Reflections on reaching the 15th tee

The deaths within a week of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey hit me, as my dad used to say, like a sack of spuds.

It wasn’t just that we had lost three outstanding artists – being cynical, I still get to enjoy their work. And I didn’t know them, so it wasn’t a personal loss.

No, their deaths reinforced a growing recognition at the back of my brain of my own mortality. People of my generation are dying with alarming frequency. Worse, all three were a few years younger than I am.

Oh bugger, I’m getting towards the front of the queue.

I think we all have a psychological big number. For me it was 70. I sailed through 50 and 60 without a care and while I don’t feel how 70 used to look when I was a kid, it did seem like a landmark when I reached it, greeted more with trepidation than celebration.

For a while there seemed to be nothing to do but just plough on until fate pointed a bony finger at me and said, ‘you’re next.’

But then I remembered something Malcolm Allison said in our time working together: ‘There are two types of worry. You worry about things you can’t control and you worry about things you can do something about. If you can’t control something, like the weather, there is no point in worrying about it. If you can do something about it, don’t spend time worrying, get on and do it!’

I can’t control when I will die – beyond not doing things that put me in harm’s way – but I can control what I do with whatever I have left and what better time than the beginning of a year to resolve to make the most of your life?

I’ve decided to be optimistic. After all, I have good genes – many people in my family have lived into their 90s and some even passed 100. I’ve been blessed with good health most of my life so far, I have control of my weight, I don’t smoke, only drink in moderation and, for the time being, we still have the wonderful NHS.

I also have most of my marbles. Occasionally it takes me a while to fish for a word or a name but they usually come in the end and one of the glories of technology is that it is possible to store the information you want and retrieve it easily.

So, I’m making plans for the next 20 years, taking me up to 90. I think of it as a game of golf with five years representing one hole. That means I’d still have four holes to play with the possibility of some extra holes in a play-off or spending time in the 19th with friends. The other thing about golf I’m hoping to emulate is that while it has its frustrations and bunkers, even out of bounds, you are usually in a peaceful, beautiful place with people you like.

Because I can’t guarantee there won’t be a storm stopping play before the round is finished, I am making sure I use each waking hour as well as I can. That means less TV wallpaper and less social media. It means getting in less of a stew about the idiots in Westminster, though that is going to be hard.

On the plus side I will free time to read some of the 2,000 books I’ve accumulated, and to listen to the music I enjoy or some of the gems on Radio4Extra.

Instead of thinking of myself as semi-retired, I am going to set achievement goals. I like the saying that you are not really dead until the last person speaks your name, so here’s a chance to give people something that will make them want to speak of me after I’ve gone.

I plan to become a better writer, a more productive historian and to learn new skills like design and photography that will not only interest me but help me achieve my goals.

Most of all it means adding to the things I’m already proud of so that when those last few seconds finally arrive, my last words won’t be ‘Is that all there is?’

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2 comments on “Reflections on reaching the 15th tee
  1. bobsterry says:

    Richard, use of the word ‘retirement’ should be restricted to the military. It has been the living death sentence to too many good folk who unconsciously felt their creative days were over, when in fact they had just been released from a sort of prison. Following your golf example I am going to visualize the remainder of my life as the last ten days of the Tour De France with the result still unsettled. No clear leader. Still an outside chance. This does mean that my last day will be a lung bursting sprint up the Champs Elysee. Should there be such a thing as angels they will surely cheer.

  2. Wow! That will be a sight to see. I look forward to cheering you on as I sip a glass of white wine in the clubhouse

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