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Joining the Genarians

March 17, 2021

Reaching 70, as I did the other day, is an interesting experience.

Making it through the last decade brings to mind the astronauts in Interstellar as they go through the wormhole and come out on the other side into a distant galaxy, only to find planets that are superficially familiar to earth yet profoundly hostile to human life.

Or, to put it another way, you’re entering sniper’s alley. Around every corner lurks a deadly threat – any number of ailments that will kill you quickly or inflict a wound that will eventually bring you down. Add to the usual suspects COVID, which is less like a sniper and more like an invading army.

Yet I also feel a sense of relief at having lived through my sixties when others of my generation – including ridiculously talented people such as David Bowie and Alan Rickman – didn’t.

Anyway, time to glance down the mountain, look up again and and keep climbing. By reaching three score years and ten I’ve joined a new club. I call it the Genarians, I am now a septuagenarian. At some stage I might become an octogenarian. Though it’s unlikely and I might not even be aware of it by then, I could even turn into a nonagenarian. We Genarians are normally described thus when we achieve things that by rights we shouldn’t be able to do. Septuagenarian athletes, octogenarian inventors or nonagenarian hill farmers.

Once we become 70, the rest of society expects us to have retired. To be incapable of energetic action or creative thought. We are decomposing. Bits drop off us. If we’re lucky, we succumb to graceful degradation. Some of us moulder on in the public gaze, like ancient comedians and US senators who were first elected in 1958. We get told how wonderful we are if we defy our years and do something outstanding. But most of us quietly fade away, becoming ever more mellow because we don’t care any more, or cranky and bitter because the scales have fallen off our eyes too late for anyone to pay any attention when we point out all the things in the world that need fixing. Joe Biden and David Attenborough are modern-day exceptions who prove the rule

No, 70 isn’t the new 50. It’s an age when, if we’re famous, we add a few notches to our Wikipedia profiles without feeling an obligation to do so. If, on the other hand, we’re malignant narcissists, we want to go out in a blaze of glory, wrecking everything in our wake. You know who I’m talking about. The rest of us become steadily less relevant to the younger generations, unless, of course, they want our money.

But then we Genarians discover over time that much of what we used to get het up about is no longer important, because we can’t do a thing to influence stuff one way or another. And anyway, such serious shit as happens will probably come to full fruition after we’ve snuffed it So some of us try and focus on what we can influence. It might be the future of our kids and grandkids. It might be volunteering within local communities. Or it might be spitting venom in a parish council Zoom meeting. The ability to comment sagely from a great height about events over which we have no control is usually described by our juniors as wisdom. And when we get querulous and stubborn, we get a free pass, just like squalling infants. Is it any wonder that when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the Genarians responded more enthusiastically than any other demographic group to the notion that we should “take back control”?

We do still matter politically, at least in Britain, because every five years we get to vote for yet another reactionary government that has courted us, bribed us and pandered to our prejudices on a regular basis. And then, once we’ve voted, we return to irrelevance. The younger ones get on with screwing up the country.

But all is not gloom and doom. We Genarians have plenty of scope for community spirit. We men can compare notes with each other in car parks about the state of our prostates, if we still have them. The women of the species can complain about their husbands abandoning all the norms of civilised behaviour, wandering around with their flies undone, farting with abandon and decorating their clothes with soup. We can celebrate the small triumphs of our friends over the ravages of time, though often with envious asides. In normal times we can go to funerals, lots of them. And we can read obituaries, lots of them, taking note of whether they lived longer than us and reading between the lines of the obituary writer’s hints about the subject’s dark side.

Eventually, as we inch towards the nether reaches of our lives, and more bits drop off, our world shrinks. If we’re lucky enough to retain our capacity to think and communicate, we can still live meaningful lives, to us at least, even if visits from our offspring are reduced to acts of duty, charity and, if we’re still capable of altering our wills, cupidity. Not that I anticipate such motives on the part of my own beloved children, I hasten to add.

But I’m some way away from that level of decline. As a newly-anointed Genarian, I intend continue with my favourite activities. To laugh at myself, curse politicians spouting bullshit on TV, to pontificate on matters on which I’m not qualified to comment, to wish hell and damnation on Donald Trump in case he shows signs of reanimating, to glory in travel, food, cricket, music, drama and history. To love my wife for all her faults, and try and persuade her to keep loving me despite my much more serious ones. To love my kids and their offspring without obvious judgement. And to try and keep relationships alight with relatives and friends, even as their candles grow dimmer or our paths diverge.

Finally, I shall continue to reflect on how lucky we Genarians are to reach an age that in just about every generation before us was attainable only by a small minority. In the words of Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan, as he lay dying in a Normandy village after finding the sole survivor of four combatant brothers and whispered his final exhortation in the ear of the eponymous Ryan, I shall do my best to “earn it”.

From → Film, Politics, Social, UK, USA

  1. Hahaha! Bloody marvellous stuff… for an old geezer 🙂

  2. Oh, come on Steve, it’s not that bad.

  3. JPD permalink

    Yep, mellowing is precisely the word I was looking for, Steve.
    Many happy returns.

  4. Douglas Langmead permalink

    Can I count it as an achievement to be in the same frame of mind having just turned 69?

  5. Margaret Richardson permalink

    Steve, so glad to read your penultimate paragraph! You are 40 again with 30 years experience. Just be careful when taking out those bin bags!!! Hope you had a great one 🙂

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