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Age is but a number on a page

When acquaintances of my own vintage unexpectedly appear out of the dim and distant, I’m generally surprised at how much they have aged. They probably have the same reaction when they see me. I suppose everyone regards themselves as ageless.

My self-image is stuck somewhere in the mid-forties. Even in the face of clear evidence that time is taking a toll on the body, I prefer to remain in denial. When the doctor tells me I should begin to expect ‘this kind of thing’ at my age, I smile and nod, convinced she is talking about someone else.

Denial is not necessarily a bad thing thing, it can help one deal with the ravages of time. However, denial can become delusion. Such delusion is often found in men who insist on playing contact sports when they are old enough to be a danger to their opponents, their team mates and themselves. Anyone who knows their Gaelic games will know that the ancient ‘Junior B’ hurler makes up with guile and dirt what he lacks in speed and agility. Many the youthful, nippy forward finds himself limping off the field shortly after a close encounter with a Jurassic corner back.

I know of a man in his mid-fifties who found himself in the local A&E department after sustaining an ankle injury while playing five-a-side soccer. As he was discharged with his foot encased in plaster the nurse attending him, who was also a neighour, listed out the do’s and don’ts of managing an ankle injury.

“Finally, Tom,” she concluded, “you should trade in the football boots for a pair of hiking boots and a single bed.”

“Why?’ he asked

“From now on,” she explained, “you’d be well advised to confine yourself to non-contact sports.”

On the other extreme you have young people who long for venerability and are determined to get old before their time. They like to imagine they have spent far more time on the planet than the dates on their birth certificates attest to. I may be wrong, but I reckon females are not as predisposed to this condition as males.

These rare and exotic creatures, from the age of 12, adopt the practice of easing themselves in and out of chairs. By the time they reach 17 they’ve developed a slight stoop and walk with their hands behind their backs. As they get older they greet the arrival of gout, arthritis and lumbago as if they were lifetime achievement awards.

Their dress code includes braces, waistcoats and large handkerchiefs into which they blow their noses with much frequency, great volume and elaborate ceremony. They would drive a Morris Minor if they could find one and are wont to address friends and colleagues as “my dear man” or “dear boy”. Once they pass 25 they can take to pipe-smoking or snuff sniffing and like nothing better that listening to themselves dispensing words of dubious wisdom from the shallow depths of an imaginary life.

This early longing for venerability is a recognised condition. In places where reincarnation is accepted as an article of faith people who exhibit these characteristics are referred to as ‘old souls’, whereby some reincarnated souls bring with them the wisdom and attitudes they developed in previous incarnations.

However, I would be inclined to agree with those who describe the condition as a delusional attachment to an idealised era whose time has passed. Tridentine Mass enthusiasts along with their young, behatted and berobed clerics come to mind.

What brought all this on? Of late I have been contemplating the challenge of gracefully embracing a life where the days are increasingly bookended by supplements and suppositories. It isn’t easy to carry on with some modicum of dignity while Newton’s law of gravity plays mollybawn with your wobbly bits.

Of course there are days that are good, when age is but a number on a page. There are others that are not so good, when that ache in your lower back says it all. A few days ago I was in the car with my learner driver daughter. We were leaving a petrol station and she stopped to make sure nothing was coming from right or left. The motorist behind us hooted impatiently much to the chagrin of my young pilot.

“Listen to that auld fella,” she said, “he has no manners.”

“How do you know he’s an auld fella?” I asked.

“I saw him getting into his car,” she said.

The hooting motorist followed us to the nearby roundabout where he drew up alongside. I turned to have a good look only to discover that the ‘auld fella’ was about twenty years younger than myself.

“He’s not old, “ I said

“Oh my God, Dad, he’s at least forty.”

That wasn’t a good day.

First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, May 25th 2021

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