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Bulltetproof no more: being old, feeling scorned, and not liking it

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As his 175th birthday approaches, Peter Sherwood’s feeling scorned. And he doesn’t like it

Here’s the biggest lie about getting older: These will be your ‘golden years.’ What a cesspit of idiocy. Give me bulletproof youth and blind ignorance any day. And as the old Sinatra song goes, “… love, like youth, is wasted on the young.” Something else we squander: decades of smart people’s experience. But the older we get the more invisible and irrelevant we become. There’s not much good news on the antiquity  front, but listen up, millennials: We oldies own most of the money and property. Don’t bother working too hard. You’ll inherit the lot.

Suddenly, here I am with an insanely varied life (yin and yang on steroids, the stratospheric highs and crash-and-burn of being bipolar). I may have genuine and even life-saving wisdom to impart, but the universe is deaf. A world that used to interrupt my every word to call me a fool is now hearing impaired. The disappearing act has come full circle. No wonder old people wander around muttering to themselves; they’re busy engrossed in their own brilliant advice.

Justified and ancient

Recently some critical readers detected the curmudgeon in my articles, imagining that irascible retrospectives are the result of aging’s irritability. Yet the same crank was at work years ago. I could be cantankerous when I was 20. But also, sentimental, and curious, passionate and thoughtful; I was desperate to find my voice – and express it. Today you might read a fossilised character posing as me. Or it could be the real me, or some other, softer, more gently inquiring persona that inhabits my loony inner world. Whatever my dubious accomplishments, they are too wildly varied to be classified simply as grouchy invective.

Of course, I have been called a cynic, an epithet I wear as a badge of honour as every journalist should. It’s a prerequisite. Without it there can be no getting at the truth; no calling to account those who lie, cheat and commit criminal acts without shame. Monty Python’s John Cleese said that all satire is commentary on stupidity. And if the dumb side of the human condition fascinates you too, then just stick your noggin out the widow, take note of the silliness, and say your piece. It’s not difficult. Satirists are really only reporters.

The older we get the more we reflect on the past and the quaint notion that everything was better  back then. Mostly our vision is dragged backwards because yesteryear is viewed with such clarity. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Life is like looking out the back window of a fast-moving vehicle; what is in the distance is clearly visible, while everything close-up is a blur.”

The past is indeed another country, and scenes from that landscape keep popping up to surprise. None of it is voluntary. Sharp images of distant decades emerge relentlessly – joyful moments, colourful, rich and rewarding. And dark, anguished times recalled like nightmares, filled with regret and dread. The trick is positivity, they say. Be enthusiastic and learn new things. Excuse me a minute, I’ll just go and finish Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for over 20 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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