Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 20th June 2017

THE incomparable Groucho Marx said that “age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

Just lately I have been peeking nervously round the door, casting my gaze upon impending “old age” and not liking what I see.

My journey along life’s bumpy road is just weeks away from taking me to my three score and ten. Everybody says have a party. Celebrate, it’s a “significant” milestone. Yet all I want to do is ignore 70. It’s the new 50 they tell me. Not at 7am when I’m trying to force arthritic joints into action for the coming day it’s not.

There are always exceptions of course. Those who defy old age. The octogenarian marathon runners. The 90-year-olds who shuffle down athletics tracks setting world 100 metre records, for whom 9.5 is measured in minutes, not the 9.5 of Usain Bolt’s world.

In the United States only last week Jerry Bozzo became the oldest person to have trained a winning racehorse after Cotton Tooyah had scored at Gulfstream Park. He’s 96 and has been breeding and training horses since the 1970s.

“People say to me, ‘what the heck are you doing out there at that age, standing at the rail? I’m enjoying it, that’s why I’m doing it,” he said.

And then there’s the leisure centre company that employs pensioners as lifeguards — Greywatch rather than Baywatch. One of their team of lifeguards is 74-year-old David Hall, a swimming champion.

Greenwich Leisure insist that all their lifeguards, including the 70-year-olds, have to undergo strict tests before they are allowed to patrol their swimming pools. They have to dive into the deep end to retrieve a brick. Those who fail to resurface are unlikely to be offered the job.

Swimmers may be a tad shaken to discover their life might be in the shaky hands of a portly 70-year-old wearing red Speedos, but a spokesman for the firm who run the pools and leisure facilities for local authorities, explained: “You don’t need to be a body beautiful to save lives, nor do you need to be in your teens or twenties.”

Baroness Altmann, the government’s former champion for older workers, welcomed the recruitment drive saying “age discrimination is rife, dangerous and damaging to the economy.”

I don’t know about 70 being the new 50, but a recent survey came up with the notion that “old age” doesn’t begin until you are 76. The way things are going, they’ll probably be expecting folk to work to 76 or longer before their pensions kick in. Or just issue cyanide pills once we’ve outlived our usefulness. Or even, as Sunday Times writer Rod Liddle suggested, club the oldies like culling seals.

A survey of 1,200 men and women over 50 found that more of us exercise later into life and are careful about what we eat and drink. More salads and more triathlons, so that’s the mystery of defeating old age unlocked. Oh, if it were so.

This survey tells us we all feel 10 years younger. It all seems to terribly positive, and yet I’m not so sure. Not so convinced that old age, while inevitable, is something to be faced with unbridled joy.

As I pore over my certificates for long distance fell races, and my programs from Carlisle United’s lone season in the First Division sun, those are the sort of things I would celebrate if, by some mysterious spiritual force, it was possible to experience them again.

But just being 70? That’s not an achievement. As Groucho said, you’ve just got there. That’s all. Nothing special.

OLDIE ENTERTAINERS

IF you happen to enjoy television programs like 24 Hours in A&E, you may have noticed that a quite large proportion of patients being wheeled into emergency treatment bays are elderly folk who’ve done something daft like falling off a ladder while carrying out DIY repairs.

They come in with broken arms and legs, all cheerful-like and joking with the doctors and nurses who are charged with the task of putting Humpty together again. I troubled A&E myself not all that long ago so I know exactly what stupid feels like.

These jolly old timers insist that, even with vertebrae crushed, ribs smashed and blood pouring out of a head wound, they are “fine really, don’t want to cause any fuss, can’t wait to get back to that spot of DIY on the leaky roof”.

They have a touching faith in A&E doctors as they attempt to restore life into their wrinkled bodies, and they love all the nurses. Even the less glamorous nurses seem to take on the aspect of Barbara Windsor in her prime to these leery old codgers.

These old fools are generally wheeled into casualty accompanied by some doting son or daughter, or teary grandchild, pledging that next time they will make sure dad, in the hope he survives this latest fiasco, hires a proper handyman and just issues instructions from ground level.

We should thank these elderly victims of their own stupidity because, without them there would be no 24 Hours in A&E or GPs Behind Closed Doors or any other health-based programs where we can tut-tut at their foolishness yet laugh at the cheery way they cope with misfortune.

Most TV comedians nowadays give us so-called reality with lots of bad language thrown into their act for effect. But the real entertainers are the old timers with their peculiar medical disasters. The TV programmers must rejoice every time another pensioner hits the deck.

Old codgers who fall off ladders while mending the roof, ignoring their family’s warnings not to do it, provide us with a rich store of entertainment. And the closest they come to a swear word is “blast” or “blimey.”

RAM-MING HOME THE MESSAGE

TRUCULENT. Yes, that’s the word I would use.

As youngsters, me and my pal used to spend most Sundays kicking a ball about in a field close to where we lived. Just over the fence there lived an old ram.

Normally we played with a battered tennis ball, but this day we had a proper football. Not new, but still serviceable enough to make us think we were proper footballers.

Unfortunately, my mate got carried away and hoofed a shot past me in goal and over the fence into the field were the ram stood challenging us to retrieve the ball. Every time one of us crept up to reclaim the ball the sheep moved towards it menacingly, a baleful look in its eyes that said, “go on then, try it”.

We weren’t exactly a heroic pair. In the end we abandoned the ball. It could still be there, trodden deep into the earth, for all I know. Beaten by a sheep with attitude.

Before you start laughing, scientists at Cambridge University claim they’ve come up with a way of telling if a sheep is happy or sad, glad or mad, by using futuristic facial recognition technology. It was first used on people, but scientists realised it could also detect emotions in animals.

Professor Peter Robinson said a lot of early work on the subject was done by Darwin who argued that humans and animals showed remarkably similar behaviours.

So how do you tell the difference between a happy and a sad sheep? Look for ears folding forward, eyes narrowing, cheek tightening and nostrils that change from a “U to a “V” shape.

I’ve always looked at sheep as having character. Herdwicks with their gentle indifference towards fell walkers. Swaledales a bit edgy. Bluefaced Leicesters saying “so what, I’ve got a big nose. Get over it”.

The idea of facial expressions in sheep may sound baarmy to some, but the boffins reckon it could help farmers detect pain and alert them to diseases among their flock.

Of course it could just be the mark of a stroppy old tup who won’t give your ball back.