I’ve been interviewing a lot of celebrities recently about growing old, for a new TV series I’m writing. It’s under wraps and all that, but what immediately strikes me is how much I am loving their company.
There’s an authenticity about older people which is immediately both unusual and attractive. What’s more, they’re entirely without inhibitions and nothing is off limits. Which is another way of saying they are hilarious.
They simply don’t care what people think of them anymore. They’re utterly up for pretty much anything you throw at them, and therefore qualify for the collective noun ‘Game Old Things’ big time.
Suddenly their guards are down, pretensions are abandoned and they are simply themselves. Which is ironic since, if someone under 30 were to be placed next them at, say, a wedding, their little hearts would sink in anticipation of being bored to actual death. That’s how bad the image of old age is. It’s full of negativity, need, and loneliness infused with a distinct whiff of cabbage.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in the interviews and, among other things, talked about sex and relationships. The over-60s are the first generation to have had free access to both free love and the pill and so it won’t surprise you to know the divorce rate is growing faster in this age range than in any other, and also that they are catching more STIs than anyone else now.
Perhaps a combination of dating for the first time in 40 years and not really taking ‘safe’ sex too seriously means that the oldies are finding themselves in the STI clinic for the first time in their lives. I would love to be a fly on the waiting room wall when young people walk in and presumably find the place stacked out with people old enough to be their grandparents.
I’d love to think that the series might be a tiny showcase of older people at their most entertaining, and that this might shift young people’s attitudes to us a teeny bit. When they see us holding up the queue in the supermarket counting out our change, or trying to find our reading glasses when they are on our head, perhaps they will remember what good company we often are.
I hope too that the young might remember we still have sex drives like they do – albeit littered with practical problems, not least with the docking procedure which, as George Burns said, is like “trying to shoot pool with a rope”.
Perhaps they will stop writing us off as useless and without relevance. We are, after all, the same as them but with hips that set off the security alarm at airports, and hair that has migrated from all the original places and started sprouting out of our chins, ears and nostrils.
“We’re all enjoying the Indian summer of late middle age or early old age while we can, rather than planning for when it comes to an end and we’re in the Tena Lady and living aids section of Boots.”
The other thing that has struck me during these interviews is that all the celebrities I have been filming are by definition still working in some shape or form, and I do wonder whether retaining a role at work does contribute enormously to us all feeling young. It helps us still to be needed, still valued, and ideally still paid which obviously is the best way to feel valued of all.
Yet another reason for the old to be in work rather than retiring, albeit part time and doing something they really enjoy. I’m noticing more and more that supermarkets and DIY stores are employing older people and the truth is that they know stuff. Ask them a question about rawl plugs and guess what, they know the answer… marvellous.
Of course, the big problem with old age is that not only does it lead with utter certainty to the great big Departure Lounge in the sky, but for most of us the last frail years will be very challenging.
None of us, including the celebrities I’ve been interviewing, seem to have much of a plan on this front. We’re all enjoying the Indian summer of late middle age or early old age while we can, rather than planning for when it comes to an end and we’re in the Tena Lady and living aids section of Boots.
They don’t want to think about it. Neither do I really. I mean, what can I do to prepare for it apart from try to weigh up whether I will have enough money (who knows?), or think about how I am going to manage when I can no longer drive and I live in rural Oxfordshire without a bus that passes through the village any more.
The answers are a bit vague. I am sure that my two lovely daughters won’t have time to look after me; why would they? Or should they? And the old man will do his best but housework is not his strong suit and there’s only so many things you can do with sausages.
Perhaps there is an argument for retirement classes to make a comeback. In the old days when it was the norm for everyone to retire at 65, people were routinely offered classes in gardening, woodwork and the kind of leisure activities deemed suitable for people with dodgy knees.
These days it would be much more useful for us to be retrained in a new career – whether that’s manning the DIY shop, making some money by doing things we enjoy and are good at, or teaching younger people to do some of the things which are dying out.
Judging by the hilarious conversations I’ve had making this new series, the entertainment business seems like it might be an excellent platform for us oldies to relaunch ourselves on. I have a feeling that there will be a spate of new standup comedians who start in their 60s and beyond. Perhaps they will be called sitting down comedians.