Hilary Fannin: There must be more to the over-50s life than this?

‘Ah, Dickie Rock. I think he’s past his sell-by date,’ one of the women at the swimming pool said

Dickie Rock. Photograph: Eric Luke

Dickie Rock. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

‘We saw Dickie Rock.”

“Did you?”

“We did. We hung on for him. Had a go in the vibrating chair while we waited.”

“How was it?”

“The chair or Dickie?”

“The chair.”

“Oh, marvellous. I was shaken all over.”

I was in the changing room of a local swimming pool (against my better judgment, it has to be said). I’m a lousy swimmer, and the combined horrors of pungent chlorine, the boisterous echo of schoolchildren, contemptuous lane swimmers, invisible verruca spores and the prospect of peeling a wet swimsuit off afterwards in a shivering changing room surrounded by other people’s socks is usually enough to deter me.

Still, there I was, regretting my impulse, trapping my ears under the snappy goggle-straps, calculating the cost of liposuction on my recalcitrant thighs, pretending I’d had a leg wax and hoping I wouldn’t meet anyone I knew.

I overheard two women, both in possession of skirted swimming costumes and a fair share of decades, discussing the recent Active Over-50s Show (formerly, and a bit less ambitiously, the Over-50s Show) in the RDS, and the guest appearance at said event of spit-on-me Dickie.

“What was Dickie like anyway?”

“Ah, Dickie. Poor Dickie. I think he’s past his sell-by date.”

 

Newly active

As it happens, I too attended the Active Over-50s Show. It was in the interests of research, you understand. But also because the last time I went there, a lady with startling eyebrows painted an emollient under one of my eyes; it was a liquid that tightened as it dried, eliminating, in the process, all traces of bagginess and turning the underside of one of my eyes into an eight-hour oasis of firmness in a desert of puffiness.

I was hoping that this year I could persuade her to extend her largesse and do both eyes at the same time. No chance.

Still, with my one newly smooth eye pouch, and in the company of one of my sisters, I pounded the aisles looking for inspiration to carry me through this, my sixth decade.

Stand after stand advertised midweek breaks for the over-50s in every conceivable sort of hotel. Golf, bridge, karaoke: these, it seems, are the attractions the hotel industry hopes will lure our greying banknotes from our pockets.

And sex, of course. It’s got to be sex, sex without laundry, each brochure featuring bunny-bright couples with solid blow-dries gleaming into the lens, aglow with newfound freedom.

 

A tale of two Audreys

“Audrey Before and Audrey After!” or words to that effect, read the poster next to the weight-loss stand. Audrey Before had clearly not yet been inspired to tear herself away from the fridge and squeeze herself into cement knickers and a dainty pair of court shoes. She was still a pretty, plumpish woman who looked like she might take more than a little unbridled pleasure in the world.

Audrey After was a more restrained version of Before, posing prettily for the camera, neatly packaged into something knee-length and mulberry, her more extravagant proportions tamed.

“You don’t need advice to lose weight,” my thinner older sister said to me, pulling me back from the brink of voluntary conversation with the glossy lady behind the stand. “Just don’t put crap in your mouth.”

Next to Before and After Audrey was a stand featuring kimonos, and next to those frothy accoutrements there was a happy nun having a head and shoulder massage, courtesy of volunteers on the Irish Red Cross stand.

The nun looked gleeful, seated there on a little folding chair being manipulated by gnarled hands, bespectacled eyes closing in sheer pleasure, her skin pinkening around the taut edge of her veil.

I stopped to watch the nun, inadvertently interrupting a conversation between an elderly man and a staggeringly beautiful dental nurse, her white, white teeth aglow in her brown skin. I was thinking about touch, about its demise as people age, as illness isolates, as lovers fade and die, as children harden like dried-up putty.

“I’ve discovered I have wax in my ears,” the man was saying.

Smilingly, the tremendous dental nurse guided him to a hearing-aid stand, where an irritatingly jaunty poster read: “Did my wife ask for slippers? Kippers? Or strippers?”

Maybe she was asking for a scarlet kimono and a midweek break with dinner both nights in Kinnegad, mate, and your ears were too full of your own effluvium to notice.

  • Hilary Fannin’s memoir, Hopscotch, is published by Doubleday Ireland
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