Susan’s Battle Ends Peacefully
Her husband David writes…
Sadly on 22 September Susan passed away peacefully in hospital to the curse of MND. A loving wife, mother, sister and friend to many online, her blogs showed she was determined to battle to the end and enjoy life as much as she could. A shining example to us all and she will be sorely missed by so many people..
Can we always think positive?
I love having a new year stretching ahead of me. There always seems to be so much potential. I always imagine a multitude of loveliness lying ahead. I am not sure any new year is a positive experience from start to finish but all my years seem to have had far more that is good than bad. This year will certainly test that.
When I started this blog it was because I felt the middle aged were largely ignored. Beautiful young people regularly feature in the press as do much admired older people. David Attenborough anyone? I felt I was part of a neglected underclass. Alright, I didn’t really, but there is less than you would expect about the positive aspects of being middle aged.
Admittedly increasing wrinkles and greyness are slightly depressing but we also gain wisdom as we age. Well, most of us do. That is definitely a positive thing. I am also a lot more confident than when I was younger. I shudder to recall how much I wanted to vanish into the background when I was younger. It is true that ageing comes to us all but I bet you know plenty of perky and positive older people. I know I do. I would far rather age, hopefully, gracefully than go down the plastic surgery to hold back the years route. That is personal preference though. I don’t mind at all how others choose to deal with getting older. Free choice for things like that is perfect.
As it turns out, I am not going to get old anyway. I was diagnosed with bulbar onset motor neurone disease (MND) on the 25th of November. So, is this a cause for doom, gloom and depression? No, of course not. Someone has to get it and there are people diagnosed with it much younger than me. Do read about Gordon Aikman who was diagnosed at just 29. He really is inspirational. There are many places where you can read his story but this is just one.
Gordon Aikman’s Story
Then there is also this blog from Lee Millard. He is more my age but writes really well.
Lee Millard’s blog
There are always reasons to be positive.
Yes, of course there will be some grim times ahead but at the moment my speech is a bit slurred but still makes sense and I eat more slowly. Oh, I have a slightly weakened right thumb. But that is it. No one is going to look at me and think there is anything wrong.
I know that this will change but there is still so much to be grateful for. Please feel free to ignore the next paragraph if it makes you feel sick. It might. Sometimes positive things do and what I am about to write really might make you cringe.
I have been very lucky. I had a happy, albeit very shy, childhood. I had fun at University, jobs I enjoyed and I met my gorgeous husband when I was 22 and have two children I adore. My husband’s job means we have had to move regularly but I have made some fantastic friends along the way. My brothers and their families are wonderful too. My father was someone I loved and admired more than I can say and my mother is still alive and keeps telling me I am the sunshine of her life. I really have been lucky. I liked to think all the longevity in my family would mean me living a lot longer than I will but that in no way diminishes the luck I have already had. There is still so much to feel positive about.
Someone who saw me three weeks after diagnosis, and didn’t know what was wrong until a couple of days ago, told me she had thought it must be something minor as I seemed so ‘cheerful and happy’. I was out for coffee with her, Christmas was sorted and I was able to do anything I wanted. Life really was full of positive things even if I did know I had MND. Of course I was happy. I still am.
The lifetime risk of developing MND is around one in 400 so it isn’t like the risk of developing cancer. I have just looked at the Cancer Research UK website and it says that one in two people born after 1960 (so that includes me) will develop cancer during their lifetime. I know not everyone who gets cancer dies from it but that really is a high risk. Yet no one should be going around thinking they have a 50:50 risk of developing cancer. That way does lie doom and gloom.
Think of your life now instead. I bet you have a lot to be thankful for. I know I do. Do feel free to refer back to my nausea inducing paragraph if you are in any doubt about my thankfulness. There is so much to be positive about.
Not everyone can bounce around optimistically from day to day. Think how boring it would be if we were all like that. But I really do believe we can all find some positive things about our lives.
As for my initial question, can we always think postive? You won’t be surprised to hear that I really believe we can. Not every minute of every day, but definitely overall.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
This was going to be posted just before Christmas but it has migrated to today instead.
Over the past few days I have been thinking about Christmases in my past. There have been so many happy Christmas experiences.
Those happy experiences don’t necessarily include the Christmas when my brother persuaded my parents that we would like jointly was something called ‘Raving Bonkers’. This was too expensive for one of us but ideal for two. You may be unaware of this toy but it involved two robots boxing each other.
We were given it. My brother was thrilled. I wasn’t. Luckily that year a kind relation also gave me ‘The Miss World Game’. This was incredibly girlie and, truth be told, not very good but my uncle endearingly player it with me for hours. That was unbelievably kind of him.
What is the real overriding Christmas memory for you? I think of all the Christmas lunches through the years and all the people who have shared the celebrations with us but are no longer here. These may be the ghosts of Christmas past but it is a surprisingly happy festive thought. There have been so many wonderful shared Christmases.
I think of the lovely old people my parents would invite to share our Christmas meal when I was a child. My paternal grandfather would come for Sunday lunch every week from the time my step grandmother died until his own death seven years later so it was taken for granted that he would be there to share the turkey. My maternal grandparents lived until 2002 and 2006 so I was privileged to know them well for many years. They would come to stay with my parents for two or three weeks every Christmas and New Year. That was always exciting for us but I suspect pretty hard work for my parents.
Then there were the waifs and strays. Admittedly they weren’t really that but they were old people my parents knew who would have been on their own at Christmas if they hadn’t come to us. There always seemed to be a couple of them who would arrive for Christmas lunch while we were growing up, dressed in their best bib and tucker. It is the abiding memory of my childhood from this time of year.
Of course those old people are now long gone and several years ago I started being the one cooking Christmas lunch. But the old people live on in my memory. That is even more true of the more recent Christmas guests. My maternal grandparents I have already mentioned. My father-in-law died in 2002 and my mother-in-law in 2011. My father, who I have written about before here died in 2013. These were all people I knew well and loved.
So is it sad to look back on my own ghosts of Christmas past? No, it isn’t. There was so much warmth and love around every Christmas, and there still is. I love seeing all the old photographs of happy, smiling people that crop up in our photograph albums beaming over pudding as they model paper crowns. This year I have felt a pang of sadness for some of the people who are gone but I also feel incredibly grateful that I knew them. I was 38 when my maternal grandmother did. That was an amazing privilege. My children got to know both of my maternal grandparents which is fantastic. And while my husband never knew any of his grandparents my children will always remember my father and my mother-in-law and my older child remembers my father-in-law too. What a fantastic thing.
I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas.
Technology for all?
How much do you love technology? Do you look back nostalgically to the days before mobile phones and home computers, let alone anything more up to the minute? Or do you wonder how on earth you coped before you had easy access to such things?
Obviously technology is really much broader than smartphones, tablets and computers but I am planning to ignore the technological items I can’t remember not having. We may have had a black and white television for much longer than many of my friends but it was still a television. Similarly, when I moved into a house share in my second year at university and found it came with an aged twin tub for washing clothes, it was still a washing machine. We weren’t restricted to a washboard and mangle. Come to think of it, even those were technological advances at one time.
My very first experience of computers came while I was still at school. Along with English and history, I studied economics in my last couple of years at school. The other two classes were pretty big but my economics class was tiny. There were only eight of us, crammed into a small room with our alcoholic economics teacher. This wasn’t very promising for our future results so we resorted to doing a lot of work on our own to make up for what we weren’t being taught in class. Astonishingly our teacher did manage to enter us for a new economy planning competition that Hewlett Packard had started running for schools. Our class was small enough to count as a single team so off we went to our regional heat. To our complete disbelief we managed to win the Perth and Dundee heat and were even interviewed on Radio Scotland. This had nothing to do with our victory and everything to do with the fact that we were the only all girls team in the heat. I don’t think this was sexism. It just made us the only team with a distinguishing characteristic. And there was a female Prime Minister at the time which made the interviewer feel we were a suitable current affairs tie in.
You may well be wondering what this had to do with technology. The competition involved planning the economy for ten years using a computer program. We didn’t have a computer at school so it really was my first experience of this technology. Our heat victory did get us to the final at the Hewlett Packard Head Office in Scotland. If we had managed to win the competition we would have won a rather snazzy computer for the school. We didn’t win. Partly thanks to free food and, um, alcohol, at lunch time. We may not have won, but again thanks to being an all girls team, we did get our photograph on the financial pages of The Scotsman, posing with the computer we were using for our economic planning. Looking back now I have a suspicion that all the attention we received probably means it was the first year the competition was run.
A wonderful result of that experience cropped up during my first year at University when the class was led into a room filled with computers. Such rooms may be commonplace now but it was an impressive sign of modern technology at the time. How times have changed. We had to compete at planning the economy in teams. Wonderfully, using exactly the same program I had been faced with at the Hewlett Packard competition. The team I was in won easily since I was the only person in the class ever to have seen the program before. The rest of my team knew about my previous experience but the lecturer remained in blissful ignorance and just thought our team was filled with promise as future economists. It would have been harsh to disabuse him of this flattering notion.
At that point, in the early eighties, I could never have imagined how much computers would become a fixture in my life and home. Now I just can’t imagine not having easy access to such technology. It is hard to remember a life without email, the internet and the wonderful easy ability to look things up. I would hate to go back to life before such things now. In some respects I envy those who have grown up with social media and can easily keep in touch with so many friends they have made as they go through life. But it also seems a much scarier world than it did for me in my teens and early twenties so the advances in technology are definitely not solely a force for good. And I do worry that personal letters will die out. I have even written about that before.
When I wrote in praise of letters..
A few days ago I decided that as I was going to write about technology I should try something new. Although I had avoided this like the plague, as it definitely seemed a step too far for me, I decided to set up a Twitter account. I knew it would seem beyond my comprehension, and it does, but I loved the suggestions it initially suggested I follow all of. I didn’t, but why on earth did it seem fixated on my potential desire to keep abreast of all Manchester United news? I am not interested in football at all. I ignored the suggestions. I may eventually get the hang of Twitter but so far I have posted one link and have just looked at various news items. I definitely don’t suggest you follow me – not yet anyway.
So now I know I don’t want to embrace every advance in technology. But I do love having a computer, and some of the things I can use it for. And I can’t even imagine not having a mobile phone now. Truth be told I can’t imagine it not being a smartphone. Yet it isn’t hard to remember years without such a thing.
When I was 22, and sharing a flat in Edinburgh, I suddenly found myself with appendicitis. We didn’t have a phone in our flat at all. In any case I have always had a bit of an aversion to visiting doctors in case I am wasting their time. That isn’t a trait I am especially proud of but aged 22 I favoured lying flat on my back on the floor each time the pain got really bad rather than calling the doctor. Eventually one of my flatmates became so unimpressed with this approach that he went to the nearest phone box and called the doctor himself. It goes without saying, I suspect, that not only did we not have a phone, we didn’t have a car either. In no time at all I had seen a doctor, an ambulance had taken me to the hospital, and I was lying on an operating table having my appendix whipped out.
I like to think that now I would have used the internet to look up my symptoms and called the doctor myself. The rest would have remained the same though so the phone is really the only bit of technology that has changed in that scenario. I don’t think my children would be able to imagine relying on a phone box and letters but it was something we just did.
Think how much people rely on their mobiles now. I asked my University age daughter what social media she uses and she reeled off: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Pinterest. A generation older and I am not entirely sure what all of those are. Just think what may change by the time her generation is middle aged. Isn’t it exciting? I don’t love all the advances in technology that have happened during my lifetime but there are lots I can’t imagine doing without now.
This is a fantastic time to embrace changes in technology, albeit not all of them, and feel excited about what the future may bring.
Do you need some frivolity?
Sometimes frivolity is just what you need.
On Friday morning I was being told what a bad day someone was having and I desperately wanted to tell them about my day in return. But you can’t, can you? It is that awful bit where you feel as if you are trumping someone’s story. Or, in this case, someone’s misery. In fact, very few people are ever burdened with my worries. It just doesn’t seem fair to share concerns when I can try and be jolly instead. Sometimes it is hard though, and Friday was one of those days.
So, what was worrying me? Well, I and an appointment for an endoscopy on Friday afternoon.
Have you ever had one? I do hope not. It had all happened so fast. The previous Friday I had seen the GP with my symptoms. Normally I am very reluctant to see a doctor and this was no exception. Apparently I could have something minor wrong but it could also be something major. As a result of the warning bells ringing I was apparently guaranteed to be offered an appointment within two days and guaranteed to have the appointment within two weeks. So on Monday last week I was offered an appointment on Wednesday. The consultant I saw on Wednesday sent me to arrange an endoscopy an I had that on Friday.
To my immense relief they found the cause of my symptoms and it wasn’t the major thing. The major thing was, as you probably guessed from the speed of all this, cancer. Phew. On Friday morning hearing about the other person’s bad day I was scared about what the endoscopy might find and worried about how foul the actual procedure might be after reading about it. I wasn’t at all sure how well I would cope with having a long tube pushed down my throat. But I am not actually at all sure my day was as bad as the one I was being told about, even with my six hours with no food or drink before the endoscopy and even if I was really scared about what might be found even while I listened to their worries.
So where does frivolity come into all of this? Sometimes life seems a bit grim and it is all too easy to concentrate on he bad stuff rather than be distracted by the good. So I decided to think about something shallow rather than the grotty week I had last week. And what I decided to focus on was middle aged spread.
I enlisted a volunteer (my daughter) to take the illustrative photographs this time. So, you can see that my waist is merging into the rest of my midriff.
I can even, fearlessly, show you my stomach
You may feel the second photograph makes my stomach look absolutely fine but sadly, that is because I had my hands on top of my head to have the photograph taken. It seems to do wonders for giving an illusion of vanishing tummy flab. Alas, it is not a position that works well as you go about your business during the day. Believe me, I have tried. But I do just keep needing my hands. And people do find it an unexpected look.
I confess that this will be based on a Good Housekeeping article
How to reclaim your waist
I don’t really plan to rework my diet. Feeble, I know, but I had a tough week last week and I want to laugh and feel frivolous rather than look forlornly at smaller portion sizes.
Aerobic exercise, I can do. I love walking. Fortunately, from my point of view, I can’t run due to an old knee injury. Obviously, a healthy diet and regular exercise are ideal, but we all know that anyway. It doesn’t mean that sometimes flopping with a slice of chocolate cake isn’t a lot more pleasurable.
The article recommends three exercises to help banish a bulky waist. So, let’s have a go.
First, sit ups. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent, and hands behind your head. Now lift your head and shoulders as far off the floor as they will go. In my case that turned out to not be very far at all.
Luckily you can then gently lower your body back down to the floor.
Now, reverse curls. I liked this one. Lie on your back again, hands behind your head and legs together in the air.
Now, use your abdominal muscles to pull your legs and pelvis towards you with your back flat on the floor. Then return to your original position. I have just noticed that it is suggested you do two or three sets of fifteen every other day. Whoops. Ah well, two reverse curls today was a start!
Finally, the plank. Lie face down on the floor with elbows and forearms under your chest and then prop yourself up on forearms and toes to form a bridge. Apparently you should hold the position for 10 seconds before lowering yourself back to the floor, and gradually increase that time.
I was absolutely useless at this. A lot of the time I just collapsed and giggled hysterically on the floor so the fact that there is a photograph at all is almost a miracle. The thing is, it did make me laugh, and I may even do the exercises to see if I can regain my waist.
Sometimes things do seem bad. Sometimes they really are bad. But laughing and frivolity really does always seem to help a bit. Oh dear, I know that was trite. It even made me wince a bit as I wrote it. But that doesn’t make it any less true. So maybe the best thing is to listen to Dolly Parton instead of me.
Better get to livin’
Who cares what age you are?
This week I have a new hero and I am overcome with admiration for him.
My hero is Sir Muir Gray, a Glaswegian doctor who has worked for the NHS in England since 1972. I hadn’t even heard of him until last week.
I was happily driving home at lunch time on Wednesday listening to the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. It could easily have been an item that made me switch off my radio in despair at the argumentative nature of the participants, but it wasn’t like that at all.
There was my hero talking about living well for as long as possible. He advocated dumbbells and a resistance band as ideal presents for a 70 year old. Oh, and the ceremonial burning of slippers. But then, oh joy, the programme also interviewed Dr Charles Eugster, a retired dentist who has just broken the over 95s 200m world record. He was wonderful. Another hero. Not least because he only started exercising aged 85.
The programme included commentary on the world record breaking run. Please please listen to it if you can. I won’t be Charles Eugster’s age for well over 40 years. If I go backwards that many years I find I was in primary school. No wonder I was inspired.
My mother would be thrilled to discover that Muir Gray is not keen on bungalows as we age. He is a big fan of stairs. He didn’t mention my mother’s concern that bungalows lead to ‘housemaid’s knee’ but he definitely shares her appreciation of houses with stairs.
I don’t think I can do justice to the inspiration I derived from exposure to Sir Muir Gray in just one blog post. I may have to devote two to his wonderfulness. So many things he said really struck a chord. A couple I have even written about before without even being aware of my hero and his wisdom.
I have already looked at balance
and even a little bit about having a positive attitude
but I can’t resist saying even more about feeling positive.
Muir Gray advocates guarding against a particular age seeming daunting. I love the fact that this came up just before I spoke to a 59 year old who told me that hitting 50 had been fine but that facing her 60th birthday next year was faintly horrifying as that really seemed old. Stop and think for a moment if you feel like that about a forthcoming birthday. It really doesn’t make sense.
Something dramatic doesn’t suddenly happen to you when you reach a milestone birthday. You don’t wake up that morning to find you aren’t the same person you were the day before. You don’t suddenly look dramatically older. Thank goodness. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if we really did wake up on the morning of a big birthday to discover we had transmogrified into someone much older, and possibly much grumpier, than the person we had been the day before. Imagine not only our own sense of horror at the prospect but the same anguished anticipation from all those who know us.
Apparently one answer to the impending dread of a forthcoming birthday is to think of an innocuous age a year or two after your last significant birthday. Do you honestly feel older than you did then? Please don’t mournfully say that you do. I am sure the answer, for almost everyone, should really be ‘no’. No one who loves you cares a jot about how old you are. They just care about you.
Do be positive about ageing. After all, you started ageing some time between twenty and thirty. And I bet you didn’t even notice back then.
So, whatever your age, seize new opportunities. Of course that can be daunting, but everything suggests that life is a lot more enjoyable if you realise problems really can be overcome and that learning something new can be fun. And good for you too.
I have just read that general knowledge and vocabulary actually improve with age. How fantastic. You can keep reading, learning and happily (please do it happily) interacting with others throughout your life and whatever your age. And those things will all help us enjoy life too. Yes, reasoning and decision making may take longer as we get older, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be done. And learning something new is wonderful for perking up your brainpower. You can start with something really simple if you like.
Of course there is still going to be illness and disease, but who doesn’t want to live well for as long as they possibly can?
Any age is the right age to embrace life and all it has to offer. There is always something to be grateful for, or to admire, even in the grimmest times. We just have to find it.
Do enjoy Dr Charles Eugster beating the world record.
Who cares what age you are? Probably only you.
Can you stand on one leg?
How long can you stand on one leg for? Go on, give it a try.
A friend told me that she and her husband stand on one leg when they clean their teeth. This is not, I have to confess, something I have ever considered trying. But she had read that balance deteriorates as we age and so they were trying to stop that happening to them too quickly.
I mentioned this to a physiotherapist friend of mine and her eyes lit up at the very thought. Even as we walked along she enthusiastically advocated, and demonstrated, flinging arms in the air whilst standing on one leg as well as swinging the free leg back and forth.
Now, I do not really picture myself standing on one leg, swinging the other leg back and forth and even flinging my arms up and down all whilst attempting to clean my teeth. I shudder to think of the amount of toothpaste and water that would be festooned around the bathroom at this effort to improve my balance, not to mention the distinct possibility of my flailing limbs causing havoc too. But perhaps there is something in this standing on one leg lark after all.
The following day I came across a tiny article buried in the paper and have become a woman possessed. Let me tell you what the article taught me.
Apparently a U.S study in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy tried to establish the average time different age groups could stand on one leg to find out what could be considered normal. Ignore the word geriatric in the journal study and give it a try.
You need to stand on one leg with your hands on your hips and see how long you can stay like that without your foot touching the floor or your other leg and without you having to move your hands off your hips to steady yourself. Are you ready?
As soon as I read about the test I couldn’t resist giving it a try.
These are the averages the researchers found so you can see how you compare:
Under 40 with eyes open: 45 seconds. With eyes closed: 15 seconds
40-49 with eyes open: 42 seconds. With eyes closed: 13 seconds
50-59 with eyes open: 41 seconds. With eyes closed: 8 seconds
60-69 with eyes open: 32 seconds. With eyes closed: 4 seconds
70-79 with eyes open: 22 seconds. With eyes closed: 3 seconds
80-99 with eyes open: 9 seconds. With eyes closed: 2 seconds
‘Hmmm’ I thought, I wasn’t expecting to stand on one leg with my eyes closed. Still, eyes open first. I was enchanted when I tried and managed 2 minutes on one leg with my eyes open. I was thrilled. I was above average. But they do say that pride comes before a fall. And they would be right in this case, both literally and figuratively.
How hard could it really be with my eyes closed? For me, it transpired that the answer was very hard indeed. I managed a paltry 3 seconds. That may be nicely average if I was in my seventies but was absolutely useless at my age. I tried again. No, still hopeless. How on earth could I be so good with my eyes open and so very, very bad with my eyes closed? I have kept trying but the best I have managed so far is still only 10 seconds . Usually I only manage 5 seconds. Oh woe is me. So very far below average.
Do see how you get on. Personally I am hoping that practice makes perfect works for this and I will improve. And it makes me laugh each time I try and realise again quite how appalling I am at standing on one leg with my eyes closed. At least the laughter must be good for me.
This was exciting stuff. Admittedly my family all think I am far too easily pleased, but I wanted more tests. I had to find something else I was above average at. After all, I don’t feel as if I am teetering along towards advanced decrepitude.
First I tried testing reaction time. Do you want to have a go?
You do need to rope in an accomplice for this one. Handily this means you can test them too. So I used my husband as my assistant. Yes, alright, I held the ruler for the photograph so that my husband could use the camera, but really he should have been holding it.
Someone has to dangle a 12″ ruler by the end. Hold your thumb and middle finger about 3″ apart either side of the zero on the ruler. The other person has to drop the ruler, without warning, and you have to try and catch it between your finger and thumb. Now see where you have caught it. You have caught it, haven’t you?
I knew my husband would be good at this and he was. He caught the ruler at 4″ while I only managed 7″ but, and this made me far happier than it should have done, this put us both above average. Apparently the 6″ mark is average for those between 20 and 30, 10″ aged 40-50 and more than 12″ aged 60. Presumably that means most 60 year olds tragically see the ruler fall to the floor. Or buy a longer ruler.
I am so excited by all this testing that I am going to sneak in one more easy one. I hope you have matches handy. Do you? You can dispense with your assistant for this one if you wish.
Now, light a match and hold it about 12″ from your mouth. Inhale deeply and then, with your mouth open wide, rather than puckered up as you would normally do to blow out a match, try and blow it out. If you can’t do it at that distance gradually bring the match closer to your mouth and find the distance where you can blow it out with your mouth open. This is testing your lung capacity, well, it probably is.
Apparently most 20-30 year olds can manage it more than 10″ away. I was enchanted to find that I could too. For 40-50 year olds the average is 7-8″ away and for 60-70 year olds it is 5″ or less.
I love these tests. If my friend hadn’t mentioned teeth cleaning on one leg I would never have found them let alone actually tried them, but I had a huge amount of fun seeing how I got on. Do give them a try.
These tests don’t feel serious, and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself trying them. Even if I am still useless at standing on one leg with my eyes closed.
Do have a go. See how you get on. And see if it makes you laugh too.
Will you try intense housework?
Last weekend my newspaper had a double page spread entitled ‘The midlife heart guide.’ As I am very obviously middle aged I pounced on this and read on. Could I help my heart?
It is probably best to confess that I approached this with a degree of frivolity. I had a free middle aged health check last year (available to the over 40s) and don’t seem to have any obvious heart disease risks at all. Yippee.
The most memorable bit of the health check involved the doctor trying to get a usable drop of blood from my finger. It bothered him far more than it bothered me that he had endless attempts and I spent a considerable amount of time with my finger held under a hot tap before he could get what he needed. He breathed a sigh of relief and I looked with interest at my battered looking finger tip. Apparently my risk of developing heart disease in the next decade is miniscule.
To reassure myself I have just looked at the risk factors listed on the British Heart Foundation website. I have never smoked, never been overweight and don’t have high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or any family history of heart disease. Yippee again. And many thanks to my parents for my genes.
Chance to see what the heart disease risk factors are.
So what did I pick up on from the midlife heart guide? Intensity. They talked about intensity of exercise. (Power walking good: gentle amble bad.) A friend and I walk the circuit every weekday morning. This is three and a half miles of walking and talking. But we do always try to power up the hill at the end, and we get breathless doing it (possibly because of the talking that accompanies the walking). So I am going to contentedly assume the uphill bit is intense.
Can I add more intense exercise? What about … intense housework? I reckon it is worth a try. I am not an enthusiastic house cleaner and nor am I particularly houseproud, but this is how I have done so far.
Start by energetically dusting and polishing the sitting room. This goes well until I get to the coffee table. Discover that kneeling on the floor to remove items from low table, polish and then return them to said table is not intense. Attempt bouncing as I kneel in the hope of enhanced intensity. Hoovering can definitely be done with intensity and I sing to myself as I work. In view of the song I find myself singing I resolve to play music instead.
Unexpected cleaning song
I finish the day’s experimental intense housework with some ironing. This also seems tragically lacking in any feeling on intensity. I resort to jiggling my left leg in time to the music as an improvement on standing still.
Wake to discover I have stiff buttocks presumably as a result of Monday’s bouncing. Surely proof of housework intensity. Today I try changing sheets with intensity but am not convinced I succeed. I do try bigger movements as I go. Fortunately there is no one else in the house at the time to witness my wild arm gestures. Then my eyes alight on my bedroom chair. It appears to have become a repository for a selection of jumpers. What an opportunity. It wasn’t the easiest task to add intensity to but I was determined to try. Surely my heart would thank me for it. I put each garment away with optimistic vigour and was gleefully left with a garment free chair.
More hoovering completed in an unusual dance style to add interest (and, of course, intensity). Then sweeping floors. This turns out to be the easiest task yet to add intensity to. I felt I was getting better at this enhanced housework lark.
Will pride come before a fall? So far it is too early to say. My plan is to prance around the house reaching up energetically with my feather duster in search of cobwebs. And then a thorough cleaning of basins and the kitchen sink. I feel this could be my next opportunity to use my bouncing technique. The inclusion of water in the cleaning could add an element of risk I feel. But at least I will be standing up rather than kneeling to bounce this time.
Alright, I am pretty sure the original article did not envisage anyone attempting intense housework. But I am hoping our hearts appreciate increased vigour in anything we do. And, a bit like when I tried the interesting Russian duvet cover technique, it has made me laugh at myself.
So, what do you think? Will you try intense housework?
Time for the over 50s to fight back
Is it just me, or has everyone noticed a lot of mentions of the over 50s lately?
We have had Ros Altmann suggesting that the current road sign showing an elderly couple hunched over with the man clutching a stick for support should be banned. She thinks it depicts a damaging stereotype. She also seems to think it deters employers from considering taking on the over 50s. To my relief (and I probably do spend far too much time checking people’s ages) Ros Altmann, who is the government’s older workers tsar, is herself over 50.
I can’t say I have ever looked at the elderly person road sign and worried that I am about to become hunched over and decrepit. And now I think of it, how many people do you know who would gleefully look at that sign and see it as an appropriate depiction of themselves. I may know just one person who would, but I am definitely not brave enough to ask them if I am right.
Meanwhile I wonder if it is really correct that employers are more reluctant to employ older workers due to such stereotypes. I think that may be too much of a generalisation. It is certainly true in some lines of work, but have you looked at the ages of the people working in your local supermarket? The range is fantastic. I don’t eye up the cashiers trying to find the youngest and most vigorous looking one. I just love the diversity and don’t care about the age of the person behind the till. How much does age really matter?
Michael Buerk, as a 68 year old contestant on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ has caused more bemusement than anything else, and that seems to have more to do with his perceived gravitas than his age. Although there is some surprise that he should enter the jungle at such a venerable age. I have been looking at the ages of previous series winners. I did tell you about my strange obsession with researching ages, didn’t I? Tony Blackburn was 59 when he won the first series and Christopher Biggins was also in his late 50s when he won in 2007. I don’t suppose anyone looked at either of them and felt sorry for them due to their age, or thought they looked remotely decrepit.
It all made me think of this verse from a Lewis Carroll poem.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
I have to confess that I can’t do a headstand. But then, I couldn’t when I was younger either. It isn’t getting me down.
Sadly, there really is prejudice against the elderly. I deliberately used elderly rather than old there because somehow old has become a term of abuse. How on earth did that happen? I know it is something I can be guilty of myself. If I am behind a car that is travelling at well under the speed limit then I know I assume the driver will be old. Why? I hate the face that I instantly assume it. I have a friend who has never driven faster than 50 mph because she finds it too frightening. I can only imagine how much other motorway drivers must enjoy that. Yet she is in her forties, not old. As a way to make up for my ageist slow driver conjectures, here is a link to illustrate the error of my assumptions.
Advanced Motorists can be any age
Firemen have been striking because of government plans to change their pensions and increase their retirement age from 55 to 60. Plans are afoot to make the same change to the retirement age for the armed forces. Is this a knee-jerk reaction from politicians horrified by the ageing population and increasing pensions bill? Or is it a reasonable reaction to increased longevity and fitness at a greater age? If you ever listen to a debate on this you will find that many people do see this in entirely black and white terms.
Yet surely we are all individuals. I won’t pretend my body is as flexible, or my strength as great, as when I was in my twenties, but my knowledge is definitely greater. I don’t expect the majority of 70-year-olds to be continuing in a physically demanding job, but some certainly could. Minds are a different matter.
Dame Judi Dench said earlier this month that she loathes it when people ask her ‘Are you going to retire?’. If the capability is there to do the job well, why should she retire? As she says, ‘Let me have a go. Let us all have a go.’
It is too easy to assume an older person can’t do something when in fact they may be yearning to try. You won’t know until you ask them.
Many people regard Winston Churchill as the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had. He was 65 when he began his 1940-1945 stint as Prime Minister. He was 76 when he started his second term from 1951-1955. Just think what is possible as we age. Don’t write anyone off because of their maturity of years. Individuals can vary so much that mass generalisations are useless.
And in case you are reading this in your seventies, that isn’t a barrier either. To prove it here are a couple of clips of admirably sharp nonagenarians.
Don’t knock the over 50s. Don’t assume age is always better than youth either though.
Fun with a duvet cover
Some days ago a friend sent me a link to a You tube video showing a Russian man demonstrating how to put a duvet cover on a large duvet. It runs to over three and a half minutes and seems to involve the donning of safety goggles. I was pretty confident that I could manage the same task more swiftly and without resorting to safety garb.
Nevertheless, I was changing sheets today and decided to give the Russian’s method a whirl. Without the goggles. I marched into the bedroom armed with the necessary tools. Admittedly as the sheet and pillowcases were already in place the necessary accoutrements were simply the duvet cover and me.
Problem number one became apparent as soon as I entered the room. My bed is six feet wide which means the duvet and cover are regarded as super king size. This was going to be a problem. The Russian had laid his duvet cover on a large, clean expanse of wooden floor. I had a considerably less clear floor space and a carpet that appeared to have acquired several bits of fluff as decoration since I had last looked. Undaunted I lugged the hoover up to the bedroom and set to work. I managed to rid the floor of the offending debris and could assess my work area. Space still seemed to be at something of a premium.
Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I laid my inside out duvet cover on the floor as instructed. This took some time as it necessitated two chairs being pushed backwards against the wall and the laundry basket temporarily migrating into the hallway. Some shoes went to hide in the wardrobe. I still couldn’t quite lay the duvet cover flat. But it was close.
Now I could lay the duvet on top of the duvet cover. I felt quite proud just to have got that far but I had to carry on. Manoeuvrability became a serious problem as I fearlessly, without safety goggles, approached the open end of the duvet cover. I tiptoed across the duvet to a small gap between the two chairs where clear floor space could be spotted. I couched down and set to work and, at the end, triumph. The duvet had successfully arrived within its cover and could be placed lovingly upon the bed.
The original video
You may well be wondering what my tale of triumph has to do with middle age. And you may be right to. But I don’t think so. I knew the method would be slower than the one I would normally use, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to see if it worked and it did, beautifully. It also made me laugh at my own ridiculousness as I squashed myself into small spaces and moved furniture to achieve the simple task of providing the duvet with a clean cover.
Far more than when I was younger most of my similarly aged friends have a parent or parent-in-law who is causing them concern, often more than one. And these aren’t worries that are likely to go away. Where we used to talk about children and how we were coping as parents the discussion is now far more likely to be about our parents and our anxieties about them.
Yet in amongst our concerns this is a really good time to try things just for fun. And they may be far more ambitious things than just rolling a duvet into its cover should we wish. A decade ago my children were primary school age and a similar duvet cover attempt would either have involved them helping or, more probably, my doing it alone in the tried and tested and much easier way.
I think this is the ideal age for a bit of frivolity. We have far more freedom than we did when our children were small. We may be less flexible than we were twenty years ago, I certainly am. But we may actually be more so. Our stomachs may be more convex than they once were, but does it matter? Of course not.
Make the most of being fit, healthy and unencumbered with small children and take pleasure in all those things. Take pleasure in strange duvet covering experiences too if that is what takes your fancy. Although I fear I may be alone in that.