When are you officially old? Is it when you’re 64 - or later?!

In his weekly column Trevor Laffan asks 'what's old age'? Is it 60? Is it 70? Or older?
When are you officially old? Is it when you’re 64 - or later?!

BIG BIRTHDAY: To a 20-year-old, 80 may seem ancient, but to a 70-year-old, 80 may not seem that old at all!

WHEN I was 14, I thought everybody above the age of 30 was over the hill. Past it. Anyone in their fifties was really old and people over the age of 65… well, they were just in the departure lounge, waiting patiently to be fitted with their wings.

I’m sure young people today view me the same way.

My grandchildren are probably looking at me in amazement, marvelling at how I’m still able to move around the house unaided, without falling over the furniture. In fact, I know they are.

I was dropping my three-year-old grandson, Toby, to pre-school the other day and he asked me what number I was. He was sitting in the back seat and firing all sorts of questions at me because he likes to talk. He wanted to know my age, so I told him I was 63. He said: “Let me think. OK, you’re right.”

It was reassuring to know I could still calculate my age correctly.

That got me thinking about when old age actually kicks in, because a few days later, I hit 64 and I was curious to know if that was it. Was I officially in that category now, or had I some time left?

Paul McCartney seemed to think it was 64. He had a very successful hit with the song of that name and wrote about getting older and losing his hair. Well, I ticked those two boxes anyway.

As youngsters, we think we’re invincible. Old age is something that’s not going to happen to us. Let the old people deal with that, it’s got nothing to do with us. Doesn’t quite work out like that though.

When I was training for a career with An Garda Siochana as a 21-year-old in 1979, there were presentations and lectures on all kinds of things. One of the topics had to do with pensions; what we would be entitled to when we retired, when we would access it, how many years we had to work to qualify for it, and the benefits, etc.

I have a low pain threshold and listening to people talking about finance hurts my head. The business section of the news in the morning on the radio interferes with the fillings in my teeth and makes me stick my fingers in my ears. I’ve always been like that, so I probably had a snooze during that pension lecture.

Retirement was the furthest thing from my mind in those days anyway. Thirty years was a long way off and I had a more immediate concern. Surviving the training in Templemore was the only thing occupying my mind right then. There was plenty of time to figure out how I was going to avoid starvation and homelessness in my retirement. Except there wasn’t that much time at all, as it turned out, because in the blink of an eye, I was 57 and handing back my identification card. Just like that, I was a civilian again.

I was doing an interview recently with Phil Goodman on Cork City Community Radio about life in general and she asked if I had any regrets. I don’t, as a rule, spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. 

I prefer instead to look forward, trying to plan how I can get the maximum amount of pleasure from the next stage in life - but I did share one regret with her.

I wasn’t too long working in Dublin when I was having a chat with my father one day, telling him about something humorous that had happened at work. I have no idea what it was, but I can clearly remember him laughing and advising me to keep a diary to record these stories.

Unfortunately, I gave that suggestion the same consideration I gave to the lecture on pensions. That was a big mistake. I could really do with that diary now because I have the memory of a gnat.

Fortunately, my buddy, John O’Connor, has great recall. We worked together for about 25 years, and I rely heavily on his recollection, but I’m not sure how much longer I can depend on him. He’s only a few years behind me and when he starts getting doddery, I’m going to be in serious trouble. Fortunately, that might be a bit away yet because ‘old age’ seems to be adjustable.

A 70-year-old today bears no resemblance to the image I had in my youth. Now that I’m only six years away from three score and ten, 70 has become the new 70 apparently and I’m quite happy to go along with that.

I’m also happy to go along with my new sleep pattern. When you get older, late nights are less attractive so I’m usually in bed early. I wake at 6am every day too, which is a good thing if you believe this little tale.

“Sixty is the worst age to be,” said the 60-year-old man. “You always feel like you have to go to the toilet and most of the time you stand there, and nothing happens.”

“Ah, that’s nothing,” said the 70-year-old. “When you’re 70, you don’t have a bowel movement anymore. You take laxatives, eat bran, sit on the toilet all day and nothing happens!”

“Actually,” said the 80-year-old, “Eighty is the worst age of all”

“Do you have trouble going to the toilet, too?” asked the 60-year old.

“No, I go every morning at 6am like a racehorse; no problem at all”

“So, do you have a problem with your bowel movement?”

“No, I have one every morning at 6:30.”

Exasperated, the 60-year-old said: “You go to the toilet every morning at six and again every morning at 6,30. So what’s so bad about being 80?”

“I don’t wake up until 7”.

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