Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Surviving the Big Six-Oh!

Hitting sixty is a bit of a shock but I can think of no more soothing or stimulating place I'd rather do it than sitting in a bamboo hut by the bluest of blue seas on Koh Chang, Thailand's second biggest island, far out to the East of Bangkok. My shots of the beach, bathed in evening light, should have you spitting in envy as you rub your chilblains, though it's not that I'm trying to be horrible to my readers, if I have any. It's just that I'm a very lucky sexagenarian.

I ponder in my hut that if I could make this imperfect world a little better, I'd start by abolishing birth certificates and mirrors. Then instead of suffering these hideous birthdays, I could be in happy ignorance of my age and I wouldn't have to look my own decay in the face.

Half a century ago I thought that if I made it to sixty, all the bits that matter most would have long shrivelled up and I'd be briefly riding the divine conveyor belt before being dumped off the end into oblivion. Fortunately it's not like that at all and the juices are still flowing and hope, like delayed maturity, springs eternal. I have ingrowing toenails on my right big toe and Dupuytren's contracture of my left little finger, the traumatic consequence of an excess of windsurfing, but other than that I and all my extremeties are in fine fettle. I've also had a bit of lower back pain caused by too much humping and laying of paving slabs. That set-back was last summer at our house in Petersfield, which was serious enough to delay my return to Thailand for a full week. I shall now lay off the laying and the humping of heavy weights as I've been warned that I'm not twenty five any more.

Yes, I always find looking in the mirror pretty shocking and always momentarily wonder who is this being, half lizard and half Dobermann that stares back at me. Too many years of tropical sun have done their worst to my face, but it's no good wanting to turn the clock back as I've enjoyed every outdoor moment of mountain, river, desert and sea. If I wanted a fuller face, I suppose I'd have to be overweight.

My worst horror though is a haircut, a subtle form of torture that forces me to sit and look at myself in a mirror for an excruciatingly long time. Thai barbers do it as slowly as possible, one hair at a time, to make sure there's always a queue and in the hope of a bigger tip. If only he knew, as I sit squirming, my flickering eyes trying to avoid the horrors before me, that I'd pay him handsomely just to get it over with as quickly as possible.

So I've had my three score years and I'm now looking forward to the promised ten. Being with Cat will either keep me young or do me in, but I live in hope of the continued blessing of good health so that I can live a better life and make merit for the next one. It strikes me that when Cat's my age now, I'll just be reaching ninety! Where shall we go to celebrate?

Yes, a birthday on Koh Chang can't be bad and I have no complaints whatsoever. If I was living alone in England, I'd be shut away inside, never knowing my neighbours as they work all hours to pay their mortgage. I could talk to the dog and to the people huddled in the bus shelter and I could join an evening class in macrame in the forlorn hope of romance. But I know I'd be miserable there as retired singletons can be horribly isolated. In contrast, living here in Thailand, you're never ever alone and the implicit ageism of the West is totally absent. The Thais respect us wrinklies for our maturity and wisdom, though in my case they're seriously deluded. I suppose I don't really know what they really think about me, but they're always welcoming and warm and somehow even when it's raining the sun alway seems to shine.

Who was it who said you're only as old as the woman you feel? I think I'm beginning to repeat myself so maybe it was me!

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