Over the Pond
By Frank Hatton
This is one of a large number of Scottish related articles by Guest Writers which have been added to Rampant Scotland. The pages were previously part of the "Scottish Radiance" Web site and there are many more articles in this series being added over a period of months.
Three Score Years and Ten Plus
Nobody lives forever, and with the level of scientific research on the subject currently in existence, this situation is likely to continue for quite a long time. While some accept this fact with philosophical common sense, others have a morbid fear of life coming to an end. However, it is an established fact that the views on this matter change considerably as one progresses through the years.
The first real thoughts that I remember on this subject occurred around the age of eight or nine years. It was then that I realized the advantages the boys aged twelve or so had over us smaller children. They were the ones who adopted the position of leader in every aspect of play, they picked their teams for a game of football or cricket, or any other sport that we got involved in. They were the ones who bent the rules of whatever game we played to suit themselves, and if one attempted to argue, it usually resulted in a slap or punch, just to remind one of the subservient attitude that was expected of the smaller, weaker, and younger members of the group.
It wasn't the unfairness of the situation that registered on my mind, I accepted, like all the other smaller children, the fact that it seemed to be the natural order of things. The predominant ambition was to become older and part of this ruling segment. Naturally, and eventually, I reached this elite class, only to discover to my dismay, that while I could now dominate the smaller and younger ones, there was yet another older section of boys who were in their teenage years, and they in turn, while ignoring the eight and ten year olds, would expect the same subservience from my age group as I had experienced previously. Thus the problem had merely moved upwards into a new age group. The yearning to be older therefore continued throughout these earlier years, until I reached my late 'teens, and the younger years of adulthood.
Then it was, that I found myself looking at older people with a different outlook. No longer did I experience envy, or ambition to get to their age, in fact, there was a marked reluctance on my part to reach the age of thirty, and at the same time, the older people of forty or so appeared to be positively ancient, and of course, while it was appreciated that there were yet even older folk of around fifty or sixty years of age, that prospect was so far in the future as to be quite easily ignored.
Old Father Time naturally marched forward, and ultimately I found myself at the grand old age of thirty years, only to discover that I was still quite young, and quite comfortable with this period of my life. It is true that people of forty were still in an unenviable state of decay, and the years beyond that demarcation line were not worth contemplating, but that period of my life was light years away.
However, it is a sad fact, that as one gets older, it seems that there is a supreme controller of our destiny who possesses the equivalent of a video set remote control, and he begins to push the 'fast forward' button with increasing frequency, and before one has had time to coast through the 'thirty something's', one is knocking on the door of 'forty something'.
Once again though, when you get there, you begin to wonder what in the world you were so apprehensive about. You feel that you are getting towards the peak of your chosen profession, the children, if any, are getting off your hands, and life is full of the sort of enjoyments that you are now mature enough to enjoy.
Surprisingly, this attitude holds one in good stead through the next two decades, even to the point of an increasing appreciation of ones maturing philosophical view of life that comes with the passing of the years.
Sometimes, there is an urge, prompted by a feeling of benevolence, to pass on the benefits of this maturity, (which brings with it an understanding of most of the problems associated with life, along with the obvious solutions to getting them all sorted out), to the younger generation. Sadly, this advice is not always given the merit and gratitude that one would expect, in fact, quite often one is condemned as a 'silly old buffer', or even more lurid descriptions.
The old adage about 'putting old heads on young shoulders' comes to light with a vengeance. While the clarity of vision which comes with the autumn years enables one to see where all the mistakes are made, and the necessary steps which must be taken to avoid, or rectify them, the younger mind feels the need to find its own solutions.
Albeit with reluctance, it must be accepted that this is what progress is all about. If the philosophy of the preceding generation were always taken as the one and only way forward, then stagnation would be the only result. This is an important part of the ageing process, the ability to recognize the need to balance the guidance of experience, against the innovative outlook, and desire to do things differently of the younger generation. Not always an easy factor to accept, but, never the less, vitally true.
Anyway, be all that as it may, let us continue with our thoughts on the progression of life in general. We left off at that point where the advantages of maturity in our golden years, more than offset both the loss of youthful vigour, and the ability to interest and attract the opposite sex. Moreover, coupled with the advantages of a better understanding of life in general, comes the ultimate goal of retirement from work. Now this really is the most notable milestone that one is likely to reach in respect of a complete change from ones former lifestyle. The former glories of reaching twenty-one, the thrusting thirties, and the fabulous forties, all pale into insignificance when compared to this metamorphosis.
No more do we have to be up and about at a certain time each day. No more do we have to strive to keep a given level of income flowing into our coffers. No more do we have to knock ourselves silly trying to keep up with the 'rat race' and worry about the competition. No, no, this is what it is all about! Feet up time! Life in the slow lane! Time to start enjoying ourselves.
The first priority we have is to look at our money supply, our pensions, an investment income, any other finances we have coming in. Total these all up. Next we measure what we want to spend on keeping up a satisfactory level of living. A new car? A nice long holiday, ( remember, we no longer have to worry about getting back home by a given date) so, maybe even a nice long cruise on one of those luxury liners.
Then we start to realize that in addition to these bits and pieces, we have the fact that we have a lot more time to spend money. The reality of swapping all the hours we spent earning money, we now have as completely free time to spend it.--------- At this point the lessons start to be learnt. Somehow, we seem to have too much month left over after the income has been used up. Adjustment of way of life then, as number one priority. we find that we no longer have the bonus, the overtime, the expense account, the company car and petrol, we have to live within the total sum of money available in our fixed income.
Next change we find is in the level of activity, albeit physical, or mental, depending on the type of work we did. As we no longer have a driving force which compels us to go out and earn a living, we have to start driving ourselves to do things, both to keep our body in shape, and also, and probably even more important, to keep our level of brain activity up to a decent pitch.
There are of course many and varied traditional forms of retirement exercise, the gardening, the walking, playing bowls or golf, all of which will provide the body with its required level of physical activity, but it would be wise to consider the arch enemy of each of these pastimes. It is called an armchair! Gradually and insidiously, this silent threat to all of ones good intentions makes itself more and more attractive and difficult to resist.
With the advancing years, this object takes on an ever more increasing level of intelligence. Initially, it confines itself to the simple and less noticeable erosions of ones will power, like making itself more and more comfortable. It even develops an ability to generate heat, so that it feels colder when you arise from its clutches. However, should you try to resist these simple ploys, then as the years flow by, the thing starts to utilize a special type of glue, which not only holds you in its power, but should you successfully break free from its grip, the special glue clings to your body and ensures that any movement you make in the process of getting free results in excruciating pain in your joints.
The other problem mentioned earlier, is much more serious. That marvellous brain that has served one well for so many years, again requires very special attention to keep it up to scratch. The initial period of retirement is spent in the soft glow of satisfaction that there are no longer the pressures of business, and the fending off of the competition, both from outside of the firm, and also inside, from so called friends and colleagues. To awaken in the morning with the only decision to make is whether to work in the garden, to play golf or bowls, or have a nice walk, remains an eldorado for some time, but once again the whittling away of one mental capabilities is gradual and insidious.
Where once upon a time, one could be conducting a meeting, and engaged in quite a serious and complicated discussion, when the telephone would ring. Answering the call, you find that you are called upon to make judgements and decisions on a completely separate and different subject. Having dealt with the problem, one could turn ones attention back to the meeting, and carry on with the original line of thought without any effort. The mental somersaults came easily and quickly.
However, after a period of retirement, the cobwebs and dust start to gather in the little grey cells, until one day you are doing a job, and the wife or someone asks you a question about something, which , with your usual panache, you answer; then, shock and horror, you cannot for the life of you remember what you were doing or thinking about beforehand. Progressively, this situation worsens, until you get to the point where you find yourself standing at the foot of the stairs, in your pyjamas, and try as you might, you can't recall if you have just got up, or you are making your way up to bed!
One can combat this erosion. Difficult crosswords. Become a secretary of the golf club or any other institution. Buy a computer, and involve yourself in the multitude of financial, word processing, analytical records, and other items on offer. Anything in fact to keep the brain active. The old adage of 'use it or lose it' was never ever more true than when faced with this disaster.
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