independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

I'm 66, and my four adult children still live with me

It's best to laugh and not ponder old age, writes Emmanuel Kehoe

Emmanuel Kehoe

Philosophical: Emmanuel Kehoe is adjusting to "changed circumstances". Photo by Ronan Lang

Three weeks after my 60th birthday, my brother-in-law, a close friend and my wife's only sibling, died under tragic circumstances.

Do I have to explain the euphemism? It was all neatly planned and precise – typical of him – but it plunged us into chaos in all sorts of ways.

Only now, just turned 66, I find myself waking up from that darkness, and surprised to be so comfortable about living in his house, my wife's former family home.

It was something I thought I'd never be able to do, given how we came into it.

At that 60th birthday in 2007, I finished the obligatory embarrassing speech with an impromptu version of Jingle Bells:

'All downhill, all downhill/Downhill all the way''.

This raised a laugh – maybe a nervous one among some of the older people present because, in your 60s, if you're not a famous author, movie star, banker, TV presenter or a better-paid public servant, you know that somewhere around the middle of the decade, you will retire and plunge into a scrotum-tightening sea of reduced circumstances.

Many people find themselves living as if their pockets were suddenly sewn up, their wallets superglued.

I got my first state pension payment in the New Year, and the travel pass. This officially turns me into a senior citizen, a semi-invisible being.

Someday, I will have the good grace to leave. I can get cheap haircuts from barbers who scare me, golden years offers from places I don't want to go to, and no offer at all of the kind that would have interested me in my 20s.

In Britain, David Cameron has pledged support for old-age pensions. Here I suspect, no such regard for age exists among ministers who are steering into well-upholstered futures. Dev's notion that Ireland's firesides "would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age'' seems unlikely at a time when the huntsmen of fiscal retribution are scouring the thickets for the halt and the lame.

I don't trust anyone in government any more, and I don't even come from Montana.

You also know, and have known for quite a long time, that you've lived longer than you're going to live.

This would be a sobering thought, if you hadn't already decided it was time to cut down on drink. And already you'll be familiar with death, through that of parents and old friends.

Some in their 60s bed down to a long retirement, like leaf-mould on the floor of a wood. But a remarkable number don't survive long into retirement before things begin to unravel.

Change can come out of the blue, what science fiction writer Rex Gordon called The Paw of God can knock you bawways – everything from illness to expenses that wouldn't have cost you a thought before, like getting the clutch fixed in the car you're going to have to keep until it dies, or you do.

So where am I now? Fully married and semi-retired you could say. Not poor by any means, but adjusting to changed circumstances. Still writing and still working a little.

As someone in his 60s, I'm also in the perhaps unusual circumstance of having all four children living at home. They must have, unknown to me, studied the classics because they bash about the place like Carthaginian war elephants and eat like epicureans.

One of them, as I write, has just returned to Seville for the last six months of his Erasmus year. Another, having done a post-grad course in waitressing and picking courgettes in Australia is studying to be a primary teacher.

The two older ones are finding themselves. Oddly, I have no trouble at all finding them, draped as they are about the place. And they have no trouble finding me when they want money. Signing on for the dole is entirely beneath them.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a pleasantly spoken member of the Garda Siochana. "It's in connection with a lost mobile phone that was handed in at the station.''

"What colour is it?''

"Eh, pink. I hope you won't take offence, but your number was in the contacts under 'Oul Lad'. So I rang it first.'' Well, we had a good laugh. Daughters, eh? I told him it was all before him.

I grew up in a house with no fridge, no washing machine, no phone and no television. We weren't poor. Lots of people lived like that then.

Then television came, and the fridge, and the car and finally the phone, because that was in the days of Posts & Telegraphs, and getting a phone was like asking the bust of Mozart on the piano to grow arms and play us a tune.

But having had only a couple of tin cans and a string for a phone when I was a kid, I love the things. I love my iPad, and the Kindle app that knows what page of a novel I'm on as I switch from iPad to iPhone. I love gadgets and computers.

I'd find it hard to live without tech, but though you'll find me on Facebook and Twitter, my Facebook existence has been on ice for a year and I have never, ever tweeted. It just seems so preposterous that the minutiae of my daily existence could be of interest to anyone, anywhere.

Social media has supercharged the cult of celebrity which is devouring what once was real news space. Do I care when I look at the morning papers who's snogging who on a beach in Barbados?

Newspapers. My own game. Once produced by tatterdemalion men and raffish women who spent a considerable part of their working lives in pubs. Today's younger journalists are alarmingly sober, committed and educated.

In general, the serious journalism is far better than it was. But there is an unsettling edge to modern journalism that reflects the events of recent years and the influence of a harsh, almost Victorian, retributive moral ethos imported from the journalism of our nearest neighbour.

It's often less humane, even puritanical, and has a tend- ency to rush to judgment. It un- settles me. So what now? Start colouring the beard? No. A hair transplant? I think not. I've begun to see age as a coat you might wear over your arm. You can put it on if you want to, but you can always sling it in the corner, order a round, and get on with the conversation.

Irish Independent

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