Sixty’s not what it used to be

I’m really enjoying being 60, it’s something to celebrate. It feels like the start of a new phase of life. I am surrounded by 60 somethings, full of energy and enthusiastic for new experiences.  60 doesn’t seem to be what it was in the ‘60s.

To me, my Gran was always old. Born in 1895, she would have been 63 when I was born in 1959. She had lived through two world wars. Her week revolved around Sundays, baking days and laundry, her day around household chores. She did not have central heating, so each day began with clearing out the grate, setting and lighting the fire. Whatever the weather, her daily warm up exercise involved carrying a bucket of coal along the back yard. She lived in the North East of England, so the weather could be harsh.

She never learned to drive, they didn’t own a car. Most weekdays she would walk the mile or so into town to shop, stopping along the way to talk with friends and acquaintances: members of the townswomen’s guild, former colleagues of my grandpa’s from the Inland Revenue office. Often she walked home again carrying her shopping in a smart leather and tweed bag: this predated the age of plastic carrier bags; sometimes she returned by bus.

Wash day was a major upheaval. The Parnall single tub machine would be dragged across the kitchen floor to stand by the sink, attached in a Heath Robinson fashion to the tap, the outlet pipe clinging to the edge of the sink. The stone floor would frequently be washed as an unintended consequence of the process. The wet washing would be carried down the yard and hung across the cobbled back lane, another opportunity to stop and talk with neighbours.

She lived to be 92. Sadly, her mind did fail her in later years. But her life to her mid-80s was full of functional activity, with no time or need for gyms or running clubs. My days see the household chores as something to fit in, time permitting, around the rest of life. Daily laundry looks after itself overnight in an automatic machine. Heavy shopping is largely done online and delivered to the door. Smart shopping bags have made a comeback. In the post plastic bag age, we reward ourselves for shunning the litter and pollution that resulted from half a century’s dependency on the plastic bag. As a child, I can remember an element of celebration that this product would last forever: now it’s a major cause for concern.

Today, with every intention of living my 60’s to the full, I look at my mother and mother-in-law and wonder how 90 will feel from the inside if the world and I survive for another thirty years.

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