Hilary Fannin: Coping mechanisms for this fiftysomething life
Friends occasionally hit on small mantras, dropped clues in the forest of our shared decade, which they polish and hew to get them through the restless night
“Sooner or later, we all need decent arch support,” my friend retorted. Photograph: iStock
I met a couple of old friends for a drink the other night. It was monsoon season in Dublin town, clammy as a first kiss. The pub door was open on to the teeming street. The hanging baskets by the entrance, battered by the weight of rain, shed their drenched confetti.
A young couple dashed by, trench coats flapping, gazing at each other under the arch of the young man’s umbrella, impervious to the downpour. The evening sun emerged from behind a bruise of yellow clouds; the city glowed. Looking out on the elegant youth, the petal-scattered dusk, you could have been forgiven for thinking you were witnessing an advertisement for a nippy French automobile.
Inside, somewhat lacking the young lovers’ youthful glow, their sculpted hip bones and dewy-eyed optimism, we slumped, my old housemates and I, over our black pints and brisk little Sauvignons, and chatted about insoles.
“Don’t dare,” my former bunkmate said as he saw me sneak out my phone to take a few notes. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Insoles?” I hissed in my defence. “Really?”
I remember how, when we shared a flat in our 20s, we used to scrape each other out of various punctured romantic trysts, sitting up half the night in our badly rag-rolled livingroom, smoking each other’s cigarettes, flicking ash on the cat and unravelling the mildly sordid details.
If I had suggested to him then that one day we would be propped up at a bar talking about orthotics, he would have strangled me with his bandana.
“Sooner or later, we all need decent arch support,” he retorted, pushing his designer spectacles to the bridge of his elegant nose.
Burning the candle
I’m beginning to notice a pattern among my friends, most of whom are burning the fiftysomething candle at both ends, trying to turn a buck and keep ambition and love (or at least the promise of it) alive while also looking after elderly parents and recalcitrant children (or indeed recalcitrant parents and elderly children).
Not to mention all the other highlights of a life filled with incident: taking blind cats to the vet, bandaging burst pipes, failing yet again to ditch the carbs, and squinting, watery-eyed, at the tiny writing on the back of the bottle of hay-fever medication, simultaneously trying to hang on to your pelvic floor muscles while you sneeze your head off.
Oh, and some among our number even find themselves, an hour before the damn NCT, trying to get the hubcaps off the shagging car with a dessert spoon and the kitchen spatula. (What on earth makes you think I’m speaking personally here?)
Anyway it seems to me that many friends, while squeezing the marrow out of their calcium-supplemented bones, occasionally hit on small mantras, dropped clues in the forest of our shared decade, which they polish and hew to get them through the restless night.
Incipient panic At least a couple of them believe in God, there are about a dozen who are permanently swathed in Lycra in an effort to keep one step ahead of incipient panic, one believes in guardian angels, and another firmly and quite eloquently posits that there’s nothing in life that a good blow-dry won’t fix.
Yes, I did say blow-dry.
Given that some time in the next 10 years the global population aged over 65 will outnumber the global population aged under five, and four-square in the knowledge that I’ll be bang on target for that sexagenarian shindig, I too have been on the lookout for a mantra. It’s this: ignore all advertising and marketing, from ophthalmics to orthotics, aimed at the over-50s.
I had occasion to observe a television advertisement aimed at the silver pound recently. I was in my local garage, waiting for the mechanic to remove the spatula from the tyre rim. Balanced on a tin of Swarfega, inhaling that lovely smell of swamp oil and rubber, I was thoroughly enjoying the novelty of afternoon TV on his grubby telly, when up popped an ad for denture fixative.
Those same grimacing actors, with the delph dentures, the toupees and the twin-sets have been at this lark for years now. Cryogenically frozen in terror by the thought of biting into a crunchy green apple, they and their spongy gums must have stopped ageing entirely.
Needless to say, the car didn’t make it through the NCT, something about omissions, and apparently the headlights were put in upside-down, which isn’t easy to do. They didn’t mention if they found the missing dessert spoon or not.
A blow, maybe; still, nothing that a pair of cushioned insoles won’t fix.