The Blog

The Passage of Time (Growing Old Gracefully), Things That Matter (Part Five)

But getting old can be an obstacle course- what's the point of being old and miserable? There is a man who walks his dog that I see often and I estimate the last time he smiled was in the Stone Age.

The Passage of Time

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

There are many clichés about growing old but life is determined in cycles and there are three: What crawls in the morning, stands upright at noon and has three legs at sunset? Answer: Man.

I have always wanted to be old- ever since I was a child. I hated being told what to do. I liked my independence and as soon as I could, I made a home for myself on my own terms. True freedom when you're a nascent adult must be playing the Rolling Stones at full blast in the middle of the night while drinking too much alcohol!

I yearned for lines on my face and gnarled fingers. Somehow lines and wrinkles signify a type of wisdom. I LOVE my grey hair so much so that when people stop me in the street- to gasp in admonishment that I don't dye my hair, I laugh all the more. I am free of the slavery of maintaining a myth. I stopped smoking the year my father died and I was livid to find that despite having smoked for 24 years I had no withdrawal whatsoever. It was as if I had never smoked ever in my life! But the bondage of dependency really sucks at the life force and once I had given up the nicotine rush, I felt unleashed. It was an awakening.

Giving up fear was the second best thing I ever did. Becoming detached. Thinking that whatever happens however terrible, well so what? Accepting that when one surrenders, one becomes stronger.

The older I get, the more I see through the aimlessness of it all. Becoming wiser means having less patience with the truck that is humanity. Being a slave to anything, TV, popular culture, are all things that make me want to live on top of a hill and spend the rest of my life in contemplation. Politics? Well, don't get me started.... I recently ran into my dog-walking friend, the undertaker: "People who go into politics have to want to help others," he exhorted, "they have to want to change the world for the better...." Yawn. How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

Yet what is so terrible about getting old that everyone wants to stay young? I rather love the way it makes me feel- crumpled in parts, wobbly in other bits but content and calm. Surely that state of saying, "après moi le déluge!", is what really matters? To know that one has earned one's stripes, earned the ability to laugh in the face of adversity and maybe even thrive when faced with challenge and hardship.

But getting old can be an obstacle course- what's the point of being old and miserable? There is a man who walks his dog that I see often and I estimate the last time he smiled was in the Stone Age. How is it possible to be so darn miserable? To lose the ability altogether to say hello, smile at your dog's happy face and not look like you had a bucket of sour lemons for breakfast?

When I look back at my life there have been older people who crossed my path and now I can see them: branded by the past as if a hot iron had scarred their minds forever. Bitter, embroiled in never letting go, never moving on, never getting away from what sends you into a permanent state of kissing the bottom of an abyss.

There are older people who I have met who turn a thing around and around and around in their heads forever as if the words beginning and end had never entered the English language. The past becomes the present and the future is now. Bitterness engenders bitterness. Miserable people don't have happy friends. And if they do, they want to squash the smile right out of them because it makes them feel good.

Getting old can be sexy- hard to imagine in our sex-obsessed society but in the true etymological meaning of the word: lustful for, yearning for

We are never too old that we are dead. And when we are dead then it is quite simply the end. But until then, do yourself a favour. Chuck out the Botox, the hair dye, the Viagra, the wrong wife and most importantly, burn the illusions of being anything but who you really are.

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Things That Matter (Part Five)

I asked Paul Pellew (The Viscount Exmouth) whose autobiography, Prisoner of Fortune, has just been released, to share with me the things that matter to him in this life:

Paul Pellew (The Viscount Exmouth)


Both physical and terrestrial health should be regarded as priorities for all of us. One without the other would be intolerable and unsustainable. By that I mean physical health for all, achieved through a fair distribution of food resources and medicines.


Wealth does not guarantee happiness, winning a lottery jackpot would certainly make life easier but after the initial flush of excitement, flow of champagne, a new house and a new car, elation often turns to some deep-rooted inner unhappiness and bitter family feuds are known to develop. A group of French veterans enjoying a game of boules in a shaded village square or those in a Mediterranean café engaging in light-hearted banter are anything but unhappy. Far from it; they might be poor financially but they are rich in spirit and contentedness. To be committed to a wheel chair with a huge property portfolio and millions of dollars in the bank - but dependent upon others - could hardly be described as blissful, comfortable, yes but not fulfilling in the 'happy' corporal/mental sense. A true state of happiness can be described as 'walking on a cloud', something which can only really be achieved in the company of another person whose input somehow complements your identity, ambition and dreams.

No more war

A world without war, without the aimless maiming of innocent people would indeed be a happier place; it is lamentably demeaning to humanity to learn that wolves have more respect for their kin than mankind. If we haven't learned over thousands of years to respect our counterparts we never will. I quote from an old Spanish proverb: 'Man is the only creature to trip over the same stone twice; most creatures having tripped once will have learned to take another route' but not mankind, alas.

Direct Democracy

The political world today as we know it, whether national or international, is awash with corruption; I believe in Abraham Lincoln's definition of Democracy: "Government of the people, by the people for the people" or Direct or Pure Democracy as it is known today in Switzerland and Slovenia, which is where the people play a direct part in the decision making process. While Switzerland like Britain embraces direct democracy, it is still a representative democracy. Most laws are made and decided by Members of Parliament representing the people. The important difference however between the Swiss system and the "indirect" democracy of Britain is that citizens, if they want, are entitled to put almost every law decided by their representatives to a general vote. All they need to do is to gather 50,000 signatures (approximately one per cent of the electorate) within 100 days of the publication of a new law for this to happen. Statistically 96 out of 100 cases are put to a vote by referendum. The Swiss people also have the last word constitutionally and with regard to international treaties.