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The International Writers Magazine: On Getting Old

No Country for Aches and Pains
James Skinner

‘Manolo retired a few months ago after 40 years as a mathematics professor at the university. He had spent all his life teaching students how to sort out life’s problems using Pythagoras’ theorem and other indecipherable formulae as they marched their way to a successful career in today’s technological world. His wife Mercedes, who is 10 years younger runs a pharmacy and is still actively engaged. He first tried his hand in a stint at helping her with the till. Although instantly accurate at resolving a complex calculus equation, Manolo kept giving customers the wrong change. She politely told him one day that it was best if he left the accounts to her and to go and take a walk in the park.

Image: Olive Picker © Sam North

So Manolo did just that and in doing so joined the increasing number of humans that suddenly one day find that they are no longer needed. Although society has quite generously rewarded their life long effort in whatever they were up to by handing them one or several monthly pension payments, they have damn all to do!

However, not everyone is like Manolo. As a friend of mine said once in the USA, ‘I’ve got six months to go and don’t know whether to look for some outfit to consult, or concentrate on improving my golf handicap!’ Many humans, when they retire do not just sit around parks feeding pigeons whilst feeling lonely and unwanted. Many take up a new hobby, or they go back to college to study or they go into politics. Some are given a second chance and continue to work although it may sometimes be only a part time job. But there is one aspect that none can get away from and that is the inevitable and unavoidable process of ageing.

Even Rockers get old
Despite numerous possibilities of enjoying a different and refresher approach to life, the physical nibbling by Old Father Time at the human carcass just keeps on ticking away at a steady pace. Whether we like it or not and whether our Creator might, regardless of religious faith have spared many of us of the thousands of deadly diseases that could have destroyed us prematurely, age itself is the one that slowly gnaws at our insides day after day, month after month and will just not go away. As another friend of mine who recently passed away at the age of 62 once commented, ‘when you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think of is ‘I wonder which part of me will start bellyaching first?’ you’ve reached the Age of Aches and Pains!’ What he failed to add is that if there were no pains at all then dear reader, you’d actually be dead!

So what other symptoms begin to appear that make you suddenly feel old and decrepit despite the fact that you may be walking down the street in a smart suit, carrying a brief case with the latest laptop housing an up-to-date Vista program, and about to enter a skyscraper where your sexy secretary is waiting for you with the latest consultancy projects on her desk? You’ve just finished a breakfast meeting with a customer and agreed to the budget figures of the final phase of a multimillion program to launch a new dishwasher. Despite your seventieth birthday about to hit you between the eyes you’re feeling on top of the world! So why the sudden drop in your present blissful state? Two young female executives working on another floor usher you in first at the elevator! ‘After you, please!’ ‘No, you first!’ you answer. ‘Please!’ says the other. And so the tit-tat goes on. The two young pussy cats had seen the wrinkles in your face, your arched back and your totally silvered new hairstyle that revealed the real you despite this modern age. You saw the look on their faces, ‘what’s this old creep doing here; why isn’t he walking the dog or his great grandson?’

When you finally reach your own destination, you wonder why you got so exited about the price of a dishwasher in the first place! Suddenly your lumbago takes over. You try to straighten up as the elevator door opens at your floor. It hurts like hell! You painfully walk out and enter your office. The look on your secretary’s face is no different to that of your fellow elevator passengers; or at least that is what you suspect. Your mind begins to take over and the conclusions are obvious. ‘I’m bloody old!’ Analysis time!

Let’s begin with the actual physical side. We’ll leave the brain for later.

How about a round of baseball? Or better still join the kids in a game of soccer. If you’re pushing 40 or even 50 you can just about cope with those new sparks of life that can sprint 100 metres in 11 seconds flat as they secure a base or chase the ball from corner to corner running rings round you without batting an eyelid. OK, drop the heavy stuff and slip into to a slender game of tennis or badminton. You are now pushing 60 and your next door neighbour is not far off so you all trot down to the country club and clock up a few sets of doubles with your spouses. Then it hits you! You feel that slight ache in your hip that just won’t go away. Weeks go by and after been carted off the court for the umpteenth time you finally decide to see the quack. Bang! ‘You have osteoarthritis Mr. Smith and the ball joint of your femur is a mess!’

Three months later you’ve got a titanium implant and your feeling fine. Trouble is you can forget about any tennis for the rest of your life. What does all this mean? That by the time you retire you’ve lost all touch with most sports (except for the Sunday television programs) and can just about manage a round of golf or a game of darts at the pub. Do you feel depressed? No way. Who the hell wants to imitate Ferrer or Nadal anyway? Most of us can cope provided there are other interesting things left in life that can keep us occupied.

I’ve heard of carpentry lessons that lead on to restoration of antique furniture for the geriatric core. Other less mundane yet more exotic pastimes are collecting dead insects and cataloguing them in what ever sequence you wish. Or how about the age old art of building ‘tin soldiers’? There is a wealth of information available as well as kits to build every kind of army that ever existed in the history of the world’s belligerent periods. Jigsaw puzzles, stamp collecting, painting and even knitting are all part of the plethora of activities to stop you from going mad after corporate or any other form of job that had kept you alive and earning a living most of your working life has passed you by. But most of this has nothing to do with keeping the old carcass fit, does it? Yet the deterioration of the old bag of bones is not the only part of the physical aspect of humanity that wears away. How about the average intake of fuel to keep the old heart pumping, the bowels lubricating and the rest of the body getting rid of the leftovers. I love a nice bottle of red wine with my steak and chips, an after coffee and brandy savoured with a Cuban cigar plus a couple of pints later on in the evening down at the local. Except for a couple of glasses of Rioja and stewed beef once a week the whole bloody lot has been almost dropped. I still smoke a small Petit Corona in the evening. If I’m to die of something, the small intake of exotic tobacco smoke once a day is good enough for me.

Now we come to the brain; the most important part of the body that keeps you going till the end of the line! Many horrible diseases exist that can destroy this marvellous computer that no human could ever produce with electronic gadgetry. Alzheimer and Parkinson’s are a few of the examples that cripple and destroy millions of old age people around the world on a yearly basis. Senility in general, although not as damaging, plays a heavy toll on the last few years of a human being. Forgetting to buy the newspaper, not remembering the name of a film star, or even worse, ‘have I taken my daily high blood pressure pill?’ are all part of a similar old age syndrome. Then there is nostalgia. Past a certain age, no longer actively working, one begins to reminisce. You become one of the ‘when we’ gang. ‘Do you remember when we were in such and such a place and had dinner with Count Dracula?’ Or how about, ‘I remember writing to Mrs Margaret Thatcher about the Poll Tax! She actually sent me a reply!’ You reach into a grubby old tin and pull out a letter, spilling your glass of water in the mean time. Your fifteen year old grandson has no idea what you are talking about! What is worse, he couldn’t care less. And so life goes on to the bitter end.

The real tragedy of growing old is that only you realise it. The rest of humanity that surrounds you has not reached that age and is far to busy living the life that you have just left behind. Their time will come.
If they survive, that is!’

Postscript: I purposefully left sex out of the equation. I leave that up to you for your own conclusions!

© James G. Skinner. March 2008

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