Reaching 66 — the musings of an OAP
Aaaargh! 66 sneaked up on me as I completed my current running life total of 39,080 miles. The bastard! Yet, the road through time has already been trodden, so is irreversible. Our past informs the future; our experience is the launchpad to what we are now. Sir Michael Caine once said, “We become what we’re afraid of.” He meant, upon qualification, that he was afraid of public speaking, so became an actor. I see it as making what one sees as a personal weakness into a strength. It is how I’ve lived my 66 years. Sometimes it is hard, but never a wasted effort. Luckily, I find writing is cathartic. Indeed, in my blogs I have written a great deal, but reaching 66 has prompted me to narrate a little more of my past. A little more of those complexities on the journeys that make each one of us, us.
On 30th September 1956, sometime in the afternoon I think my late mother told me, I popped into the world as an 8 lbs 7oz howling lump of dazed confusion. Where had the warm place gone? A short time later I settled down and, apparently, was ‘a good baby’. Until my younger brother arrived 18 months later, it seems I grew quietly, was curious and took everything in my short stride, which I started using around a year old. By the time of Pete’s birth, I was ready to be his protector and model for what life as a tot entailed. I was called into play to show him how to use a potty, how to enjoy a bath on the lawn (no bathroom) and how to engage with our older siblings. Ultimately, the small gap in our ages meant we grew together, with me ever so slightly ahead. Eventually over time, 18 months difference becomes nothing. For 63½ years I’ve had a brother to whom I remain close, protective and full of love.
Back to 1961. I started school at around 4½. A Catholic primer, reached by bus. The nuns were all mentally defective and luckily, I had no idea what all the statues and genuflecting was about. As I wrote earlier, I was curious, but also had a logic chip. It all seemed as it is, bloody daft. Showing little kiddies some white hairy person nailed to wood is horrific. My father died the same year, just after my 5th birthday, he was 56. We moved to a council house and I was removed from the insanity of Catholicism forever, to a local school. Unfortunately, my grief-stricken mother, a widow with four children, was soon picked off by another insane Christian cult, the moronic Jehovah’s Witnesses. This sect is stupid beyond reason, evil beyond belief, and they ensured my childhood ended at seven years old.
My barren years up to 15 were filled with abuse, denigration and crushed joy. My mother found no comfort in religion, just safety blinkers and personal diminishment. The bastards effectively took over her husband’s role and ruined her children’s lives (and continue to do so with grim determination to this day.) I couldn’t stand the obvious lies, pseudoscientific drivel and brainwashing. It just didn’t work on me. Thus, I escaped once I was big enough to fight back, rescued by bikers who were rough, smelly but worth more to me than all religions put together in a single shitheap.
I rebelled and left, my anger ringing in the ears of the self-important elders. Nasty as they are, they announced in front of that whole half-witted congregation, including my mother and older brother, that her evil son (me) had been disfellowshipped (excommunicated), meaning certain death, and I should be ostracised by all. How repulsive can you get? My abusers announcing my awfulness to my mother in public. She still loved me, but her faith had torn her apart. They broke her without thought, without guilt, justified by the insanity of myth. The Jehovah’s Witnesses tenure of her life ended in the misery they sowed…
My final morning with my mother went thus:
Mother was in bed wheezing for breath. I carried her up the previous evening, her arm over my shoulder, as the stairs were too tough to scale.
“Hi Mum. Do you want a cuppa?” I asked. (I always brought her one up before riding my motorbike to work.)
“I’m alright this morning Paul, I have water.” Her wheezing was awful.
I went down, ate some breakfast and then clumped back up the stairs.
“Bye, Mum”, I kissed the soft skin of her forehead. “I love you.”
“Bye,” she said.
I left her there. An hour later she was dead. She was 52, I was 17. She was broken by the demands of the cult, exasperated by life taking two husbands, and hopeless as she left the world. She died in front of my younger brother. Don’t talk to me of religious freedom – it is an illusion imposed by men, embraced by the weak, desperate or cruel.
My trail through life for the next 50 years has its foundations in this childhood. Yet, here’s the thing, it has been the making of me. You see, where all religion relies on not thinking, I learnt to think, to study, to question. My intellectually rebellious nature makes me check everything, and my inner logic chip remains steadfast. Far from making me religious, religion made me question all belief systems and all ideology where a god or godlike authoritarian figure is involved. It allowed me to dispel all those myths, for that is what they are. I firmly believe that one who only reads one book is far more dangerous than anyone who reads books continuously. The result means I have a clarity of mind based on non-bias. I have told you before about my power source, my Rage Battery – it makes me fight against bullies, naysayers and bigots, and drives me to be the best I can be. It took me through childhood and has powered me through life.
This was the first gift to myself. Socratic thinking: What evidence supports this idea? And what evidence is against its being true? I am, thus, an atheist. It is the only logical starting point for an intelligent person. Everything beyond that needs proof. Faith in religion and ideology is pissing in the wind and is the refuge of ignorance and the springboard for cruelty.
The second thing that has given me strength is, of course, running. I was 25 when I started, on May 16th 1982. I began to run because I hated the normality of the life I was plodding through. Anything to do with fitness in the 70s and 80s was viewed as weird, mocked and tagged with inevitable exploded knees, early death and self-imposed misery. Why then did it make me feel so free? The middle bit of my life was filled with a couple of marriages, raising children, working all hours and struggling to provide. Pretty much a standard life for most of us. Yet, I continued to run between all my commitments. It gave me the space I needed. After 39,000 miles, my knees are fine, my resting pulse is normally 47-49 bpm and running remains my well-being foundation, even when I’ve been put through the mill of family or career pressures. I’m still recovering from a niggly injury, but it has not stopped me at all.
The third string to my bow has been humour. I have found there is something not quite right with someone without a sense of humour. I laugh at myself, at my predicaments, the most. One thing I must make straight, humour at its best is never bullying, never violent mockery. However, laughing at the ridiculous, the ironical and people’s unfounded biases – yep, that’s fine. It is a great leveller and peacemaker. People who take themselves too seriously are very, very suspect. The self-important deluded are less likely to laugh at comedy than those who are brighter and honest, because comedy is often about culturally taboo topics. Those who are lying to themselves can’t laugh because they feel it would reveal too much about their real character — they would be laughing at their own absurdity. Billy Connolly said: “The best way of dealing with the dark side of life is to laugh right in its face. Everybody knows death is coming. They try all sorts of tricks, etc., to deal with it. But comedy can release you from your terror. You can treat it lightly.” Examples of humourless people (who tend to get cross): Stalin; Hitler; any Pope; any Imam; any TV Evangelist; people who become politicians who have only ever studied politics as a subject; the intentionally religious; Putin; Saudi Arabia; nationalists; people who wave flags and shout; people who burn flags and shout; people who burn people, wave flags and shout; people who shoot creatures for sport; science deniers; conspiracy theorists; Trump. I rest my case.
The fourth pillar of my life, and the final one for now, is exploring, understanding and conserving the natural world. To write of nature as separate from ourselves, which is the norm, shows how detached we have become. We are not separate in origin, but one of millions of cogs in the great machine, our biosphere that has evolved on our island planet. Seeing ourselves as separate has been catastrophic. As a species, we have gone from being part of a balanced system, to symbiotic, to pretty well parasitic. I see the world differently. I know we, as a species, can live in harmony with the world. I do all I can to make a small difference. Lots of small actions can move the world to a better place. That humanity has the brains to put things right is not in doubt, but we are led by those who pander to our inner biases and paranoia. Thus, I retreat into wilder places, making it my life’s job to identify and understand every blade of grass, every creature, every geological feature – it gives me peace. That is why I wrote this poem:
We raced from the wilderness,
To sterile boxes,
Fortresses against the wild wood,
Now we creep back,
To find life,
And all we’ve lost,
And dream of what we were,
And what we can be.
Back to becoming 66. On balance, I have looked after myself. It takes conscious effort at first, then it becomes natural. I run a minimum of a mile every day. I have slowly refined my diet to eat the most beneficial food, avoiding ultra-processed junk and retuning my taste buds. I stopped eating meat, but do eat properly sourced seafood. I’m not vegan, but the bulk of my food is vegan. I consciously try to source my food from sustainable or local sources, when I can. Sometimes I drink too much and am far from perfect, but I am locked into a good formula which I immediately return to. There will always be an exception, but I make them abnormal, not the rule. Again, I learn every day and will never settle into a non-changing regime. My body has responded by ageing gently. My physical health is standing up to living very well.
Mentally I have been less fortunate. The pressures of corporate life through the pandemic took a huge toll on me, and I never saw my fall coming. Burnout. This word has a world of pain in its meaning. At 65 I was fine. I served my Racing the Reaper Man Year in 2021 well, coming out stronger, lighter and fitter. Everything that could go right, went better. The year to 66 was totally different and has changed me. Everything that could go wrong, pretty well did. 2022 served up new challenges and my learning curve steepened. Would my philosophy and lifestyle crumble at this unforeseen test? I’m pleased to say, in spite of rebuilding my mind to cope with new pressures, keeping to my Racing the Reaper Man lifestyle has seen me through, thus far. I’m even more convinced that an active, healthy lifestyle is a choice one must grasp, if a full and bright older age is the goal. That will be in my forthcoming book.
I spent my 66th birthday on old Ikos, the Greek island of Alónnisos. This jewel in the Northern Sporades has become a regular retreat. To make life interesting, I picked up food poisoning on the journey home, running a mile on Skiathos with clenched buttocks, just to keep my running streak going, without a running streak in my shorts. October was hard as it took over two weeks to recover fully. I was supposed to run a 53k ultra on 29th October, but my ongoing injury and rebellious tummy meant I was not in any shape to attempt it. I have deferred the place until 2023.
Maybe wisdom has won out over pig-headedness? Yet, I still run every day and still reached 100 miles by the end of the month. My right leg improves daily. It took 8 months to acknowledge the injury, in which time I made it worse, so I’m in no doubt it will take that amount of time to fully heal. That will take me into the New Year. So be it. I will make sure, from now on, I’ll focus on a full recovery and make that weakness a strength – the musculature of my legs show how much work I have done. I do concede one thing, with getting older — recovery takes much longer.
I write this at Samhain, the ancient Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest and beginning of winter. It is November 1st. The darker days are ahead, but so is another spring. Always another spring. 66 is just a number, true, but it takes effort to stay in good mental and physical shape. I’ve found that setting goals, aiming for future targets and fighting the urge to give up is the greatest motivator for living, and living well. Excuses to do nothing are lazy, ephemeral and need constant pursuit. Reasons to be fit are golden. Don’t be scared of getting older, be scared of accepting less than you can do.
I concur with Dylan Thomas in Do not go gentle into that good night. All of us should:
…not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Live life and be who you want to be – if that’s not the person in the mirror, change it.
September & October selected statistics
- Weight: 11st 12lbs
- Daily calorie balance: 1853kcal.
- VO2 Max average: 43
- Average resting pulse: 50 bpm.
- Total miles: September: 102 miles. October: 100 miles – now 23 months of at least 100 miles.
- Unbroken running streak: 674 days
- Belly: 30½”
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