I MET Martin Flanagan once when I was part of the Flemington-Kensington News team. Our editor had invited him to be guest speaker at the annual meeting to be held in the famous (or should that be infamous) Hardimans Hotel in Kensington. He was a hero of mine. Still is. As a sports writer his approach is a little left field, concentrating more on the inner person rather than dwelling on their sporting achievements. Well that's how it seems to me. We had a beer together and talked about the role cartoonists have in newspapers. The Age cartoonist Tanberg’s name came up and Martin spoke about how good cartoonists were able to explore issues, conveying so much with such brevity. Martin also writes a column in the Saturday Age called Saturday Reflection and that is something altogether different.
A few weeks back he wrote that he had turned 60 and was pondering the significance of this milestone in his life. The article was headlined "At 60, the wash of years is upon you".
It would seem that to him birthdays, at least his own, are no big deal, many slipping by uncelebrated. He says his big year was his 26th, not because of his birthday but because this was the year his first child was born. But turning 60 was somehow different. Martin says at 60 you know the end is in sight.
WOW! Sixty? To me that was more like completing the first lap but then maybe I'm a bit slow. I know there are many who would agree. The very paper he writes for recently reported that today men can expect to live to 91.5 years. So Martin has barely covered two thirds of the course and I think it would take exceptional eyesight to be able to see the tape strung across that distant finishing line. He had read somewhere that at 60 it’s important to have some younger friends. He recounts a story of a recent weekend with a bunch of his younger mates to support this premise. The story is worth retelling.
Martin writes, "As recently as last weekend, we were on a deserted beach on a mild grey day when the call went out for a nude swim. I was cajoled into the water and haven't had as much fun in years, getting knocked over by waves, getting up, losing myself in the splash and crash and salty twang of the sea."
Well it has been some time since I have had a similar experience but such memories have a pleasant habit of revisiting. Like a morning jog on lonely Foo Chow beach at Flinders Island, skinny dipping up in the Territory at Florence Falls or plunging into the midnight surf at Kitty Miller Bay, the water so cold it took my breath away. I don’t think I could stand the shock these days but back then I was as young as Martin.
I remembered J. M. Coetzee had something to say about ageing in his novel “Diary of a Bad Year” but when I revisited the chapter I was disappointed to find it was briefer than I recalled and dwelt on the physical and mental deterioration the passing of time deals out to us. There was an element of grumpiness about it which came to me as a surprise. In part he writes “... I am continually on the qui vive for broken cogs, blown fuses, hoping against hope that it (the mind) will outlast its corporeal host”.
In his article Flanagan humorously alludes to similar prospects. So while we may rejoice in memories and find comfort there as we get older, they do not come with a guarantee.
The physical aspects of ageing are a major source of annoyance and lately, having joined their ranks, I am more tolerant of grumpy old men. There is that ignominy one feels as the girl at the produce store casually lifts the bag of chook food into the back of the ute, the alarm I still feel when people jump up to offer me their seat. It all seems to have happened so quickly.
Someone recently asked me what have I lost as I age and what remains. I mourn the loss of mobility and balance, one so dependent on the other. But now I have more time to discover new authors as I sit reading at the window with the sun on my back. There are those long evenings at the dinner table having robust discussions with good friends, good food and good wine, each gathering more cherished as time goes by. There are very few gaps in my life when I have been without the company of dogs and as I grow older their companionship becomes increasingly important. It is not only the love and loyalty I crave; all pets, I believe, are an insurance against the drudgery of old age. What sadness there is in eventually having to leave them behind.
Most importantly I have become more aware that I live in a wonderfully free country despite efforts by some to make it less so. As for any physical discomfort I am constantly inspired by the words of that great AFL footballer Alex Jesaulenko - another hero of mine. When asked how he coped playing with a severe injury he replied, “It’s only pain”.
Meanwhile there are other more pressing issues in my life. Have I collected enough firewood to see us through winter? Will the late tomatoes ripen in the autumn sunshine? How much garlic should I plant this year?
I am sure Martin will still be doing his thing, which he does so well, in 20 years time; writing in his inimitable style. And there is little need for him to worry about the availability of younger companions. He will discover that as you get older you don’t have much choice. Everyone is younger.
The conclusion of his story is typically thoughtful. “The fact you are mortal is not something you can shove away in a bottom drawer of your mind. It is part of your consciousness and that makes life simpler somehow.”
And that makes a lot of sense to me.
March 22, 2015
I’m much closer now to 70 than Martin Flanagan’s 60 and yes the “years have taken some toll”, eg. I’m sure I have financed a couple of physio’s/chiro’s kids private education, due to my creaky old back …
However even if “the bod” ain't what it used to be, if us “mature types” keep the old brain box active, then to me that’s half the battle on the way to somewhere well past the “use by date” of previous generations.
Like almost all of us, my life and values have been heavily influenced by my parents. My lovely Mum Florence was an inspiration. She loved life and all its aspects, especially her family and her legion of friends and was always up for a laugh and did not care one whit if it was at her expense. She lived til her early 80’s and until she finally became ill was still going at a furious pace for her age. Many of your more “mature readers” around the San Remo will remember her, I’m sure
I worked with my father Ernie in the family business for 30 plus years and his most unfortunate “life lesson” for me was that having devoted almost all of his working years to the business, when the time came to retire, he had not developed any interests outside the business, so perhaps even with a genetic tendency to develop dementia/Alzheimer’s, the fact his brain was so idle, it very likely became even more susceptible to this awful disease. Sure he “lived” into his 80’s too, if you can call such an existence a “life”.
So I swore black and blue I would not repeat his awful experience and having now been retired for 12 years, have not let any grass grow under my “granpa nap” chairs..