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Saturday 1 October 2016

Taking the plunge... old man and the sea

Published 31/08/2015 | 02:30

In at the deep end: Swimming a kilometre in Dublin Bay at 6 am at the tender age of 45 is no mean feat, especially in less than balmy water.
In at the deep end: Swimming a kilometre in Dublin Bay at 6 am at the tender age of 45 is no mean feat, especially in less than balmy water.

I've got emails recently about something called the active over-50s show. I'm sure it's a great exhibition and all, but frankly, it has sent me into a minor tailspin. In five years or so I will be an active over-50. So basically am I heading for the scrapheap? I thought 50 was the new 40. But is it actually the new 65?

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And what's with the 'active' over 50s? Is there some kind of suggestion that most of us are drooling in a chair once we hit 50? So we have special shows for the odd one who manages to stay active? Will people start saying to me soon, "Aren't you great to stay so active at your age? And so independent. And you're still living in your own place and everything!" And they'll talk behind my back about how I'm great really for my age. "He's not as sharp as he was, but he's still all there and he usually recognises us. He's a bit slower on his feet since he hit the big five oh but he gets out for a bit of a walk every day, even if it's just to get his few things in the shop."

I presume that ageing is like going bankrupt - you do it two ways - gradually, then suddenly. I like to think that neither of the phases has happened me yet. But that's because I'm in the gradual phase. So you barely notice that you're holding your phone a bit further away each time you try to read a text message, or that it takes a while for the old eyes to focus in the morning. And the rest of it, I just put down to being a bit lived-in. So I have a few war wounds in the heart and in the head, and a slightly gammy arm now too. But that's character. And it's me growing into myself.

But the real denial, the fundamental lie, is that you constantly redefine what getting older means. There was a time when I would have thought 45 was a great old age. I would have thought that someone of 45 was a proper adult. But now that I am 45 I realise it is a very young and vigorous age. And even 50 is very youthful really. People in general are younger these days, we convince ourselves. You look at a picture of a 45-year-old from the olden days and they look like someone's grandfather, which they possibly were. Now we 45-year-olds see ourselves as young dads, just starting out on life's crazy adventure.

And of course your modern 45-year-old is probably fitter than he was when he was 25. I am now probably the least fit 45-year-old I know. Many of them are lean, mean cycling machines, wiry and trim with mad shining eyes from endorphins. They all get up at about six in the morning and do daft things like spinning classes and Pilates, and they spend their weekends cycling, golfing, kayaking and climbing hills. Even though I'm not quite on that level, I'm certainly fitter than I've ever been, and therefore, I have decided, younger in real terms.

Which brings me to the bit I've been dying to tell you. I would probably manage to shoehorn it into a conversation with all of you if I could get to meet with you all today, but this space is probably an easier way to boast to everyone at one time. I swam a kilometre in the sea on Thursday morning. Take that, younger me! You couldn't swim ten yards, as they were in those days.

You want details? Well, OK. Reluctantly I'll admit I confronted an empty, slightly luminous and flat-as-glass Dublin Bay at 6am before the sun had even risen. I hadn't slept much the night before due to decisions playing on my mind, so I had myself convinced I wouldn't be able to do it. But my swim guru doesn't really entertain any doubts so I just got in and gradually got into my stride. I would say I plodded along for the most part but slowly and steadily I got there.

Nobody will thank me for saying this, least of all myself, but there should possibly be a law against driving while shivering uncontrollably. My whole body was in spasm as I drove home through the early-morning traffic and dived back into the bed for a few minutes where all of the various children who had arrived in there refused to lie near me because I was like a freezer block in a cooler bag.

But I did it. No mean thing for an elderly man. "Ah, he's a hardy enough old bird for his age", they'll say, "And shure, isn't it nice for him to have an interest?"

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