Promises, promisesby David Hill
This old guy’s making a list of resolutions and checking it twice, lest he forget it, too.
He was 75 or so, sturdy and saturnine, in the seat opposite me on the ferry to Hobart’s astonishing Mona gallery. “Where y’ from?” he asked, after we’d exchanged hellos. I mentioned New Zealand and prepared for jokes about our sheep, our cricketers, our cricketers who bat like sheep.
I didn’t get any. “Y’ can take all your bloody Maoris back there,” he informed me.
It set the tone. During the 30-minute trip, he inveighed against lazy Abos, money-grubbing politicians, spoiled brats, wacko greenies, women who dress like they’re askin’ for it, half a dozen more. All prefaced with the great Australian adjective.
Am I right in thinking that more old guys seem bitter and resentful these days? A fewish decades back, the term “elder” was often followed by “statesman”. Now it seems more likely to be followed by “abuse” – from as well as towards the elder. May I add it’s men I’m talking about. Women handle it a lot better.
Anyway, my half-hour ferry ride was hugely valuable. It’s given me an entire page of New Year’s resolutions: all the things I’m not going to say/do/be when I’m my seat companion’s age. It’s also made me realise said age is avalanching towards me.
So, in 2015 and for however long my palsied digits can hit the keys, I’m not going to write triumphant letters to the editor beginning “Finally those drones in the Beehive …” or “Get real!” Nor will I use, in spoken or written form, the phrases “politically correct … tree-hugger … bleeding-heart leftie … do-gooder”. In my imminent old age, I have no wish to present as a politically mistaken, tree-kicking, coagulated, reactionary do-badder.
I’m especially going to watch my behaviour towards the young (an increasingly elastic classification). In shops and cafes, I will try hard not to engage assistants under 30 in whimsical conversation. Dear Lord, let me not grow old and waggish.
More significantly, I will never say that I don’t know what they teach the young in school these days. I get invited into schools as part of my job and can assure you that they get taught a lot, much of it on topics that didn’t even exist when I was enrolled.
I will try hard not to see changes in fashion, music, language and reading habits as automatically regressive and threatening. Conversely, I will not feel instantly obliged to embrace them. Dear Lord, let me not grow old and trendy.
When I approach a coven of teenagers on a footpath or in a shopping mall, I will strive to ensure that my facial and body language do not broadcast suspicion and disapproval. I’ll have a friendly nod ready. Even a smile, if I’m feeling confident of my front teeth.
On the converse side again, if they’re swearing, intimidating or blocking access, I do hope I can crank up the courage to suggest very mildly to them that some of us oldies are easily frightened. If I don’t, I’ve forfeited my rights to write to editors about spoilt brats.
This coming year will see me edge a bit further towards physical fossilisation. My joints and carapace will inevitably harden. But I’m resolving to battle the same process in the emotional and intellectual arenas. Buddhists commend the “child’s mind” – that willingness to keep seeing the world as new and exciting. Our splendid educationalist Jack Shallcrass did it partly by setting himself the challenge to learn one new skill every year. For 2015, I’m tossing up between tweeting and twerking.
I’ve got subsidiary resolutions for 2015 and the other years of my old age. I’m not going to wear elastic-bottomed trousers with proper shoes and socks, striped towelling shirts with formal trousers, buttoned-up cardigans with anything.
But mostly, I’m resolving to remember Sydney Smith. Syd was the 18th-century divine who knew all about elderly males’ resentful disempowerment. “Few men have the fortitude to endure being forgotten,” he wrote. I’m going to try like hell to endure it. After all, I’m already forgetting other people’s names.
These are some of the resolutions I’m making for the year ahead. You’re welcome to keep an eye out to see if I succeed. You’ll easily recognise me – I’m the untrendy old guy.
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