Are you trapped in an age-cage?


Just because there’s an age-cage, that doesn’t mean we have to walk right in. Or if we do, we can walk right out again. The door isn’t locked — in fact, there is no door, let alone a key, let alone a keeper. Incarceration on the basis of chronological age isn’t mandatory.

However, a short spell in the cage can be salutary, for you discover that elevation, safety and seclusion come at a price.Yes, you are damned by association with the greengrocer’s apostrophe. But the true price you pay is immobility: you can’t dance!

WOMAD: an intergenerational festival on a  hill

Last weekend I was at WOMAD New Zealand with two daughters and two grandchildren. Ruby (not her real name) (12) is adamant that we have to keep going to WOMAD every year forever. No hardship! We all love this colourful, crowded, musical bonanza in the divine setting of Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, this 3-day family holiday.

Now, WOMAD NZ is a classic multigenerational festival. Plenty of children, swarms of pre-teens, parents and babies and mid-lifers and, yes, a load of people in their 70s and older.

The venue has a steep hill, enfolding the Brooklands Bowl. Basically, again and again you’re climbing up and down this pretty steep hill as you hurry to the next artist on your list, moving from stage to stage every hour for two and a half days. Disabled people are catered for and there’s a very popular Kidzone — but how about “old people”? We are not deterred. We are there in our thousands.

Who gets a special stand? The “over 65’s”

Three stands provide for, in total, about 180 of the “over 65’s”. As you see from the next photo, the people in the stands are almost indistinguishable from the general crowd. Most wear colourful clothing — the unwritten rule is to wear at least one item that you wouldn’t wear at work or out shopping.


The difference is that in the cage, people are stationary, locked to their seats; and out of the cage, they are moving.

Metaphorical riff on the age-cage

A couple of times I went into the age-cage  and each time regretted it within minutes. The music pushed and pulled and begged the audience to dance or at least to twitch or stretch or jiggle. A woman in a purple fascinator began to bum-dance and I danced with my fingers. But moving is not the done thing, not at all. What you have to do is sit in one place, maybe chat a little, maybe eat, maybe cross or uncross your legs. Nobody frowned at us, but to move (except to leave) was a lonely business.

Perhaps the age cage is a like naughty step, a time-out room for oldies to contemplate our bad behaviour… Or like an old-fashioned Rest Room in a department store, a spot where ladies go for a lie down… Or an elite club where we can escape the hoi-polloi… Above all, it’s a safe pozzy for people who need a break from struggling with steps and hills, people who want a good view, and people who can’t easily sit on the ground..

As I’m fit enough to have the luxury of choice, the age-cage is no place to stay for long. Take me back to the not-very-bad behaviour and the hoi-polloi. Take me back to the dancing!

Next year, come to WOMAD NZ! (Get fit first.)

Zq = inquisitive Kiwi


Here I am at the mysterious Zq post, published by me, apparently. Some of you commented when this page was nothing but the headline: Zq.

You were puzzled. So was I. What did Zq mean?

To reveal that Zq was accidentally posted by a fat finger on my iPhone is too simple. Surely everything has a purpose? Or a meaning? Or a metaphorical significance in retrospect?

My initial thoughts seemed rather trivial so I waited for some more deep and meaningful deductions to emerge. And waited. And waited.

Nope. Here are my first thoughts, served cold.

Z & Q are both precious letters in my consciousness.

Hello Z!

I am a New Zealander who lives in New Zealand. We have a superpower: a unique way of scanning every page or screen: the letter Z leaps out and wiggles and woggles and tickles our eyeballs.  (By the way, we say Zed, not Zee.)  Zed is structural: every other word clusters around ultra-visible Zed. No Z can hide. No Z is safe from our nanosecond reconnoitre.

And when our eyes find the Z on a page, we sigh with relief, vindicated and authenticated. (We need that, coming from a country that’s just a few insignificant dots in the south Pacific ocean.) Never mind if the Zed is attached to zebra or fez or zebibyte or Alzheimers — we are home!

Zed wears a yellow safety vest.
Zed is precious. Zed is rare.
Zed is proud. Zed is ours.
Zed is me. Where Zed is lurking
so are we.

And hello Q!

Q is for questioning, questioner, questions frequently asked or not at all. I will cling to this faculty and never let go: the ability, the eagerness to ask questions.

To question is human. Children’s questions build a picture of the world — and also build their brains. To continue questioning into old age is to keep the brain alive and yes, even to keep it growing.

Specific types of brain activities are known to protect our brains from the ravages of Alzheimers. They include learning, choosing novel experiences, and meditation.

How can this be? Learning and complex thinking strengthen connections between nerve cells, building up “cognitive reserve” so that the brain can compensate for damage. (You knew that.) Meditation protects the brain in mysterious ways — and hey, meditation may be something you learn (big tick) and a novel experience (big tick).

Q: How come the brain instantly understood Zq and never wavered?
A. Fast thinking?

Zq is shorthand for inquisitive Kiwi

Maybe I should get a Zq identity tattoo. That would be a novelty.

How about you? What are your special letters and what do they mean?


One more for the how-to-be-a-terrific-old-person list: sex


One more item has been added to the how-to-be-a-terrific-older-person to-do list: sex.

I give up! Shall I sharpen my brain to get more sex, or run out and get more sex for the sake of my brain cells, or both (to be on the safe side).

The dreaded to-do list has now swollen into a multi-dimensional database leaking into the stratosphere, dammit.

See Ronni Bennett on “Can Sex Keep Old People Mentally Sharp?”

Ageing by the book: too many ticks and crosses


I like lists. Writing them. Ticking the boxes. Moving on.

But sometimes I feel my life is becoming one great list, or worse, a monstrous database of lists within lists within lists.

A scatty bitsiness pervades my life.

I hear many retired people say they are busier than ever. Busy is good … up to a point.

But I don’t want my life to be bitsy or busy-busy. I don’t want to be swamped by daily, weekly, or monthly tasks, all apparently urgent and important. Life must have a shape, a larger structure.

I don’t like life to consist of management. That sort of list never ends. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly tasks, tick tick tick tick tick. Clean the fridge, clear the drains, email notice of AGM, prepare the AirBnB suite for guests, pay tax, sort out a software problem, update a website…

Business-as-usual appointments never end either: gym, pool, choir, dance rehearsal, grandchild, dentist, Soup Kitchen, hearing clinic… All good or at least necessary, the etceteras would fill my computer screen.

Projects also produce a lot of lists. Adventures are projects: book the event, book the motel, book the plane, pack up, get on the plane… But at least ticking off that sort of list is fun!

I like projects. A project does have an end, you know when it’s finished, and completing it brings enormous satisfaction. My problem is that I’ve always got several on the go. 

I’m having a tantrum because I’ve just done a course on Strategies for successful ageing

The course from Trinity College in Dublin was excellent. I learned about new research, gained new insights and had old ones validated, and enjoyed some mild online socialising with other students.

Trouble is, each week brought new obligations, new lists, tasks to add to the lists. (As a well run MOOC ought to do!) For example:

  • Measure your own ageism
  • Improve focus
  • Learn something new
  • Introduce novelty
  • Map your wellbeing
  • Manage fear and worry
  • Fix your eating habits
  • Exercise in specific ways
  • Perform your life audit
  • Monitor your social engagement
  • Plan a street party
  • Try a strategy for being creative.

I know that all the guidelines in the course are spot on, based on excellent research, sifted by experts. But too much, too much, too many! Especially when I’ve just worked my way through my very own life audit.

(See my Boot Camp for Old Age if you can be bothered.)

So how to give later life a shape all its own, an elegant shape?

How to escape listomania?

At least half of the students on the course have figured this out for themselves, no sweat. They don’t feel a duty to improve themselves. They’re not getting their knickers in a twist. They feel just fine the way they are.

Where did I get that idea? Today I analysed (in a rough and ready way) the most recent 100 comments on one of the lectures on creativity. These amateurish statistics bear out my general impressions of the course, which is studied chiefly by people of at least 50 years old, as far as I can tell.

  • 45 were happy with their level of creativity and planned no change.
  • 31 had experimented with new creative outlets, or planned to.
  • 24 were non-committal, discussing the topic of creativity in general terms.

I figure — quit the list making. I’m doing fine, that’s obvious, and I didn’t need 5 weeks lite-study to learn that.

Nevertheless I will rejoice when one of my various projects swells up and dominates my days and weeks. Then those picky pecky pesky petty lists will fade into the background of my life.

All is well. Relaxxx…