Life doesn’t stop at 60.
By Sue Leonard.
Published in The Weekend Section of The Irish Examiner. 9th August 2008.
Forty is the new thirty; sixty the new forty; and becoming a pensioner is no longer a time to be feared. Not with Mick Jagger as an example. He’s still rocking at 65.
Today’s pensioners don’t feel old. They enjoy good health and they’re damned if they’re going to slow down. Being over sixty, they reckon, if a time to fulfil new dreams.
Esther Rantzen, 68, of ‘That’s Life’ fame feels so strongly about it that she has written a book. ‘If Not Now, When?’
“It’s my guide on how to grow old disgracefully. And the title is a sort of anthem for me,” she says.
“Earlier in my life I kept putting things off. I’d say I’d do it, ‘in my next life.’ Now I enjoy this life. There are still so many opportunities, so many lovely things to do, and really, there is no excuse to put things off.”
It’s a wonderful guide, with many non-judgemental tips. But the message is, whatever makes you happy, whether its parachute jumping, sex, travel or Botox, just do it!
The former presenter of That’s Life; it ran for 21 years commanding audiences of over 18 million, Esther still has a busy career. Along with TV presenting, she’s an active President of Childline, the Charity she founded; she a trustee of NSPCC and patron of several other charities. What, though, is her dream?
“To become a really good swimmer,” she says. “It annoys me that I can’t put my face under water. I’m going to learn to cook better, and I am going to do some dance exercise.
“I was introduced to dance through competing on ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’ I didn’t last long but it was fun. It is the only form of exercise I can cope with. The rest bore me out of my mind.”
68, she says, is a good age.
“In many ways life is better. One minds ones mistakes less. The downside is being bereaved. I lost Dessie, (her husband Desmond Wilcox,) 8 years ago and I’ve lost my parents.
“In 10 years time I would like to still be doing a wide variety of things, still working, and by that time, swimming properly.”
“If you want to live to be 100, become a nun. Or maybe a conductor. They’re called Maestro by everyone; they have no stress, and they get exercise by flinging their arms around and standing up. Perhaps you can conduct privately, to your favourite music.”
If Not Now, When, by Esther Rantzen is published by Headline Springboard at 19.99 euro.
At 66, Phil Coulter is busier than ever. When we spoke, he was busy preparing his programme for his appearance at the Boyle Arts Festival.
“Then I’m touring, with the five members of Celtic Thunder. They’re my latest project. We’re touring in Ireland for two weeks, then in America.
“I’ll rehearse with them there, then tour for a week, before handing over to another conductor, musical director. I’ll then come back and do other stuff.
“I turn up for work every day, as I have done for 40 years. It’s what I do. I still have energy and enthusiasm for it. It helps that I’ve had success. That sustains you and gives you motivation. But I work for my success. I give people value for money and give them attention when I’m on stage.”
Recently seen on our screens in Coulter and Company, he is, perhaps, best known for composing, Puppet on a String and Congratulations.
“I’ve had so many highs. There was winning Eurovision at 25, and selling 6 million records; seeing the Bay City Rollers, an invention dreamed up by myself and my partner go to number one in the states; hearing Luke Kelly and the Dubliners singing ‘The Town I love so well,’ in the Albert Hall, and me playing Carnegie Hall for the first time as an artist.
“There was playing in the White House. That, for a boy from a terrace house in Derry was a great thrill. All those were high moments.”
Coulter has no intention of retiring.
“I won’t retire, but on the day I have a concert at The National Concert Hall, and the orchestra outnumber the audience, I will know it is time to quit.”
“Retirement is fine if you have a plan; if you travel and fulfil ambitions. But if you spend your day reading the paper and going to the shop for a stamp; that’s no life.”
Paddy O’Leary, 73, had planned to accompany his friend, and fellow mountaineer Sé O’Hanlon to India next month. The expedition is climbing a peak there, that Paddy found a way into.
“I just can’t go,” he says.
It’s not that he’s too old; or too unfit. Paddy is simply too busy.
“I’m completing a PhD in History,” he says. “It’s about the Irish in India. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Most of it as a mountaineer. But I toured India on an old Enfield motor bike for six months. I did that when I was around 60.
“I’ve been active all my life. I’ve been on expeditions to India, Nepal, Africa and South America; to Australia and the USA, as well as all around Europe. I made a few ‘first ascents’ of mountains; one of those in 1968, when we climbed Chianapeurto which, at the time, was one of the highest unclimbed mountains in South America.”
Paddy celebrated being 65 by leading an expedition to a new peak in the Himalayas.
“We had to find the peak, explore a way in, and then climb it. On that occasion I didn’t go to the top, because we had to limit the numbers,” he says. “We sent the younger members up.
“I have slowed down,” he says. “But I’ve kept going longer than most people. There was a time, in my forties, when others were pulling out, that I noticed I was not as fit as I had been. But I’m a professional mountaineer, and you accept it. The slowing down is gradual.
“I’m disappointed not to be on Sé’s expedition. I had hoped to go, but I will have to find something else to do. And I will!”
“Keep active. You can’t suddenly take up a sport at 65 to show off to your children. Many Middle aged men have died of a heart attack on a mountain.”
Mary O’Callaghan, 65, retired from teaching this year. But she’s busier now, than ever, in business with her daughters.
“I live near Ballinasloe and breed Connemara ponies,” she says. “We’ve over 20 at the moment. We show them. I’m always pushing a barrow and doing the mucking out.”
Grandmother to six, Mary is planning to volunteer in Africa. She was there two years ago with I to I- on a Volunteer Travel trip.
“I’m planning to go back there next year,” she says. “I’d like to go for three months as a volunteer.
“My trip, two years ago was amazing. I went with my daughter, who was 26, a friend, and her children; a son of 16 and daughter of 24. We did some fund raising first, and went out with cases and cases of clothes for the mission work.
“We worked in a mission in Zambia; we worked flat out for 10 days, scrubbing and cleaning a building that had been burnt. And we helped with the children, and helped out in the hospital. It was wonderful to mix with the people, and to get to know them. Sadly, many have died since. HIV Aids is rampant.
“We saw the wildlife too; going overland in a jeep. We did a safari on foot. We went to the Elephant Sands in Botswana, where we were surrounded by elephants. You could never tire of that; of the beauty and the excitement.
“I went white water rafting down the Zambezi, and I don’t swim. I got a huge buzz out of that.”
“Volunteering is a wonderful way to see a country. You mix with the people. You give to them, but you also take from them.” For more information; www.i-to-i.com.
Kevin Cavey, 67, recently had a shot at tow- in surfing on Australia’s Gold Coast. It’s an extreme sport combing jet skiing with surfing, but when RTE suggested Kevin try it for their programme ‘One Thing to do Before you die,’ he simply couldn’t resist.
“I’d hoped to ride a huge wave that way, but on the day the waves were small,” he says. “It was magic though, and has made me think of trying it again. And that’s possible now it’s being done in Ireland.”
Kevin put Ireland on the surfing map.
“I was in my teens when I realised you could ride a small wave Hawaiian Style. I started with long sheets of wood with polystyrene. I’d always be alone.
“I worked for my dad’s hotel in Bray. In the afternoons I’d grab a wave on the East Coast. I surfed winter and summer, in a wet suit I bought from a friend.”
In 1965, Kevin formed Ireland’s first surfing club; and he was later the first President of The Irish Surfing Association. He’s surfed in Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, USA and Peru, but his greatest achievement, he says, was in 1967, running Ireland’s first National Championships in Tramore.
“I’d been surfing for Ireland in California, so I knew how these competitions were run,” he says. “80 enthusiastic people turned up.
“Surfing can be dangerous. In 1969 in Sligo when the sea was enormous, I came off my board, and lost it. I was so far out that it took me 45 minutes to get close to land. It was a miracle that I made it.
“I will carry on as long as I am fit enough. Surfing is a cosmic experience. There’s the sea and the wind and gravitation working. You’re wrestling with two forces of nature. How else do you do that?”
“Go on a penitential pilgrimage to Lough Derg. I spend three days every two years sleeping for only one night. It gives you a detox and a spiritual uplift. As long as I can do that, I can surf.”
©Sue Leonard. 2008.