Old age

I can’t die now: I have enough coat hangers for the first time in my life.

This seems a powerful reason for ploughing on further into my 70s. You are sensing that deep down I am a frivolous woman. It is a reaction to all the people taking up laptops and telling people how to be old. I just can’t take it. When I started this column in 2008 no one had a word to say for the old. Now the air is thick with pontifications and I really hate it. My only mantra is: don’t be told how to be old.

Listen up. I am the first to say that old people should have jobs if they want them (as I did in my last column). I am the last to say it should be compulsory.

The wind is harsh down here in the west, close to the sea. I am so irritated that I walk down the hall as noisily as I can in slappy slippers so that I can hear I am alive above the wind’s howling. I am cross that I can’t stand on the lavatory to hang a picture of a bougainvillea-covered dunny I painted years ago. I stood there for a while thinking I might risk it, then thoughts of a nursing home kicked in and I gave up. Someone will come and put it up for me one day, but that is not the point, darling. My cat is sleeping so peacefully in her basket that I think I should give her a shake so she can wake up and be my friend. I am putting off ringing a human friend because I am afraid of his news.

The washing machine tries to walk out the door every time it is on fast spin and the cotton quilt inside is too heavy for me to do anything about it.

Old age is a bugger.

But most of all I am livid that the author of a new book (Patricia Edgar, In Praise of Ageing, Text Publishing) is advocating that the pension age be lifted to 70 and other nasty things “to promote a culture in which working to 70 and beyond is seen as normal”.

Aaargh. You see what I mean about everyone having too much to say about old age?

If you love old age you want people to share that feeling. Telling them they can’t have the pension until 70 is not the way to go. This rich country can afford to give old people who need it a bit of comfort for their final stretch. And comfort for many people means doing nothing very much: after a lifetime of being at everyone’s beck and call. The people who want the OAP to be raised to 70 are the ones who have a nice little nest egg (of course they worked for it) and are travelling the world. They feel full of life and verve. But a lot of people had jobs that were anything but challenging and enjoyable. They need to get the hell out of there before they die prematurely.

Some of my friends didn’t make it to 70. Well, that saved the nation something, didn’t it?

Edgar’s book is about more than the OAP. I think she would be a great person to have on board if you were trying to make a nursing home accommodate the needs of an old person. She’s a bossyboots and it is plain that she can be very effective. For her, being asked, at 76, if she uses the internet is ageism. And there are stories about some interesting Australian lives, told (rather stodgily) in her book. Hugh Mackay’s back jacket comment “if Edgar’s rational arguments don’t convince you, (he means that ageing is not bad news) her human stories will” is fair enough.

So what did I do to overcome my irritation with bossyboots and the weather? A picture came into my mind of an old girl up the street on her rusty old “girl’s” bicycle, like the one I had when I was 13. She tells me off for gardening in my good clothes. She talks and laughs a lot. She’s a real Westie, and still has me on probation I think, as I only moved here four years ago. She is wonderful, even if you don’t know her story.

Old age is wonderful. Join me in a glass of wine. Don’t be stupid. Of course you can drink on your own.

Author details:

Written by Shirley Stott Despoja. Reproduced with Shirley’s permission. The column was first published  in the Adelaide Review.

Shirley’s Third Age columns appear in  The Adelaide Review and The Melbourne Review each month.


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