Cheering Myself Up-

You have only to take a glancing interest in the news on a regular basis to begin to feel that the world is a gloomy place-and becoming gloomier by the day.

  • In various parts of the world there are the usual, horrific subjugations of parts of society by other parts [such as in Myanmar]. [It is difficult to understand, in this case how a woman with a history of persecution cannot bring herself to support and alleviate the suffering of her fellow countrymen].
  • Ill-conceived and pointless terrorist attempts continue to be made-the latest a horrific explosion on an underground train in London, in which a number of innocent people were injured for merely going about their business.
  • In the UK a debt mountain is growing and threatening to eclipse all previous peaks.
  • The USA and North Korea between them seem to have decided to blow the planet to smithereens.
  • Our beleaguered health service is [yet again] facing a crisis winter without sufficient resources, staff or funding, although if the previous story goes the full chapter the health service will not be necessary…

But overall, all of these grim stories almost pale into irritations compared to the ghastly weather incidents that have been occurring on an increasing scale this year. The Caribbean and the Eastern part of North America has seen devastating events as has Asia, with hurricanes, unrelenting rain, flooding and ravaging winds destroying the lives, homes and livelihoods of thousands.

Can there be anyone left other than Donald Trump who still refuses to believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

I can’t help feeling we have an obligation at least to know about terrible news events, rather than ignoring it all. But knowing can induce a sensation of helplessness-even despair. In order to mitigate these reactions I determined to trawl through the news and attempt to find some uplifting, heartening or entertaining snippets:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I read some years ago and recently watched on TV has won the prestigious Emmy award. And quite right, too! Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers with her thought-provoking tales of dystopian futures.
  • Some wonderful movie posters dating from the 1930s and 1940s have been discovered under a carpet near Cardiff in Wales, UK. They were sold at auction for £72,000. I like to hear that discoveries such as this are still possible!
  • A Polish lemonade company wanted to market a new product and call it ‘John Lemon’. What a relief they were stopped! Yoko Ono massed some big legal guns; now it’s to be called ‘On Lemon’ which would be unlikely to offend anyone.
  • A Welsh [yes, Wales again] teenager walked up Mount Snowdon [for the uninitiated this is the highest peak in England and Wales] wearing only his underwear, in order to raise money for a dementia charity. He gained the top but became very ill with hypothermia, having not realised that the temperature would be considerably colder than at the base of the mountain. Fortunately the lad was transported down on the train and treated by paramedics. That he recovered goes without saying-or I would not have included the story in the ‘uplifting’ section.

There you have it! Bad news/good news-a game we played as children. The second list was harder to find. Make of it what you will…

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What Makes You Old?

A woman at my book club told me she didn’t begin to feel old until she reached her sixties. But what exactly is feeling old? Is it to do with physical failings? Memory? Loss of independence? Or does it occur due to fear of death, which, of course comes closer with each passing day?

Sibling 1 moved house last week, after more than thirty years in the same, large, old, character-ful home. He was seventy last year. Like many of us, the old family home has become too large for two growing-older people to manage. His new home is a bungalow; tidy, neat and unremarkable. We live at opposite ends of the country, he and I, communicating sporadically and meeting infrequently, but in his email he writes of needing to walk with a stick, having to ‘get a quart into a pint pot’ [of the downsize they have made], of the various health issues he and his wife are experiencing.

It is dispiriting to read this. While we are dependent, to a degree on fitness to stay the fears of old age, seventy should not, need not feel old, any more than sixty should. After all we are used to seeing footage of centenarians running marathons or parachuting out of planes. So what makes some continue to be adventurous and intrepid in older age and some not?

I believe it is possible to think yourself old and I suspect it has much to do with how you have lived life all along, who you’ve hitched up with, where you’ve taken up residence, what your occupation was and many other, related factors.

The small town Husband and I moved to a year ago has a reputation for being home to the largest population of pensioners in the country and this is often evident on Mondays, when the market in the High Street is beset by swathes of motorised scooters, walking stick wielding geriatrics and silver browsers.

And yet on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night the town hums with fun seekers; music lovers, clubbers, theatre-goers and the pub community thronging the streets. In the pubs there’ll be live bands attended by drinkers and dancers. The restaurants are full and the streets are busy with revellers moving from one venue to another. Look closely and many of these fun-seekers are the same, older folks that were in the market, determinedly rocking the night away. And who can blame them?

What should we do, then? Some simply give in to aches and pains, sit around and eat themselves into a blob. Others don their lycra, deny themselves to anorexia and run, cycle and circuit train themselves into gristle. Personally I prefer the happy medium. I like to walk and cycle and enjoy it all the more with a slice of cake, an ice cream or a glass of wine at the end of it!

But most of all I could never, ever give up to the point of buying and living in a bungalow!

‘When You’re Sixty Four’…dum-de-dum…

I’m about to be 64. ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, the song was written by Paul McCartney when he was sixteen-an age at which you could never imagine becoming sixty four and at which you would think it to be a very old age to be.

Like everyone says, most days my body does feel ancient, but inside my head I don’t feel much different, or old. Every day some part of me aches or feels stiff. I forget things. Words escape me. I’m not au fé with some of the more contemporary aspects of technology [I can’t tell my mega-bytes from my giga-bytes]. Some of the ‘classic’ acts at Glastonbury seem newbies to me.

But I keep abreast of current affairs, I like to try new things and I know it’s best to keep moving regardless of what hurts.

I’ve just reached another age threshold by officially becoming a state pensioner. I’m one of those women whose birthday falls between two dates that have been used to equalise the genders so that men’s and women’s retirement ages are the same. Fair enough. I’ve no quibbles with it. But most delayed pension age women are upset not to have been informed sooner [not until a year before the previous state pension age [60]]. I’ve been fortunate to have paid into an occupational pension scheme, but for many of those who have not there was no time to plan for a later retirement date and many have suffered huge financial losses [with the loss of their home for some] due to the lack of warning.

I’m also about to apply for that Holy Grail of retirement benefits- a bus pass. For the last few years I’ve been trailing behind Husband as he hops on to the bus, flicks his pass on to the scanner and slides into a seat while I scrabble for change or apologise for presenting a note. There have been times when I’ve been the only fully-paid-up passenger on a bus.

I’m also being offered a winter fuel payment and have received a [so far] small amount of state pension payment-at the same time as the announcement that due to a tax adjustment my occupational pension is reduced.

We are constantly being reminded that we have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy; to eat a sensible diet, not over-indulge, not imbibe an excess of alcohol, count steps, not have sugar, do this, don’t do that. Nobody can argue that we should not over-burden our already beleaguered and precious health service.

What a pity, then that three appointments I’ve had to have a scan on a relatively minor problem in my foot have been cancelled because I ‘don’t meet the criteria’ for help. Were the problem to be sorted I could get back to doing my thousands of steps, exercising and doing my bit to keep out of hospital wards and GP surgeries.

Sixty-four eh? However did that manage to creep up on me?

Ten? We are all Doomed-

Smug about your diet? Getting your five-a-day in? Well don’t be, because now you are advised that this is not, has never been enough and you should be cramming ten…yes ten helpings of fruit and/or vegetables down your gullet each and every day.

Great. Actually I’ve been quite smug myself. We’ve never been ones to load the trolley with ready meals and have tended [especially since the heady, time-rich days of retirement] towards cooking from scratch-not going as far as making our own pasta or blending our own garam masala, but we don’t buy sauce mixes or shop soup and we’re fond of vegetable-rich meals and salads and we’ll snack on fruit rather than cakes or biscuits.

Now, however it transpires that we haven’t done enough on the vegetable front. What sort of time though, is this to tell us, when we’re never going to see the front of sixty again and all the damage, the degeneration and the eroding of protection has been wrought throughout our only five portioned/meat-and-two-veg/subsistence diet? Presuming that it is now too late to undo the shocking abuse of more than sixty years that neglecting to have ten veg and fruit things has done, should we continue to follow the subsistence, ‘five-a-day’ regime? Or can we mitigate the ominous, brewing health catastrophes by swallowing fifteen or twenty helpings of cabbage, kale and tomatoes each day?

And take care, reader not to simply gollup piles of fruit down or swig ten smoothies every day, because fruit, my friends is sugary and calorific, leading to an expanding girth before you can say ‘Jabotacaba’. We are advised to ration our fruit intake and turn instead to sober lettuce and sprouts.

Wait, though. A glut of helpful news columns has emerged, explaining how to insert the extra portions into our daily trough. We can add spinach to our spaghetti, have another veg on our plate [we’ll need bigger plates] and snack on fruit. It all begins to seem exhausting.

On a more serious note, all these fresh fruit and vegetables do not come cheap. Here is yet another few miles plugged into the rich-poor divide. How many fresh items are there in the food bank basket at the supermarket? For those whose main issue is how to prevent their children from going to bed hungry, plying them with ten fruits and veggies must come a long way down the list of worries. Keeping healthy, then is a preserve of the comfortably-off, as are most things.

What on earth will happen to fast food outlets? The kebab houses will be alright-there is always a lettuce leaf and some shredded cabbage in the pitta pocket; but fish and chip shops will need to double up their mushy pea portions and MacDonalds will have to sneak mustard and cress into the Big Macs-or whatever it is they serve.

Watch the space. In a few months’ time we’ll either be told that eating too much cabbage is killing us [well the noxious gases produced may well do] or that ten portions are not enough. In the meantime, I’m off to the greengrocers…

Don’t Breathe until you’ve Strapped on the Button-

We are used, now to seeing those posts that invite us to join in congratulatory admiration for friends’ achievements. You know the ones. So-and-so has just run X miles or, J Bloggs has cycled to here; there will be a map to show you exactly the route they took. These posts fall into the same category as those selfie shots, a cloud of grinning friends all having a ball or seated around a table of delicious, ‘Masterchef’ style food-or standing on The Great Wall of China or Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see a photo of someone grappling with a flooding washing machine or in the aftermath of open-heart surgery.

Creeping along into this melee of ‘tell-all’ comes the tiny, wearable, digital device. Of course, monitors of all descriptions have been around for ages, but these, ever-smaller, watch-like buttons are becoming more sophisticated than ever. According to devotees they will tell you how many steps you’ve taken, monitor your heart rate and inform you of how you’ve slept.

It seems to me that this is taking self-absorption to another level. Why do we need a device to tell us how we’ve slept? I am still compos mentis enough to know whether I’ve slept or not-because if I was awake I probably knew about it already. I also have a fairly good idea whether I’ve walked anywhere or if I’ve been a lazy slob slumped on a sofa with a book. I’ll let the health system deal with my heart rate, though if I’m feeling ok why worry?

Won’t these little, wearable buttons give us the same paranoia that googling symptoms does? Supposing it tells you you didn’t sleep a wink last night? What will you do? Go back to bed that minute to recoup the lost hours? Only walked eight thousand two hundred and fifty four steps? Quick-get outside in the garden and do a few circuits before ‘Eastenders’. Eaten too many calories today? Nothing to eat tomorrow!

Worse still, in a sinister vision of the future, supposing some popinjay in the health department of a nanny state government comes up with the brilliant idea of linking their use to the health system. You will be required to wear a monitor at all times if you wish to be entitled to health care. You will be resuscitated only if you have slept for the mandatory eight hours last night. You will qualify for a hip replacement only if you have completed your compulsory ten thousand steps per day. Goodness! A veto on surgery for smokers or the obese has already raised its ugly head. Linking healthy lifestyle to healthcare entitlement can only be around the corner.

Or why not programme the devices to issue warnings? They could jolt us with an electric shock if we sip at a second Sauvignon or munch on a MacDonald’s and sound an alarm to alert us to getting on with our ten thousand steps. Does it remind you of any famous novels? Just remember that 1984 was over thirty years ago.

Do What You Like

I am amused by a news article declaring that the latest cohort to come under attack from the health police is the middle aged. Apparently this is due to their unhealthy life styles. They work long hours, spend hours on their commutes and then mitigate the ensuing stresses of their days by glugging down copious glasses of wine and lolling on sofas watching box-sets whilst dipping into bags of Pringles or pressing pause only to order a takeaway pizza. Shame on them!

Lucky me, then that I am past middle age. In fact, as I recall I became my most active and healthy during those years, despite having a busy, stressful job and being a single parent etc. I’d have to hold my hands up regarding the wine consumption, which was not modest-but on the exercise front I’d have won a lot of points. Not only was I undertaking DIY on the hovel I’d purchased but also attending exercise classes, following a slavish regime of aerobics videos and running each and every day. I was a virtuous paragon and the only pity was that there was no Facebook or Instagram or whatever to enable me to ‘Map My Run’ and brag about my achievements.

If that exercise regime gave me anything it was an ingrained awareness that regular physical activity is a necessary component of a comfortable life-even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The difference now though is that the activity must be dictated by what is physically possible. In other words, running and leaping around in an aerobics class are no longer options due to failures of joints and general decrepitude. Instead I indulge in pursuits that a] I am able to do and b] I enjoy.

Exercise crazes come and go with the wind. Once upon a time I threw myself into aerobics, embracing the entire Jane Fonda/leggings and leotard package. The next big thing was Step-Aerobics. Again I became snared in the allure of leaping around and up and down, attending  3 classes each week, unaware of the damage I was doing to my hips, knees and feet but thrilling to the appeal of the ‘horseshoe turn’ and its accompanying, fancy moves.

My aversion to tepid water has been blogged in a previous post, hence swimming is ‘out’. [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/when-you-know-you-are-out-of-your-depth/]. But I can still treat myself to a twice weekly dose of dance with the ever-popular Zumba and have learned to love walking, whether accompanied or not, although I am in a constant search for the Holy Grail of all walking shoes; a pair that eliminates all vestige of arthritis, plantar fasciitis, corns, bunions and the rest. How unglamorous bodies become in older age! I’ve documented my late entry into the world of Yoga [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/sensual-slow-and-unsupple/] and recommend it for anyone hoping to stay fit and mobile for as long as possible.

I eat vegetables √ I’ve replaced a lot of meat meals with fish √ I’ve cut out sugar √ I’ve all but cut out alcohol √

So now, reader, I fully expect to become immortal. I’ll keep you posted.

How to Stay Healthy, or How not to?

If you read a recent article on the subject of the elderly being too wealthy you would be tempted to believe that most of the under 50s population would like us all to be euthanised. How dare we have pensions? How dare we own our properties? How dare we have holidays? Problem is though-will they be so enthusiastic regarding geriatricide when their own turn comes?

As an attempting-to-stay-fit 60 something it is my own intention to get the most out of however many years there are left whilst trying hard not to lean too heavily on either the state or my own offspring when bodily malfunctions occur.

So-health advice then; what should I do or not do to keep out of the doctor’s surgery? Since I became an adult there has never been a shortage of advice on how to stay healthy. Here, in no particular order, is a selection of warnings and recommendations:

  • Wear a seat belt
  • Don’t eat eggs
  • Eat eggs
  • Eat curly kale
  • Run
  • Drink a glass of wine every day
  • Don’t drink alcohol every day
  • Stay out the sun
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Sunshine gives you cancer
  • Lack of sunshine is bad for you
  • Smoke menthol cigarettes
  • Don’t smoke
  • Coffee is bad for you
  • Coffee is good for you
  • Walk 10,000 steps
  • Don’t eat fat, eat carbs
  • Don’t eat carbs, eat fat
  • Don’t eat processed meat
  • Don’t eat butter, eat margarine
  • Don’t eat margarine, eat butter
  • Exercise your brain
  • Get enough sleep
  • Don’t have too much sleep
  • Fruit is good for you
  • Don’t eat fruit

There is a lot more advice. There is so much advice you can waste several years of your life sitting down to read it.

If you’ve been diligent enough to have read the list you’ll have noticed the conflicting pieces. Take the butter/margarine snippet. Twenty years ago we were all bludgeoned into shunning butter in favour of healthy, heart-loving margarine. The manufacturers of brands such as ‘Flora’ rubbed their hands in glee as we made faithful inroads into their stocks. And now? Now margarine is the dastardly enemy and must be ostracised for the manufactured upstart it always was.

The problem, for those of us of a certain age is that if we have striven to follow guidelines and warnings we have done all sorts of things wrong. We ate eggs, we didn’t eat eggs, we drank wine [with an enthusiasm that contradicts current thinking], we gave up coffee, we eschewed fat in favour of carbs. Presumably then, we’ve done untold damage to ourselves by following the advice? What are we to do?

Perhaps we should pursue the authorities, the powers that be for compensation. ‘You told us to eat margarine!’ we should say. ‘Look what it’s done to us!’

I wonder what their response would be?