Ageing-The Truths you’d Rather not Know

I have kept quite well to my promise not to produce a continuous blog documenting the woes of ageing-an unceasing fountain spurting hypochondria; but I realise I may have gained some kind of watershed where age is concerned-one that may never be drawn back from.

Since I entered the grand decade that is my sixties significant and not altogether beneficial changes have begun to manifest, which I feel are relevant to Anecdotage and the Views from the Descent. For, from here it really does begin to feel like a descent.

Google ‘ageing’ and you will be bombarded with information and opinion. Often, in publications such as Sunday supplements there will be interviews with older celebrities- in any sphere. It interests me that the overwhelming majority of ageing ‘celebs’ are anxious to stress the positive aspects of growing older-how much more experienced they are, how much happier than when young, how grounded, how advantageous it all is. Reader, I am more than suspicious of these people. To me they are missing one overriding, enormous elephant of a fact. However blessed, fortunate, experienced and ecstatic they feel, the spectre of death has not only appeared on the horizon but grows larger as it approaches.

Of course as we all know-it is best to ignore the scythe-bearing one and concentrate on living life to the best of our frailties, but still-aspects of one’s demise will keep popping their heads over the balcony, such as:

Things Hurt More than they Used to

Joints hurt. Old injuries hurt. Vague unidentifiable bits hurt. In an ironic twist [the reaper having a laugh?] many of the hurty bits have been caused in younger incarnations by enthusiastic bouts of fitness.

The Hurty Bits Take Longer to Stop Hurting

Related to above; whereas a familiar, old hip/back tweak used to come and stay for a few days, now it overstays by weeks. An intermittent back injury overstays. Wrists that used to be a little sore are aggravated by carrying anything heavier than a sheet of paper. It becomes tricky finding a comfortable position to sleep, sit or be.

Knowing you are Turning into Your Parents does not Stop you Turning into Them

All the traps you have sworn not to fall into are impossible to avoid-repeating yourself, telling hackneyed stories, being curmudgeonly et al.

Those you have Known begin to Shuffle off the Mortal Coil

Once he became elderly my father began every visit with a tale of who had died that week. In his absence we smiled about it. Now that the clogs of people in my own life are popping it no longer carries the comic appeal it once did. No doubt my offspring are benefitting as I did.

The Recession of Middle Age

Remember all that ’40 is the new 30’ thing? We like to stretch our age back into youth as far as possible. I considered I was ‘middle-aged’ up until I was 60. Then it became far-fetched. Maybe someone could invent a term for between middle-aged and elderly, like ‘milderly’? Except it sounds like mildew-which is actually quite appropriate.

These are just a few aspects of ageing. Perhaps you harbour some more? Add them in the comments and I’ll compile a ‘bottom 10’-you have to laugh-what else can you do?

Hard Work, Dedication and not a small Amount of Luck

                Nadeem Badshah, the world’s oldest runner, who is 102 years old, has retired from marathon running. Oh not from running, you understand-he is continuing to run, though not competitively. Nadeem only started running in his eighties, but has still managed to clock up an impressive number of jogging years. A fall whilst competing in a 10k race in Hong Kong in February has led him to retire from competition, though he still runs, jogs and walks every day. Little wonder that Nadeem has become a celebrity, a superstar of the world of running. Last weekend he officiated at the start of our own town’s marathon festival, an event that attracted 9,000 entrants.

                Elsewhere, in the football world, a relative youngster at 87, Harry Hardy was awarded a medal for his services to the sport. The footage showed Harry, resplendent in his ref’s shorts, shirt and whistle, galloping up and down the pitch with the lads, for all the world like a man half his age.

                What are we to make of these feisty, fit old fellows? First of all, both of them are whip thin, with not a milligram of excess fat on them. They both love what they do. They are dedicated. They work hard at their chosen activities. You have to admire them for their dogged determination and stamina. But more than anything I’d say they’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be able to pursue active sports into great old age.

                Ten years ago I was running with a local [all women] club and beginning to compete in the odd race. I ran distances of ten or twelve miles at weekends. I was never a ‘talented’ runner-more a plodder, but still I knew what it was to have run so much it was a joy [just as Nadeem explains]. Then injuries began to crop up. “Run through it!” advised an enthusiastic running friend. I did continue to run and ignore the injuries, long after I should have stopped and listened to my protesting limbs. Eventually I hung up my running shoes and pursued alternative exercise.

                During our recent stay in the South of France I attempted to resurrect my jogging with a couple of feeble turns around the local lanes. The result of these attempts has been that now I am crippled and unable to do any Zumba or to walk anywhere and fitness is confined to cycling or Pilates.

                So it’s ‘Bravo’ to Harry and Nadeem, but tempered with a touch of envy, because they have both been very, very fortunate.

The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].

It’s Torture on the Trail and Suffering in the Saddle…

                In the doomed interests of resurrecting my bicycle fitness, my personal cycle trainer, [aka Husband] has begun the general cajoling, wheedling, persuading, justifying, soothing and encouraging needed to get me back into the saddle and off into the great beyond along the tracks and byways that make up France’s cycle-paths.

                In preparation for this annual event he has cleaned and prepped the bike [a wondrous bike-not in the least responsible for my ineptitude], gathered together any equipment that may be likely to make the entire business less arduous and painful [for both of us, you understand], organised as much as possible in the way of safe, flat, sheltered routes offering respite along the way-in other words-bars, and prepared himself for the slow, pathetic, whimpering would-be cyclist I always am.

                The ‘pistes’ are superb; flat [due to the terrain], tarmac, off-road, signed [mostly]. Husband is an expert cyclist, swooshing effortlessly through the half barriers and up over jutting kerbs with no perceptible reduction in speed. He offers an occasional glance over his shoulder to assess my progress and is rewarded by the sight of me back in the distance, affecting an undignified paddle through the chicane or lifting the handlebars up to scale the pavement. He offers strategic stops to assuage the soreness of the backside and the undercarriage; my own upholstery soon becomes tender, even with the gel-padded, hi-tech cushioning of the lycra cycle shorts that are wedged, nappy-like under my nether regions.

                “Keep your speed up…and just GO!” he exhorts as I attempt to negotiate yet another obstacle. In the past I have endeavoured to follow this instruction, resulting in my crashing into the sides of narrow bridges or parting company with the bike [painfully on to gravel] on a particularly sharp corner and rashly into a night-time clump of aggressive nettles. I seem to have an innate inability to steer, needing to dismount completely whenever a complete turn is needed, or any sudden change in direction.

                The traffic, thundering around the occasional roundabout where the path has momentarily disappeared, terrifies me. “I’m going to walk across”, I announce and he eyes me wearily as he waits for me to catch up.

                Somewhere there will be an incline, perhaps to cross a bridge, or a cross wind-or a head wind, where I fall further behind. “Low gear!” he advises, unaware no doubt that I’ve been in low gear since we started out and have, now, no more gears of the low sort to change to…

                Despite all this pain and effort I know that by the end of the month I will have racked up the kilometres and have returned to a semblance of my slow, summer, fair weather, recreational cycling persona, with a slightly more resistant derriere, sturdier legs, wind-blown skin and appetite for beer. Then I will be home and be able to take up the reins of Zumba where I left off……

Oh dear!

Keep up! A parable for the third age.

                When I was in my early thirties and my youngest child was two I got a terrible shock. I was coming down the stairs one day and caught sight of a frumpy, fat, grey woman in a shapeless, elasticated-waist skirt I did not recognise. Who was it? It was me. For once I’d looked up into a mirror attached to the wall just where the stairs ended-the first look at myself full length for some time. I’d been preoccupied with matters of childcare-to the extent that I’d quite lost any sense of myself at all.

                Overall, that shock was a good thing. I was never a sporty type. I was born into a sedentary family. My parents invented the potato couch. My mother’s preferred activity was to sit in front of the TV and knit-preferably next to a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. My two brothers did not pursue any type of sport, or display any interest in sports activities. Aside from gardening, my father was alone among us in enjoying watching cricket. That was it.

                Despite this we were not fat children, and we played outside in all weathers as well as eating a somewhat conservative, but healthy diet.

                So having been jolted into undertaking an uncomfortable appraisal of my state, I took myself to an exercise class in a local church hall. This was the eighties; an era of leotards, tights and leg-warmers, an ensemble that most of my fellow exercisers had taken to with gusto and in a plethora of pastel colours [predominantly pink]. Swathed in a camouflage of baggy, jersey jogging pants [that had seen action as decorating and gardening gear] and shapeless tee shirt, I cringed somewhere near the back with little hope of blending in.

                But I loved it. I loved the cheesy music and the chance to almost dance, and I loved the way I felt afterwards, tired, aching and jubilant. I loved meeting my fellow aerobic-ers and being part of the shared ethic. Soon I progressed to a proper gym and even acquired some acceptable and appropriate clothing [not pink and not leg warmers]. Over time my shape became more conventional, but best of all I felt fit. I started running a bit-only half a mile at first, but slowly building up until I could do about 5 miles without too much discomfort.

                I probably reached a ‘peak’ of fitness [for me] at around 40-45. After that the joints began to complain, I slowed and had to start modifying what I did. I went to the GP with a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes under your feet. The doctor asked me why I couldn’t just go for a nice walk. It was a growing trend, he said, for the middle aged to present themselves with exercise-related injuries.

                Nowadays, being as fond of dance exercise as ever, I’ve taken to the ever popular Zumba, coupled with, as my doctor suggested, a good deal of walking [with a bit of cycling thrown in during nice weather]. During the day the gym is packed full of sprightly ladies [and a few gents] of more mature years all strutting their stuff. It is a wonderful and uplifting sight. I just wonder what my mother would make of it all if she were around and were to look up from her knitting and to see it!