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The papers have been full of a survey claiming that seventy year olds are the happiest people. I read about it in The Times yesterday. I don’t know if it was the same survey as The Mail covered today, which claimed that the biggest regret in life of the seventy year old is the one that got away. Maybe, but I reckon that by then the feeling is more one of relief. My novel Where’s Sailor Jack? has the characters at it in their sixties but after seventy you’re on borrowed time and the story of your life has been constructed, with the sub-plot of that special memory concluded before the last chapters. Also, to dampen any residual ardour, you can take a guess at what medications are now in their bathroom cabinet.
The Mail article seems to confuse being seventy with the seventies as the music they listed as septuagenarians listening to featured Queen and Abba. I’m sure we all appreciated Freddie Mercury and liked Abba, us men lusting after Agnetha’s bottom and the girls dancing about as well as she did, but that wasn’t our music. That started with pre-army Elvis, we learnt the game with Buddy Holly, progressed through the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, had a spell as folkies, before being taken by storm by The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who and Dusty. We’ve been together through life with Dylan. As any older sibling would listening to a younger one’s taste, we thought seventies’ stuff derivative or pretentious, as in prog rock. Post punk, it got better so we could claim The Pretenders and Elvis Costello as ours. One of the biggest pains in the backside from being old is seeing the middle-aged in their positions of authority getting their history wrong. The narrative created by them concerning the fifties and sixties is invariably skewed by their own somewhat precious preoccupations.
Research a few years ago said people were actually happiest at 74. It would be great to think that the best is yet to come, but I think the reason for later-life satisfaction is that the strife is more or less o’er, the battle done, and we await our personal last trump. In the meantime, we want things for our children and grandchildren more than for ourselves, sometimes even when that’s the last cake in the tin.
I remember well the moments of triumph in my life, the net bulging, the Oxford acceptance, the early promotions. But all my childhood family have gone. There’s nobody left here to tell, at least no-one who’s remembers. Loneliness can be a function of age as well as circumstance. To be fair, the children do try to look interested.
Where I still have ambition, as in trying to promote my book, write a second one, or pen an interesting blog, I still have stress. The good fortune of being older is that worries come singly rather than in succession. The bad part is the exception to this of ill health and death.They’ll not seem like winning the victor’s crown. Yet the best victory is defeat.
And the best age to be is whatever you are today.