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The first thing I would have said back then, with the wisdom of now, is that these things we are going to consider here WILL happen. You see, I think we all heard these things but never believed they would apply to ‘me’. We all heard, “you will get old,” but from the invincible position of youth, we all thought with a measure of scepticism, yes, maybe.  We probably heard, when you get old you will creak, groan and ache and from the same invincible position of fitness and health, we all thought, yes one day, but didn’t mean it. From the position of strength, the place of high achievement, the outlook of a superman or superwoman, we just couldn’t grasp the reality that was to come. Yes, we had old people in the family but we would never be like them. Well the truth is that we would but possibly ten or twenty years later because without doubt (and I’m sure somebody said it but can’t find who) yesterday’s sixties are today’s forties. I am still doing stuff in my seventies that we stopped doing in our fifties forty years ago.  

The second thing I think I would have said back in this imaginary seminar back then is, when older age comes, be real about it. I’m told it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “Do not try to live forever, you will not succeed.” I also believe it was actress Goldie Horn who said, “You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you're here?”

Realism for a few of us means we have to give up driving.

Realism for more of us means we can’t dig the garden for so long as we used to.  

Realism for many of us means our memory is not as good as it used to (well our short-term memory at least, often long-term gets better!)

Realism also says, “I will not take on myself what people think I ought to be, I will be me.” (I’ll come to more of that in a moment.) I like the quote that asks, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" 

Realism also says, in some measure at least, I can choose how I will view life. Someone said, “To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent-- that is to triumph over old age,” which suggests that I can let my heart grow hard, lose hope, cease to be kind, cheerful or reverent, and wallow in the gloom of my ailing years, if I don;t choose the former.  

Realism faces the fact that there is the potential for good or bad and although I cannot necessarily determine which to encounter, I can, in a measure at least (perhaps with help from others) determine how I will face them.   

The third thing I think I would have said is recognise that sometime you WILL decline physically and no doubt mentally but that doesn’t mean you have to let those things depress you. So you may not be able to skateboard with the kids any longer (because you have recognised the threat of falling and causing greater injury than when you were thirty!) but, instead, recognise that you are not like the parents of the grand-kids (i.e. your kids) and are not so busy and full of worries so that you can be there to listen to them without giving lots of advice until asked, you can show interest in them and you can ask questions about how they are getting on at school, riding classes, music lessons, or whatever else it may be your grand-kids do. Maybe you are the only person who has the time to do that meaningfully and in no rush. It doesn’t take great energy (as long as they don’t catch you as you go to take your afternoon siesta!) to be there for them. The effort comes, I find, when they come back from a skiing trip with the school or family and wax eloquent about what they achieved on the slopes, and you have to overcome the temptation to be a killjoy and say, “Oh, we weren’t able to do such things when I was a child,” or, “Oh, when I went skiing I badly twisted my ankle on the first day and never really enjoyed it after that.” Let them have their moment of glory and enjoy sharing it.  You don’t have to be fit and healthy to do that, just aware and willing.    

The fourth thing I think I would have said is, when the temptation comes to have regrets about aging, stop and think about all the good aspects of it, the fact that you don’t have to get up early every morning to dash out to stressful work, the fact that you can largely decide what you will do with the day – which may mean capitalizing on the discounts that are often offered to the aged, or freebies such as free bus travel. Ever thought about taking a good book and a camera and seeing how many miles in one day you can travel for free on the top deck of a bus?

I think part of this particular issue is that with fewer pressures of life, less demands on your time and energy, we have more time to just sit and appreciate life. Once upon a time sitting in one place we might have considered a waste of time; today it is an opportunity to take in what is before me, whether it is birds in the garden, a sunset, the tide coming in, the changing colours of leaves in Autumn or the buds appearing in Spring, or so much more.

The fifth thing - but I wouldn’t have known about it back then (but we are working off present knowledge) - would have been a reminder that we too will live in a time of technological benefit, not just our kids. For example, if you have a mobile phone, sit somewhere in private and ask your phone, “Google (or whoever), what is on at the cinema today, what is the 80 degrees Fahrenheit my kids abroad talk about, in our language, what is the best soil to grow bamboo?” and so, so much more. Today we can ask our phone to answer any question that once upon a time we might have looked up in an encyclopaedia.  But it’s not only the fun of finding out information, Not long ago on a quiet evening in a Southend restaurant, my wife and I looked across at another table where three ladies, who each had to be over eighty, all had their mobiles out and were each playing games. Not this was not isolated individualism, they were asking each other for spellings!  So whether it is Wordscape, Sudoku, Solitaire or whatever, have a mental workout for a time each day. Join the fun.     

One last thing. Be you, enjoy being you if you can, marvel at the wonders of modern surgery from which you have benefited, be grateful for the medicines that keep you going, and don’t worry what others think. Go on cruises if that is your thing, go to London and the theatre if that is it (and you can afford it – and increasingly more of us can) and don’t be put off by the voices you overhear of young people, bemoaning their lot, as you remember you went through times of austerity in your day and yes suffered raging inflation that put you under pressure, but be sympathetic. It is said that the grass is always greener on the other side, but it is always also not true that that other generation is getting it easier than me. Not true, but that’s how we allow ourselves to think. And if you worry about what they think, then remember the quote, “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don't care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all." And finally, somebody said, Aging gracefully means allowing change, and enjoying change.” I’m not too sure about that because much of the time we don’t have much option but to allow change and sometimes it isn’t always enjoyable, but that only goes to show you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet!  So, as we usually do, let’s finish with a few quotes - from the Internet!

I'm 59 and people call me middle aged. How many 118 year old men do you know?

- Barry Cryer

When I was young I was called a rugged individualist. When I was in my fifties I was considered eccentric. Here I am doing and saying the same things I did then and I'm labelled senile.

- George Burns

For the first half of your life, people tell you what you should do; for the second half, they tell you what you should have done.

- Richard J. Needham

I can't wait to tell my kids I was born before the Internet.

- Unknown

'Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter' -- Mark Twain.

One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it's such a nice change from being young. - Dorothy Canfield Fisher

I didn't get old on purpose, it just happened. If you're lucky, it could happen to you. - Andy Ronney

Growing old is compulsory - growing up is optional. - Bob Monkhouse

Nice to be here? At my age it's nice to be anywhere. - George Burns

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