Still splendid at seventy
Many of today's septuagenarians are happier and more fulfilled than ever. Celine Naughton talks to some who have reached the milestone with a spring in their step
Today marks the end of this year's Bealtaine Festival, a celebration of creativity among older people across Ireland. One such inspirational figure is author Maeve Binchy, who turned 72 this week and declares herself happier than ever.
"It's just a number and besides, I always think of myself in my mid-20s and feel that my future is still ahead of me," she says.
"I'm always going to sign up for evening courses -- I never actually do, but the intention is there. One of my friends is a retired judge and we often ask each other, 'What will we do when we grow up?'
"I have three main concerns about growing older -- a lack of energy, less time ahead than there is behind me, and the fact that so many friends have died. But on the plus side, I am a much nicer person, not so self-obsessed. It's such a relief to realise that nobody is hugely interested in you. . . When you're young you think people are looking at you or talking about you, but the reality is they're more interested in themselves.
"Recently a friend was fussing about what she was going to wear to a wedding and I said to her, 'Who cares? You're not the bride, or even the mother of the bride. Just go and have fun and they'll remember you for your delightful company, not that you had a smart dress.'
"I am very busy. I wrote a short novel called Full House, published earlier this year. I had noticed people talking about the fact that their adult children were staying in the family home and so all these parents who had thought they'd have some down time when their children left home discovered they were not going to be empty nesters after all. It seems to have touched a vein, and I'm writing another book to be published this autumn.
"So far, my mind is holding together, although I do sometimes forget things. My friends and I are fearful of dementia, so when we forget something we're convinced that next week we won't know who we are.
"However, the great inspirational thinker Edward de Bono pointed out that children go to school having forgotten their gym clothes, lunch or homework and they take it as part of the day. Children don't worry about being forgetful and neither should we.
"As a child I didn't think I'd be here at this age. I retired from The Irish Times when I was 60 and I thought when you retired from one job, you retired from everything, so when I announced my general retirement, my publishers were really annoyed! I hadn't even thought of authors like Agatha Christie and Mary Wesley who wrote well into their 80s.
'I explained that I didn't have the energy for book tours any more. . . When they assured me I didn't have to do them any more, I said, 'Oh, that's grand. Give me the laptop!'
"Another thing I love about growing older is that you're not afraid to tell your friends how much you value them and how important they are to you.
"Being 70 is nothing to worry about. It's only an age on a passport. In 1958 when I was 18 I went on an exchange holiday to France. It was quite dreadful and I was starving all the time, but I remember the mother of the girl I had exchanged with was 40, yet she told people she was 53. I asked her why and she said, 'Because people think I look all right for 40, but I look terrific for 53!' So if you're worried about being 70, just tell everybody that you're 85. They'll think you're fabulous!"
Full House by Maeve is published by Orion Books