Super sixties Feeling young all over again | The Times
Super sixties: Feeling young
all over again
Updated 1 minute ago
Mature, self-confident and often grandchild-
free, today’s sixtysomethings are ageing in a
new way, says Lesley Garner (60)
Last week I had my aunt and uncle over to lunch to celebrate my
mother’s 88th birthday. “Good Lord,” said my uncle to me as he hobbled
out of the lift, “You’re so young.” Well, thanks, but to a 91-year-old I
imagine everyone in their sixties looks young.
If you want to feel young there is nothing quite like hanging round with
a bunch of people in their eighties and nineties. And if one of them
happens to be your mother you’ll have moments when you still feel all of
six years old.
I turned 60 a while back and I’m learning that being in your sixties is
like a second adolescence. Your self-image is as volatile as a teenager’s.
Some days you feel sassy and chic and up for anything. Some days — no,
make that later on the same day — you feel weary and reclusive and
more like withdrawing into your peaceful shell. You like the idea of a
good night out, but your metabolism can’t deal with alcohol like it used
to. You get a new haircut and then worry that you look like mutton
dressed as lamb.
You consider Botox and then find that you’ve bought sensible shoes. The
difference between teenagers and sixtysomethings is that one is under
pressure to grow up too fast, while the other group is under pressure to
stay youthful at all costs. Both pressures should be resisted by the wise.
I tell you what I thought being in my sixties would be like. When I was a
little girl all four of my grandparents were in their sixties. They didn’t
have a natural tooth between them. They had silver hair or none. They
were firmly retired. This meant that the grandmothers put on hats to
meet their friends for coffee and the grandfathers dug their cabbage
They were old, and nobody in their lives would ever have said, “Sixty-
five! I don’t believe it.” You believed it all right. For years my vision of
being in my sixties was a version of my Welsh grandmother, shelling
peas in her pinny outside her kitchen door or, better still, some black-
clad Greek granny watching the world go by from a wooden chair on a
sunny, cobbled street.
So now I’ve got to the pea-shelling stage and the world has changed for
Greek grannies and the world has changed for us. Life expectancy is
apparently increasing by five hours a day. I hope that’s the five hours
spent catching up with friends and not the five hours spent hunting for
glasses and lost keys. The economic pressure is on for everyone to keep
working and the social pressure is on to look good and have hot sex with
fellow pensioners you meet on the internet. No let-up in social anxiety,
So it’s no silver hair and shapeless pinnies for us. We may worry about
the effects of skinny airbrushed models on teenage girls, but we need
realistic role models, too. Airbrushing has done away with wrinkles, and
older actresses succumb to Botox and facelifts. Heads don’t turn for you
on the street any more, but that’s a relief, isn’t it? In our sixties we
should radiate a mixture of style and authority, fed by the sheer life
experience that we represent.
Ageing isn’t what it used to be, but it is real and we have to learn to
work with it. Like ivy on an old building, it will overwhelm you if you let
it. Bravo to women who fly in the face of mortality, like the Gypsy
granny I saw recently at the Appleby Horse Fair, toting her zimmer
frame down the high street while wearing pink stilettos and a shocking-
pink miniskirt. But, somehow, older feet gravitate into comfortable
shoes. It becomes possible to spend a day walking through shops
without finding a single thing you want to try on. Your hands look as if
they belong to somebody else. You do that thing that so annoyed you
when your old dad did it, of turning down the TV when the ads come on.
When did all this happen?
Flat shoes and sunspotted hands apart, there are advantages to cruising
through your sixties: 60, after all, is the new 40. It is being mature, and
self-confident and grown up without the unconscious drives. You aren’t
driven to pursue boyfriends, the latest fashion, colourful, glittery things
in shops, the next job, the coolest club or restaurant; though you can dip
into these pleasures if you want. We are designed to be putting our
energies into our grandchildren, but many of us, whose children have
thrown everything into establishing themselves in a harsh economic
world, are still waiting.
All this postponement is using up good grandmothering time — and if
the trend continues, we won’t even be around for our grandchildren’s
weddings, should they have such things.
So us sixtysomethings find ourselves in a territory without many of the
traditional markers. We have our own teeth, and they are probably
costing us a fortune. Our hair has grown gold with age. We are just as
likely to be looking after parents in their eighties as babysitting infants.
Even if we have been prudent and saved money, our children have a
much harder time than we did economically, and we have become their
safety net as well as our parents’ carers — for they, too, are living longer.
Retirement is the R-word, something unthinkable for many of us,