The Big Issue : Edition 483
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THEBIGISSUE1–14MAY2015 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH ACHIEVING VINTAGE STATUS DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN GIVING UP. OLD AND BOLD her first week, she refused point-blank to stagger to the dining room for meals, because the other residents were, quote unquote, “deaf, gaga or racist”. Harsh but not entirely inaccurate, this would sound ingenuous if Norah hadn’t still been a teenager at heart, who did brain training on her baby-pink Nintendo DS and yearned for mischief, adventure, news and good times. She worked hard at staying young. And it does take an effort. When you’re young, everything’s new and a challenge. A few decades on and you’re familiar with your career, over-familiar with your relationship, exhausted by family and the mortgage, and a Big Night is watching three episodes back-to-back of Orange Is the New Black. No wonder it feels like a terminus, not a journey. How easy to resign ourselves to, oh well, this is it then... Half of it, I reckon, is modelling our behaviour on what we think an adult – what ‘older’ – looks like. Serious, stolid, and non boat-rocking, for the main. Plus, new challenges appear humiliating, because as adults we’ve put our 10,000 hours into something – whether it’s using Windows 98, cheeses of the world or driving a truck – and we know what it feels like to be an expert. Beginning again feels terribly exposing. Hideously awkward. Particularly when you know what ‘good’ looks like. So best not to try, right? I used to think that the ‘age is just a number’ thing was bollocks. Just the botoxed over-forties pretending they didn’t look a day over 25. I’ve come to understand it’s true. Youth has nothing to do with how many candles you have on your cake, and a lot to do with whether you still have cake. I DJed a 70th birthday recently, and it went off like the proverbial frog in a sock. You know why? Because they didn’t put themselves into the ‘old’ box, and hired themselves a DJ. We’re all going to die soon enough, but there’s no need to check out prematurely. Anyone want to join my ‘Cheeses of the World’ appreciation society? We’ll have a DJ. I WON’T LIE to you, getting older is confronting. Not so much because I’m hating my reflection; I have realistic expectations around Father Time. My English complexion is hanging in there, albeit lower, with the recent addition of a (now excised) skin cancer on my schnozz. I’m relieved I never pursued that career as a nose model. Also, thanks to two personal training sessions a week, my latest party trick is to encourage new friends to punch me in the stomach. Go ahead. I can core up like an anaconda. But ageing, it transpires, isn’t all about how your moisturising regime panned out. For one thing, once you hit 50, a switch gets flipped and your peer group start to drop like flies. Another day, another friend with, mostly, cancer. There are some smart cookies who take heed of the ‘FFS get a check-up’ posters in their doctor’s waiting room, and are rewarded with an early diagnosis. But too many of my people have been surprised by a Stage Four something something, which doesn’t sound that bad until you realise, like a shit music festival, there are only four stages. It takes something to absorb that this is the new normal. The herd contracts. My mum, Norah, was 91 when she died, and her main sadness was being “the only one left”. Winning at ageing inevitably means watching your friends and family fall sick and die around you. I guess that actually is life. Humans tend to think we’ve got nature beat, but here we are, centre stage in a documentary narrated by a cosmic David Attenborough. In the end, though, watching my colleagues and friends wink out like stars isn’t the worst part of getting older. It’s not great, but it’s how mortality rolls, and it’s made me a lot more conscious about living well while I still can. It’s not even my own health scares and general ache-ery. The worst part is seeing my peers give up. I bump into people I haven’t seen for five years, or 10, or 20, and they’re like one of those 3D images. I have to squint through them to spot the person I used to know. When, I find myself wondering, did they check out? Again, words from my mum resonate. Norah’s other lament during her nursing-home years concerned being surrounded by “old people” – something she said without irony, despite being close to the most senior senior. After » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.