Old Enough to Not Know Better


My parents are in their 70s and are starting to do old people stuff like chatting with strangers and stockpiling bars of soap. Can I prevent this from happening to me?

I’m sure that, as I write, some neuroscientist out there is doing ground-breaking research on these important questions. How DO our young person’s brains turn into middle-aged brains, and then slowly progress into quaint old person brains? Are there genes for crankiness, inflexibility and fear of running out of household goods that are only expressed when we pass a crucial age threshold?

We can see the signs of this mysterious progression all around us.

It’s my contention that everyone over 40 is just a little bit mad…each in our own special way. Some of us are obsessed with things: dietary fibre, grammar, handicrafts, the weather forecast. Some are grumpy in the extreme. Others prattle at length about topics that are of no interest to our listeners. I’ve been involved in some pretty lame conversations myself; last year at a dinner party, six intelligent adults discussed – completely without irony – the reliability and stacking efficiency of a range of brands of dishwashers. (If you are interested in which brand came out on top, get a grip!)

Then there’s the driving. I remember, in my twenties, my personal rule of thumb being ’10 km/h above the speed limit is perfect’. These days, if I’m going as fast as 10 km/h below the speed limit I feel I’m just about hurtling out of control. I’m only a couple of steps away from not being comfortable driving outside my own suburb and needing to get home before dark.

Old folk are great for random compliments. During my youth, aged strangers were constantly popping up from doorways, crossing roads and calling out from their houses to tell me what ‘lovely hair’ I had. This hasn’t happened for many years, but it won’t be long before I’m doing it myself. Once I can no longer stifle the impulses, I’ll be loudly admiring luscious curls on the bus, and telling silly young women in the street to get themselves some sensible shoes.

I see these changes in myself and, basically (sadly?), they don’t bother me. My friends are going the same way, so I don’t feel weird. And we’re all concerned that our occasional difficulty recalling words or names heralds the onset of horrifying dementia.

But there are some habits of REALLY old people that I don’t want to develop. I’m making a list of dos and don’ts for my future ancient self right now. I’ll keep it somewhere handy and start reading it daily at the age of 75 (if I can remember where I put it). The rules so far:

  1. If you have more than a month’s worth of any household supply, DO NOT buy more.
  2. DO NOT show anyone more than 200 of your cruise holiday photos in one sitting
  3. If you wobble when you walk, just swallow your pride and DO use the walking stick your helpful daughter has bought you.
  4. It is OK to buy a ferry ticket without learning anything about the life history of the person who’s selling it to you. If there’s more than one ticket buyer in the line behind you please DO move on.
  5. You can get the breakfast things out in the morning – you DO NOT need to set them out the night before.
  6. DO NOT say “promise you’ll never put me in a home”. This may lead to your living unsupervised in your own house long after this is a safe option, while your children agonise and argue about whether they can break their promise.
  7. If the young folk next door are keeping you awake with their partying, DO NOT complain or call the police unless they have done this more than three times in the last month.
  8. DO wear pants with elastic waists – every day, if you like! But DO NOT tuck your top into these pants.
  9. DO NOT turn your hearing aid off “to save the batteries”.
  10. DO obey any instruction from your daughter that starts with “Oh for god’s sake, Mum, just…”

Who knows whether this list will have any impact at all on 80-year-old me! Perhaps I’ll be happily breaking half the rules, while thinking it was hilarious that I ever thought them reasonable. I might have a good laugh about it with my two younger sisters, who for reasons best known to themselves will keep insisting that they are in fact my two daughters.

I hope that in my doddery years the young people will also follow one important rule: if I’m not doing anyone (including myself) any harm, just smile indulgently and leave me be!

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