All my life I have lived in the centre of a whirlpool of fear – fear of bullying, fear of failure, fear of social ostracism, fear of girls, fear of debt, etc. Add to that fear of Soviets and savages and spiders. It’s amazing I made it out of the house some days – it was probably worry about Russians with tarantulas under the bed that got me out of the place.
Well, that was then, this is now. I was young, and then middle-aged, and now I’m not. The fear of business failure was cured by failing – and then living comfortably – and the spider phobia went early in the piece when I started swatting redbacks with my thong. These days being socially ostracized is positively relaxing and debt is expected of us anyway. Girls are still frightening, but I am taking them in small doses and the nervousness is wearing off…
I still get to worry about random attacks of intruders or the collapse of bodily health, but even here the terror is not as great as it might be. There are sensible precautions one can take, and at this age there are a number of dangerous and dreadful options as well that are quite attractive.
The great thing is that you finally realise that no-one knows what is going on, or how to do it, or what they look like, or where it’s at. We all thought so when we were young and quaked or preened with the thought. None of us appreciated what we had half as much as what we thought we wanted – and it is only the fortune of time that’s brought experiences and objects to us to show whether they were worth desiring or dreading. In most cases, nothing was.
But now we oldies have a pretty clear vision of exactly what we don’t give a shit about. The delicate and gentle amongst us – and I include myself in this group – do not go shouting our disdain about to harry others. We merely do not attend, even when we are there. We may have bad ears but we can listen to internal music, and without Apple products either.
Don’t believe me? Look at the ol’ folks on the bus or train. They are the ones enjoying looking out the window or laughing at you as you bend over your mobile phone. You may have no idea where you are and what you look like, but they do.
And I couldn’t be more delighted. Receiving recognition of a lifetime’s dedicated study and work is very gratifying and the fact that the speaker is crying and trying to throw canned goods and shoes at me just makes it all the sweeter. There is a great deal of sincerity in a can of green beans when it is aimed at your head.
Getting to be old is a privilege – one we pay for in aches and pains – but nevertheless a good thing. It means that, as Gilbert and Sullivan so accurately put it, we can mature our felonious little plans. Anticipation is fine but satisfaction is better, particularly if you are never suspected.
Is being vile a bad thing? Well, there are so many definitions of the word that there seems to be room for a great many forms of behaviour. Eating the wrong thing in one culture scores badly – the same meal elsewhere is welcomed with gusto. Likewise political and religious opinions and actions. You just need to find the right audience for anything you do.
I have always tried to be kind to animals. Some of them are useful, some attractive, some dangerous. Some are delicious. It is best to adopt a good attitude to them all if you do not have a .30-06 or a frying pan close to hand.
Likewise I am kind to children. I find them to be valuable allies in my war against their parents. They know things that can be jotted down and given in evidence. Few of them are discrete.
And I do help old people across the road – I take their arm and carefully totter from one curb to the other, oblivious to the screeching and banging of cars as they collide. But I am careful to keep the other person closest to the traffic – no sense being careless about things. SOme of them are younger than me.
I will admit to one bad habit. I cannot pass a stack of canned goods in the supermarket without easing one of the cans on a lower level just to the edge of its engagement. And then I go away and pause in the dairy aisle and listen for the inevitable…
We old fools are well served by that folk saying – it has the right ring about it to let young people laugh and lose interest in us. And then we can carry on with our nefarious plans. By the time they realise how dangerous we are it is too late.
Now I don’t want to alarm people – old folks are not demons incarnate, unless you are speaking about Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, or Hilary Clinton. Most of us are cuddly and lovable and do not make stains on the carpet. But we are dangerous enough in our own right to require a bit of caution. Above all we should not be left unattended near the bookshelf or the computer. Some of us cannot be trusted.
The young have the advantage of us in that they have stamina, health, and sex to look forward to. We have the counter in that we had sex and it was better than the stuff you get nowadays ( including the nice-crispy sex you got before the war ) and that stamina and health are over-rated. Being sick means you get to do a lot more complaining.
We are allowed a great deal more latitude than the young, but they don’t realise that in most cases we do not need it. If people are going to be so indulgent as to forgive us our foibles that is all well and good – but they fail to understand that we don’t care whether we are forgiven or not. We are content to have a good time ( before 8:30 in the evening ) and let it go at that.
Folly, as it happens, is generally a youthful activity. They can love and hate and invest and war and over-eat with little sad consequence – we have learned differently, and know that any deviation from good sense brings bad times. So we are wise in spite of ourselves. It doesn’t preserve us, of course, but it does make us quieter in public places.
I am wondering about the business of becoming old. Starting to suspect that it is a bit of a fraud, and I’m wondering who is running the scam. Let me explain.
I reached 70 years old today – by the simple process of waking up alive instead of dead. I am going to assume that this is a good thing. I have given up regular employment for the misty uncertainty of part-time engagement. I have enough money to eat and drink regularly and enough old clothes to survive the cold. I have a library of books and workshop full of toys. I do not owe money to anyone, and they do not owe it to me – thus leading to a quiet mind. All would appear to be well…
But is it? Am I now officially in Old Coot Land? Can I let out my mental belt and run around hooting? Can I chase youngsters off the lawn with an M1? Can I wear flared trousers and a toupee? Can I put up signs excoriating the local council and get away with it? How far gone am I, and is there any chance that I can go further?
To be honest, I don’t feel much over 35 and I don’t think much past 25. I can still drink, but do not need to do it on the cheap stuff. I can still eat but lately the Kiddy Meal is about all I need. And I have finally decided what I like doing and don’t like doing. Helluva long time finding it out, but…
Shall I become a Keyboard Troll Social Warrior? Or a Disgruntled Activist? Or just a Menace To Navigation? All three are tempting.
I toyed briefly with the idea of becoming a Benevolent Old Buffer but then I found out how much benevolence actually costs these days. The kindness that ran to $ 20 in the 1960’s is now up over $ 90 and if you are not careful the recipients will find out where you live. I have nothing against beggars at the gate, but we don’t have a gate. And the doormat is generally occupied by the cat and his latest dead rat – the last thing I want is cat, dead rat, and Lazarus at the same time.
I am also troubled by the Hefner phenomenon – I don’t know whether to be a randy maniac in a dressing gown or a figure of staunch moral fibre in a black Puritan suit. The dressing gown would be comfy but the knee breeches and severe black costume would allow me to burn people at the stake. Decisions, decisions…