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What they say is true, old age ain’t for sissies


...and so we take our leave
And so they take their leave. Close mates Keith Jackson and Greg St John assist the late Phil Charley

 TUMBY BAY - I like walking but just lately my right knee has started playing up. Every so often the bits kind of grind together and it aches like hell.

Goes away if I grit my teeth and keep hobbling along. I reckon it’s probably a case of one mountain too many. Way back in another life in the Star Mountains.

My left knee is a bit painful too, but I know exactly what’s going on there.

I was walking around the rocky headland across from Tumby Island with the dog when I went arse over tit and landed heavily on the rocks.

Badly grazed knee and blood everywhere. Sore elbow too. Vertigo I think. Got something to do with my failing eyesight. Limped home with the dog.

Buggered up a good pair of strides too, big rip that can’t be repaired.

That I was even contemplating repairing them probably alerts you to the fact I’m getting on in years.

No one repairs clothes these days, Pop, they just go out and buy 10 more pairs of whatever they want.

Changing the dressing on my leg and thinking about all this, I came to the conclusion that getting old is a very painful experience.

When I’m not doing direct damage to myself there are lots of other aches and pains. Mostly arthritis the quack tells me.

And paper thin skin. Too many years in the sun. I can create bruises on the back of my hands and arms by just staring at them.

Not that I’m complaining. Well, not much anyway. Still got all my own hair and most of my teeth and am upright most of the time.

I’m just a bit annoyed that no one told me that all this painful decrepitude would set in when I got old, nor how quickly it would happen.

Still, I’m a bloke and can tell myself that pain, within reason, is something nothing. Grin and bear it as they say.

The other thing that is equally disturbing is the sense of fear that old age brings with it.

As one’s physical state deteriorates two things happen. You no longer have the strength and resilience to get by and you have to rely on other people too much.

That’s a demeaning thing to suffer.

My son-in-law came round the other day and announced that he was going to climb up on our roof and clean the gutters.

I was gobsmacked. For as long as I can remember I’ve climbed on roofs to collect all the leaves and flush the dirt away. I’m an expert in the trade. Apparently my daughter had sent him.

I let him do it and didn’t tell him I was planning to climb up there and do a bit of painting later on.

Then I thought about what would happen if I fell off the roof.  It didn’t bear contemplating.

That’s physical fear but old age also brings mental fear.

Technology has got a lot to do with that kind of fear. Things are moving so fast it’s hard to keep up.

Slowly but surely everything is shifting online. If you are not computer literate the future is going to be very grim.

If you want to survive comfortably in the crazy new world technology has created for us you have to somehow get your head around it all. It’s such a drag, to coin an old cliché.

We’ve now got a car that is operated almost entirely by pressing buttons.

And the bloody thing actually talks to me as I drive along.

“Don’t do that you silly old fart,” it announces when I try something it doesn’t like.

With my declining eyesight and slower reflexes, driving a car on our madcap roads is a trial in itself. Having the car tell me I’m an idiot doesn’t help my confidence. It scares me.

Then of course, there is my memory. I can recall with what I think is crystal clarity events that happened 50, 60 and even 70 years ago, but at the same time I can’t recall what I did 10 minutes ago.

Losing one’s memory is particularly scary. If I can’t recall what happened 10 minutes ago it’s entirely possible that one day I could forget who I am and who are all the people around me.

That sort of living oblivion is too fearsome to even contemplate.

And while all this is happening there’s the fear caused by the whole world apparently going down the toilet at an accelerating rate.

Big business and our politicians are colluding to destroy our planet as fast as they can, all in pursuit of another buck.

I’ve always been one of Mother Earth’s disciples and when she becomes threatened I get scared on her behalf.

And worry. Mostly about the world my grandchildren will inherit.

It’s a lot easier than I thought to resign myself to the fact that I’m mortal and will one day, not too far in the future, cease to exist.

I know if I plant a tree today I won’t see it full grown. The only reason I’d do that is so it will shade my descendants.

But that’s important. That’s why we are here in the first place. To make the world a better place, even in such infinitesimal ways.

So perhaps this dimming of the light and achy knees are worth it after all.

It better be, because if it isn’t someone is going to bloody well hear about it.


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Kevin O'Regan

Interesting topic. I am well into my 81st year and have been blessed with good health most of the journey. Only bad times were results of carelessness.

I put the good health down to always being an outside person, fresh air, never smoked and stay away from air conditioned offices as much as I can.

Mine has been an incredible journey starting on the west coast in New Zealand where my early working years were mostly on bulldozers without cabs or heaters and worked with people in forestry, sawmilling, roading and bridging.

In 1984 I went to the university of higher education in 1984 known as Papua New Guinea and continued in the same vein in my adopted country.

It has been an incredible ride but now the body hurts. Putting one's feet through the openings in your underpants in the morning has become a balancing act and that does cheese one off.

But God has been good and a great travel companion. What a ride!

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks for the reality check, Jerry, you are indeed right about how fortunate I have been.

And Hazel, I recall well how I viewed turning 50 so many years ago. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 37 years old and faced a life of careful monitoring my blood sugars and general health.

At the time I thought that if I made it to 50 I'd be lucky. Now here I am at 75 years old (three quarters of a century!) and in pretty good health bar the niggles I've written about.

Please tell your friend not to be silly. My life after 50 has been incredibly productive and satisfying.

His life after 50 will be exactly how he faces it. Be negative and it will be negative, be positive and enjoy it instead.

Jerry T

If it's any solace, Philip, you've already won the lottery of life, so please don't ponder too much on the problems associated with growing older.

You're Australian, you live in a peaceful democracy where the rule of law prevails, you received an excellent education, you worked in one of the world's most exciting jobs helping to build a new country (PNG), you have a pension, you can rely on one of the world's best free health systems, you have a loving family and you are still alive into your retirement.

90% of our fellow global citizens would see you as a highly privileged man.

Just accept the aches and pains as being the cost of having lived a fulfilling and rewarding life. Embrace these final years as a joy, not a hindrance.

Chris Overland

Old age is indeed not for sissies and Phil has accurately described some of the annoying things that can and do occur.

I am now rapidly approaching my 72nd birthday and so now qualify as a 'lapun tru'.

I have so far survived a run in with cancer and a serious heart attack. Modern medicine has saved me from the Grim Reaper twice now and I am very grateful for the chance to carry on for a bit longer than nature may have intended.

For this reason I try to endure the arthritic niggles and other inexplicable aches and pains without complaint although I do have the occasional grizzle to myself about it.

Most importantly, I can manage a regular ride on my bike, cope with the garden and see and think well enough to keep banging away on the keys to my computer.

Before I embark on my last patrol I hope to hang around long enough to make a few more trips around this beautiful country but, right now, looking after my life partner takes precedence.

I would guess that I am amongst the youngest surviving ex-kiaps. I can only think of one other ex-kiap who may be younger than me (Peter Turner) but there may be a few more that I do not know.

So, if I make into my 80's chances are that my eventual demise will signal the end of an era with virtually all ex-kiaps having gone on their last patrol.

That is a sad thought but an inevitable consequence of the ageing process so eloquently described by Phil.

Hazel Kutkue

I've always pondered on what being old feels like. My friend and I were discussing the other day, and he had a very dramatic view on old age, preferring to die in his 50s.

But then getting old is inevitable and one day, we will all be like you, if we're lucky enough, depending on those closes to us to get by and that scares me too.

Thank you for giving us an insight into an era of life most people try to put off as much as possible.

Paul Oates

A grandson asked me recently, "What's it like to be old?" I thought it an excellent question and said so.

Like most things in life, the answer is in the eye of the beholder. My initial response was along the lines of what Phil explains but then I thought, what was really behind the question?

What we oldies take for granted is not how the young see us and our situation. From their point of view, we have all we ever want and they have only what they are allowed and then told to enjoy what they have. So the essence of the question is really about control.

We feel our grip on life is slipping away and find it difficult to accept that we can't do what we used to.

There are, or at at least were, some dispensations about getting old. Previous generations were apparently given some deference and assistance as their faculties diminished over time.

With the diaspora of modern families, many aren't able to experience family life like they experienced when they were young.

The dispensations, as Phil points out, are there if we want to accept them. Without a computer and the internet, I probably would have given the game away already.

The biggest question however, as we approach life's end, is whether we accepted and engaged with life's challenges and left the world in a better place.

I've been told the current state of the world is a mess and it's all the fault of the older generation. Somehow that seems like an easy 'Cop Out'.

No one seems to be coming up with any better ideas to prevent what has and is happening over and over again.

So maybe the choice offered reportedly to the ancient Greeks is still there. A short but exciting life or a long boring one.

The really important question is one of intent. Do we try to make people's lives better or are we too selfish to care?

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