Mon | May 25, 2020

Anthony Gambrill | It’s hardly worth going home

Published:Sunday | September 29, 2019 | 12:00 AMAnthony Gambrill - Contributor

When do you know you are old? I expect every one of us will reach that conclusion at a different age. Some will associate reaching old age when their employment ends at 65 or 70.

Others won’t accept that they have reached old age because there are still playing tennis at 85 and embarking on marriage for the third time the same year. Well, that’s not me, but by making a habit of watching American television news and the accompanying advertising commercials, I began to give longevity more than a passing thought.

“Significantly lowers your risk of dying”, “improves your memory”, “dietary supplements to improve your performance”, “want to get your edge back?” Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty: “Feel like the young man you used to be”, or “THIS IS A LIFE-CHANGER!”

Mind you, these life-changers don’t come without potential risks like “vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, upset stomach, headaches,” or worse “sores, problems breathing, reddening of the genitals, worsening of hepatitis, causing cancer, fatal bleeding, even death”. Then they throw ominous acronyms at you: COPD, PTSD, CV, AIC, and ED (now there’s a life-changer), but to be fair, each pitch ends with the warning: “before starting, consult your doctor, particularly if you are pregnant”.

Nevertheless, some doctors have been coerced into writing prescriptions regardless because the advertising has been so persuasive and “life-changing”.

On the subject of ageing, doctors can offer sage advice. One MD in an English newspaper advised its readers to live fast and die young or you will find yourself in your old age sitting in front of yet another birthday cake surrounded by well-wishers and asking yourself, “Who the hell are all these people?”

On the other hand, another UK doctor wishing his patients to live longer recommends getting a dog, taking it for a walk twice a day, and eating only half the food on your dinner plate, leaving the rest for the dog. Not that you often see someone in Jamaica taking a dog for a walk and not finishing their lunch!


But back to the question: When do you know if you are old? For a starting point, I usually recall Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw’s complaint that youth is wasted on the young. This becomes apparent when you are unable to do the things you used to do. I mean, even Usain Bolt has abandoned trying to do the 100m in under nine seconds.

You feel yourself slowing down. My late wife once said to me, “What are you doing today?”

I would answer, “Nothing.”

She retorted, “But that’s what you did yesterday.”

“Yes,” I pointed out, “but I didn’t finish.”

I get tired of people saying age is only a number, although that’s obvious. Look at Gordon House with its increasing population of octogenarians. And they say that 70 is the new 50, or something like that.

Sure, but I remember reading that Clement Freud, Sigmund Freud’s grandson, was propositioned by a lady. She suggested, “Let’s go upstairs and make love.”

He replied, “Madam, at my age, it’s one thing or the other.”

I was happily married for 42 years, but for others, ageing can have unexpected consequences. There was a wife who went to a fortune teller for a peek into her future. The fortune teller looked into her crystal ball and was making several encouraging predictions when she stopped, horrified, and said, “Someone murders your husband.”

The wife, anxious to determine the outcome, calmly replied, “Yes, but will I get away with it?”

Infidelity is another hazard in a long marriage. A man tells his friend, “I have some good news for you and some bad news.”

The friend says, “The good news first, please.”

“Your wife got a new camera.” The man replies, “That’s wonderful. And the bad news?”

“Yesterday she photographed you taking your secretary into a hotel bedroom.

“But, I digress.

The first time I realised I was growing old was when I was introduced to someone not as the father of my daughters but as the grandfather of their children. The other memorable time was when passing a shop window in the States seeing a cushion embroidered with the words, “If you don’t fly first-class, your son-in-law will.” Actually, I have only managed business class, but they are still in economy.

Infirmity is clear evidence of growing old. In recent years, I have been assisted by a reliable rosewood walking stick, and, in reserve, I’ve got an elegantly carved replacement purchased on a beach in Trelawny.


Another more recent realisation that I was becoming a golden oldie was when I came across that American invention, the bucket list. You are supposed to draw up a list of things to do before you kick the bucket. Mine isn’t likely to be too ambitious (or too expensive), and up to now, the only item on my bucket list is to find Chicken Kiev on a restaurant menu.

You realise that you are old when you start going to funerals more frequently. You can give them a miss if you want to, but I follow the advice attributed to Yogi Berra, the legendary New York Yankees baseball team catcher. He is supposed to have advised, “If you don’t go to the other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.” But all options are on the table.

Then the instance of the two octogenarians at the cemetery who have just seen the coffin of one of their old pals lowered into a grave. One said to the other, “Hardly worth going home, is it?”

That’s when you really know you are old.


- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to