(For those of you getting on in years – read on. I wrote this piece for The Oldie magazine. They said it was delightful, but didn’t use it. Anyway, here it is for the delectation of my blog readers…
It’s started. I’ve enquired about my first over-55s reward card. I was dining out with my wife – at the Ship Inn in Leighton Buzzard – when my attention was drawn to the offer to join the Emerald Club – “Where Experience Is Rewarded.” That works for me: I’d probably be coming back for another meal sometime, and I could claim 15% off the food bill. Before I’d even touched my pint of Doombar I asked the young waitress to rush over an application form. The application form arrived on a card, showing the smiling faces of two late-middle aged couples holding aloft glasses of white wine, evidently subsidised by their 15% saving. One bloke looked suspiciously like Jeremy Corbin.
Doubt set in when the small-print on the application informed me I’d only get a discount between 11am and 7pm Monday to Friday (so this is why older people eat early?). More importantly, I started to worry what people now thought of me. When I asked for the application form I did it in a slightly jokey way. The waitress smiled without batting an eyelid. I secretly hoped she’d jokingly punch my shoulder and flirtingly exclaim “you’re never over fifty-five!” If she demanded proof of identity I already had my driving licence poised ready for inspection.
As the waitress went about her business with a quiet efficiency, I thought I detected a slight smirk on her face. I grinned weakly in return, imagining we were sharing some kind of private joke. I wanted to ask if the pub had a dedicated parking area for mobility scooters, just to show that my sense of humour hadn’t whittled away with old age. Regrettably, I was in the loo when she made her final visit to our table (the frequency of toilet breaks has been an issue since my thirties, along with occasional bouts of gout).
I wished I’d never started this sorry business. Only minutes ago, I’d breezed past the pub’s staff in my brown leather trousers and brown linen jacket, full of health and vitality. I was a young-for-my-age fifty-seven year-old metrosexual. I had decades of productivity left in me. I’d been contemplating starting a new career, for God’s sake. I’d now, rashly, self-identified as being over the hill. Tired of living? I’m still waiting to start, mate.
When I picked up that card I instantly become an Oldie. I felt differently about myself. Maybe my behaviour would change involuntary? Maybe I’d take on the habits of old people who I’d observed: blokes jingling the change in their pockets, or whistling indiscernible tunes in supermarket aisles. Perhaps I’d feel the urge to potter about in garden centres, or take bracing walks along the prom in Eastbourne? (I’d already started the latter, so maybe the process was already quite progressed). There would inevitably be decisions to be made in the future about bus passes and such like. I fancied that my eyes hovered a bit too long on the ads for stairlifts in the Oldie. Maybe we’d need to move to a bungalow in anticipation of my sad decline?
I’d already floated the idea of buying an “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt, but my idea was vetoed by my 52 year-old wife. Watching Coronation Street, I’d often tell her she could shoot me should I ever start dressing like Roy Cropper. Maybe my jokes hid a secret desire to buy a grey cardigan or an anorak? I laughed about it with my wife, taunting her that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of the Emerald Club for another four years. I’d be out with my new friends, enjoying discount meals and toasting each other with the finest wines known to man.
The event made me examine my own views of myself, and of ageing generally. I owned up to being middle aged in my late-thirties, and had happily accepted the manopause. I put on the leather jeans and played bass in a rock band in my forties, but in other aspects I became “set in my ways”. I was quite aware of this though. I would often challenge myself on my Oldie status, and try to keep things at bay.
You don’t have to behave like Keith Richards, but you don’t have to give in to the concept of age. You shouldn’t accept limitations unless forced to. It’s a number thing really. Age is only a number, and I’m no good with numbers. I am a free man, not a prisoner of age. No sir, I shall avoid pigeonholes. I’ll try new things, think in different ways, and continue to learn and explore. I shall always make sure I eat pub dinners after 7pm, despite the offer of discounts.
I was now noticing over-55s offers everywhere. A few weeks’ later I noticed an over-55s deal at my local fish and chip restaurant. Tempting, but ultimately I didn’t feel ready to accept discounts in return for pigeon-holing. I wasn’t going to define myself by a number. I never filled in the application. I’ll review things again at sixty.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, you have my sympathy.