, but the feeling that she was removed solely because of her age is a disturbing one.

And finally, there is the creeping certainty that there are more things that I can’t do now than can. For example, I will never win an olympic gold medal for the 100m. Now I know that this was never likely but had I trained hard, applied myself and actually entered a few races, who knows, it may have been possible. Now it is absolutely impossible.

We don’t deal with well with age and ageing. We don’t, on the whole, grow old gracefully. We don’t respect the elderly for the wisdom of their years. We fight to stay looking young. We spend millions on anti-ageing creams and hair colourants to hide the grey.

Maybe this love affair with youth is what makes it difficult to deal with growing old and with making good decisions on behalf of our elderly relatives.