Of all the world’s unnerving experiences, two are particularly relevant to those in their third age: the prospect of a fall and pernicious ageism.
Things were not great in the Garden of Eden after The Fall. Adam and Eve must have been full of regrets. (This introduction is not going to work for most non- Third Agers, is it? Adam and who? Serpent? Tempted by an apple?? Are you kidding?) People over 60 will know. And I seriously want to discourage my age group from activities that lead to The Fall. I’d bet a lot of old people who have “falls” led lives like mine in their prime: the first generation in which many women had careers and reared children, without much help: no reliable childcare, and a burden of responsibility to keep the house “nice” while doing everything else. Men in those days were not “homemakers” as women were. Some men were ashamed that their wives or partners “went out to work”. Some of us were single mothers, a reviled (then) sector of society. So we over-achieved. I haven’t wound down since. I get up most mornings, compelled to try to do everything in the first hour of the day. That’s the Temptation part of it: running a bath while nipping into the kitchen to feed the cat while putting on a load of washing… The habits of our prime. Young people fall, or fall over. Sometimes they fall in love. Old people “have a fall”. I have no idea why this is so. But there is no doubt that a fall in your third age is a lot more serious than kids tripping over their own feet. And so it was, that at 6am on a fine morning I left the tap running in the kitchen sink while topping up some vases in the hall, all the while thinking of the news on the radio. I tripped and flew through the air, aware in the seconds I was off the ground that the landing was not going to be soft. I also remembered the kitchen tap.
“A fall, any fall, is nasty. It certainly qualifies as an unnerving experience.”
My head hit my grandfather’s cedar chest. Its beautiful rounded 19th century workmanship saved me from death. I fell back onto a bit of carpet. That was lucky. If you can call it that. And people did. In the weeks that followed people often said how lucky I was. The Royal Adelaide Hospital was jolly good. Everyone remarked on my shiner. I wasn’t even sure what a shiner was. It’s a black eye. I had one and a black cheek. Nothing much else was evident. X rays showed no breakages. But in the weeks, months, that followed, The Fall was very much with me. New soreness seemed to pop out every day. That dodgy disc now played up. My facial bruises faded, ending my entertainment value, but my body resented the treatment I had exposed it to by not taking enough time and care; by flashing back to the 70s and 80s when speed was of the essence of family life and work. It still is, I suspect, for working mothers. But there is a bit more help around, I hope. Anyway, third age is a time to stop this nonsense. One thing at a time. A fall, any fall, is nasty. It certainly qualifies as an unnerving experience. Another unnerving experience peculiar to old people is ageism. The word was probably not invented when I experienced it for the first time. It was extraordinary. I was in my 50s! I nipped into the lavatory in the office where I worked. Before I could settle, there was a pounding on the door. A young female colleague shouted abuse. She told me to get out of that cubicle because it had a sanitary bin, and at my age I didn’t need that… thump, bang, curse. This extraordinary bellow of ageism – that I had no right to use a cubicle with a sanitary bin in it – still unnerves me though that woman herself would by now be in her late 50s. It happened again recently when I summoned the dog catcher. He did his job efficiently, but spoke to everyone but me. Even when I squeaked a little, unnerved, “Excuse me!” It is the feeling that I am invisible that unnerves me most. Being made to feel unworthy. Not worthy of notice, not worthy of a sanitary bin. Not worthy of a word from a dog catcher. Because I am old. The Queen clocked up 90 years last month. An extraordinary life. She can keep her jewels and her nice frocks. But half her luck for escaping ageism. It’s not something she would ever encounter. Lucky duck.