Growing old disgracefully

Hooray….. after extensive research, experts have reached the conclusion that the age we are most likely to feel content and fulfilled with our lives is 58. This challenges all the values our world holds dear: that youth is everything, that women over 50 become invisible and no longer valued, that ageing is to be feared. The phrase ‘middle aged’ does not inspire. It conjures up cosy images of caravans and cardigans, spreading waistlines and narrowing horizons, though the latest ‘grow old disgracefully’ generation would have a lot to say about that.

aunt alice lo res

It’s not the done thing to admit your age, but I’m 58 and for once I agree with the experts. I’m beginning to get the hang of living at last (perhaps I’m just a slow learner). Below the surface of our western culture’s assumptions about life and what makes us happy – the relentless quest after money, ‘stuff’, house, car, looking good, clothes, career,  a life partner – runs a deeper, contrary current of values. I have an extraordinary life in spite of no longer having many  of the things that are supposed to bring us happiness; a partner, security, a house. I have learned that joy is found in suprising places. Like you I have debts, financial worries, personal fears and demons, family issues and rusty bilges (OK, perhaps you don’t have rusty bilges, but you know what I mean). Those worries and problems will always be there in one form or another, so some time ago I made a decision not to let them eat away at the core of life.

high water

For some reason, autumn is the time for after dinner talks, and I’ve done three in the last 8 days on the theme of ‘Artist Afloat’.The preparation of the slide show and notes has made me reflect on the more unusual aspects of my life, particularly the last few years in which I’ve deliberately set out to do things I’ve never done before, sail boats I’ve never sailed before, meet people I’ve never met and put myself in challenging situations. I’ve been motivated not just by my age group’s urge to ‘seize the day’ but by the search for creative inspiration, new ideas and the growing knowledge – always there but a bit timid – that the more you hurl yourself at life, the more life tends to deliver back in return. Not in terms of tangible or monetary rewards, but those deeper, more sustainable currencies like kindness, friendship, curiosity, knowledge, inspiration and a fund of new ideas.

2015yp print low res

The talks contain edited highlights of my transformation from London secretary with mid life crisis and negative equity to river dwelling eccentric nautical illustrator. They also contain my usual ‘art is for everyone, not just for artists’ rant, and my top ten tips for drawing boats (summarised on this early blog post


One of my favourite slides from the talk is this one:

ripple 2

I took this photo on passage from Brest home to the UK two years ago. On the whole it wasn’t a particularly easy voyage, with a mismatched crew of nautical hitch hikers on an elderly lugger with temperamental bilge pumps and unhelpful headwinds… but the moment to treasure, as Ben played his fiddle on the wheelhouse in the late afternoon sunshine, was the rare feeling of living completely in the moment. I had a sense of wonder that here I was, somewhere off Ushant in an unfamiliar boat with eight people I had only met the day before, and no-one else in the world knew where I was. I had no mobile phone, no contact with anyone I knew. It sounds irresponsible perhaps, but it was also extraordinarily liberating. It made me realise just how much of our life is pinned down and defined by expectation and obligation, having to be somewhere or other at every moment of the day. Moments that define our lives are not always the easiest or the happiest!

carpe diem

I’ll leave you with some songwords – only to be sung by those of a certain age. You know who you are. The tune is ‘Scarborough Fair’…

Are you going to misbehave
Past the age you should have grown wise
And are you going to embarrass your children
As you grow old disgracefully.
Are you going to dye your hair pink
Learn the banjo, write poetry
And are you going to say what you think
As you grow old disgracefully
Are you going to have some fun
Seize the day and dance in the street
Your mid life crisis is over and done
So now grow old disgracefully
If someone says ‘you should know better’
If they say ‘is that wise at your age’
Just tell them that you’ve made a decision
To grow old disgracefully
Are you going to misbehave
Past the age you should have grown wise
It’s quite all right to embarrass your children
Let’s all grow old disgracefully

7 thoughts on “Growing old disgracefully”

  1. Bill Hughes says:

    A wonderful article ….. I couldn’t agree more. When I was younger I used to walk into rooms and worry about what people would think of me and whether or not they would like me. When I walk into a room now I don’t really care what they think and the only thought I have is whether or not I will like them …..

  2. John says:

    And 10 years on and you don’t even embarrass your children, they just accept it as part of you nearing “old age”, but for me, I’m still enjoying every minute of it, and looking forward to the next 30 years! Great blog Claudia, and may the rust in your bilge soon disappear!

  3. Lesley Walker says:

    Great article Claudia – you are an inspiration! And yes as those of us tip over from the desirable 58 into the dreaded 60s and discover that Crewseekers and FindaCrew skippers don’t want anyone over 60, we must wonder what 60 means? As you pointed out, would they turn Robin Knox Johnson away as crew if he was minded to apply? The debate yesterday over the depiction of the elderly on road signs (vulnerable frightened figures bent double over sticks, hair in buns and long cardigans and skirts hiding rickety legs) shows how anachronistic our society’s attitude to older people is. Do we lie about our age or face down the ageist skippers and others who assume numbers mean something generic?

  4. Sue Edwards says:

    Claudia, I am finding these things out too! I am not going to um – venture out on anything more wavy than a swimming pool, perhaps a river? but, I am meeting many people through music, have at last started to sing some of my songs!! and next year am planning a big musical party for an even greater number than you!!!

    I occasionally give talks to WI and other groups about autoharps, have just been on BBC Radio Gloucestershire talking and playing for Children in Need. I am finding I want to ‘do my own thing’!! Keep inspiring the rest of us!! 🙂

  5. Annie Turner says:

    Wonderful, Claudia – thank you! As I read the first sentence I thought, “Heck, I’ve got 11 months, and I seem to be further from it than ever before….” But yes, what is this IT!! Maybe I am actually nearer ‘it’ than ever before after all; the next 11 months are going to be QI for me for sure…. Thanks for the confidence boost from your lead! (And RKJ’s too!) Love and luck to your rusty bilges and joy to you in bucketfuls.

  6. glynis littlejohn says:

    Claudia I was 64 last week. The best thing for me in life is my wonderful family and my beautiful friends. They don’t always tow the line but I love them and don’t care what people think. I do what I feel like doing now, and don’t care if this is the thing to do. I Recently saw a dear friend sitting in the town, in his disabled buggy eating a hot sausage roll. I pulled his leg and said caught you Dennis having that sausage roll. “Don,t care said he, just fancied it”. He died last week. So Glad he sat there in the middle of town eating his hot sausage roll. He did not care who saw him and it made him happy. He did not know he would be dead within the fortnight. We must do what makes us happy HAPPY. GLYNIS LITTLEJOHN

  7. Thank you, Claudia! Watching your paintings, reading your reflections, it’s always wonderful…

    Pablo de Castro

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