Bill Ralston: Whither wrinkles?

by The Listener / 30 June, 2014
Oh, to be 55 again … and again, and again and again.
While having lunch with an old friend last week, I learnt she was about to have her 55th birthday again. In fact, unwilling to get any older, she’d been doing that for the past decade. My point to her was that you can deny it all you want, but every year you will end up looking a little more aged.

“OK. Treva with a small ‘t’ small ‘r’ and ‘v’ and an italic capital ‘E’ and ‘A’. Nope. It’s taken.”
“OK. Treva with a small ‘t’ small ‘r’ and ‘v’ and an italic capital ‘E’ and ‘A’. Nope. It’s taken.”

The solution, I suggested, was to make ageing the new black. We baby boomers have sufficient numbers, power and cunning to redefine what people find attractive. Why couldn’t we concoct a fashion that embraced greying hair, prizing its monochrome appearance? What were once called “wrinkles” could be renamed “lifelines” that marked character and experience. Those charmingly named “muffins” that bulge over the waistband of our jeans should be seen, as they are in other cultures, as a sign of affluence, because we can afford the best of tucker and plenty of it.

I swallowed my veal, took a slurp of pinot noir and felt the muffins twitch. I know diet is an issue. I’d just read a story online enticingly entitled “Want to live a long life? Eat fermented cabbage and drink a litre of olive oil a week.” No, thank you.

The author of the piece had travelled the world looking for clusters of folk who lived much longer lives than the rest of us. The fermented cabbage – kimchi – came from Korea, where it is scoffed at every meal. South Korea has the lowest level of obesity in the developed world. North Koreans are even skinnier but for very different reasons.

The weekly litre of olive oil was from the Italian village of Campodimele where the average life expectancy is 95 years and, according to the World Health Organisation, 80-year-olds have the cholesterol levels of newborn babies. Their diet is pasta and great globs of olive oil washed down with litres of red wine. I had another pinot, but I’m afraid fermented cabbage wasn’t on the menu and the olive oil was primo virgin and in small doses only.

We could, of course, eat our young or – more precisely – drink their blood. Overseas studies have shown old mice given blood from younger mice are rejuvenated with better strength and memory. Apparently it’s all to do with a protein called GDF11, which declines in our systems as we get older. Pump it back in and away you go. However, a future where I live as an aged Dracula, hanging upside down on my front porch ready to drop on passing 20-year-olds for a quick top-up, is not really that appealing.

Scientists have speculated they may relatively soon be able to pump up life expectancy to 120 years or more. That’s a worry. My KiwiSaver would have run out long before that, and you could be damn sure some future government would have pushed out the age for National Superannuation to 130.

Would you want to live that long anyway? I guess if we maintained our current levels of health, fitness and marbles, it wouldn’t be too bad, but our children would hate us for not dropping dead long ago and leaving them enough money to crest the loan-to-value ratio to buy their first house.

Because of that, we’d probably have to change our lifestyles completely, with vast extended families, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all living in the same house. If that were the case, you would want to be dead, surely?

If there ever is an elixir of life, I don’t think I’ll take it. As long as I can eat, drink, talk and occasionally listen, I’ll be happy if I make it to 80. The point is not the length of the life you live but the way in which you live it. Keep interested, stay involved, be active. You won’t stay 55, but you may feel like it.

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