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The age of reason

By: SKIP BANDELE

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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with The Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.

BELIEVE IT or not – I don’t – my next birthday will see me clocking up 46 years. Where have the roaring twenties and mellow thirties vanished to? Anyone irreversibly gathering momentum on their march on the dreaded 50 can confirm that time does indeed fly at an ever increasing pace the older you become.

As if to remind me of my rapidly advancing mortality, I recently chipped a tooth while finding myself engaged in a permanent discussion with my back as to what I should and should not be doing any longer.

The aches and pains with which my formerly invincible body contradicts my mental self-assessment amounting to no more than twenty-four and-a-half are a direct result of physical work, somehow contradicting what I read in the newspapers. Supposedly it is in our fifth decade that we are most likely to have everything we want, with, lo and behold, 46 being the magic age at which life is as good as it gets. I can’t wait, roll on April! On the other hand I have never lent much credence to insurance company reports such as the More Than one this ‘fact’ is based upon, or believe in its materialistic criteria which take account of the accumulation of belongings we would not want to lose in arriving at its conclusion. What ‘things’ I have, or had, ceased to be of little or no importance following a series of 1980s London address changes, a migrant lifestyle during which much of what I had previously treasured somehow remained by the wayside. I subsequently adopted the firmly held conviction that anything that can be bought with money is replaceable and therefore worthless, as opposed to the real values accumulated during a lifetime of experiences, none of which are on sale in any shop or other commercial retail outlet. Thus comforted, I now rather hold with the old adage that life begins at 40.

The perception of age is not the same for everyone, however. Another insurer – do they have nothing better to do than turn our lives into statistics – claims (no pun intended!) the midlife crisis for men is beginning earlier, ‘Bloke Breakdown’ already occurring in the mid-30s. The Norwich Union analysis goes on to inform us that the thus afflicted males are not combating the blues with sports cars, new haircuts or exotic shirts, but by turning to expensive ‘life coaches’, self-help books and a bit of nip and tuck. Apparently men feel under enormous pressure to be seen as a success in terms of earnings, career, home and family – in this context this happy ‘failure’ can only feel sorry for his poor, stressed-out underachieving fellows!

Females are not getting away entirely scot-free in this brief assessment of the troubled 30s and 40s. A Debenhams survey asked women over 18 at what age they expected to peak and when they believed their looks would start to decline: the most common answer for the first question was 39. And it all starts to go downhill at 46 despite high profile, more mature role models such as Jennifer Aniston, Cerys Matthews and Gillian Anderson to name but a few keeping up their youthful public appearances. But before you rush off to the nearest mirror or cliff top, please note that the above perceptions are based on the expectations of a bunch of possibly 18-year-olds – and what do they really know about life twenty years down the line?

Last Saturday Mick Jagger, anti-establishment rock ‘n’ roll pariah turned knight of the realm, collected his bus pass. The leader of the most famous surviving rock group in the world, the Rolling Stones, and a former near neighbour of ours, turned 65, technically an old age pensioner, although the father of seven and grandfather of three will not be relying on any state hand-outs thanks to his estimated 300 million euro fortune. My mum will kill me for putting this into print, but she too reached that milestone last autumn. Funnily neither she nor Mick look or act their age, lending more than just a little bit of credibility to today’s changing ways of viewing and indeed feeling the time which has elapsed since our birth.

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In If Not Now, When…, ‘an irreverent and practical guide to growing old disgracefully’, Esther Rantzen has put forward the notion that in the 21st century life really only begins at 60. Eight years beyond that threshold herself, the television presenter has grown frustrated at how pensioners are portrayed on screen and in magazines. She says (yet another) recent survey of over-60s shows that comfy slippers and snoozing by the fireside (pool!) comes nowhere in this age group’s plans. Instead, taking up parachuting or hang-gliding, seeing the Northern Lights and swimming with dolphins top the list of priorities. A good friend of mine told me his 80-year-old grandmother went white water rafting in New Zealand last year and has never looked back since.

Rantzen proposes that we can look forward to having ‘the time of our lives’ during the so-called Third Age while seizing the opportunity to become ourselves again. She advises to keep exercising, dressing young without raiding your granddaughter’s wardrobe, assessing your hair (if you still have any!), keeping off the Botox and sticking to a healthy diet. Alternatively, indulge in the things which make you happy, a bar of chocolate, falling in love or merely sitting in the sun with a glass of wine or beer, for example.

Some people suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, BDD for short, a condition leading to approximately one in 50 afflicted seeing themselves as hideously unattractive. In one such case a perfectly good looking 26-year-old imagined she looked like a balding 80-year-old with disgusting wrinkles every time she looked in the mirror. But barring these exceptional psychosis-induced circumstances and in spite of everything I have written about up to this point I am a firm believer in the clichés that you are as old (or young) as you feel, that beauty comes from within as well as lying in the eyes of the beholder – be that person yourself or a loved one.