Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


A Philosophical Journey and a Mission Statement

When I was very young, we lived with my grandparents, in an old farmhouse. Time and neglect had criss-crossed my bedroom ceiling with chips and cracks, and lumps where repairs had been attempted. Lying in bed, I pretended these imperfections were rivers, roads and mountains. My wanderlust was born tracing those imaginary highways.

Life’s a journey, and by the time, like me, you reach 70, its map probably resembles that bedroom ceiling. It’s a mess of meanderings, dead ends, summits achieved and strategic retreats. My 10-year-old self never imagined, nor wanted, a perfectly boring, straight road; but in my head my future was a highway with crossroads, which took me in a new direction from time to time. Nevertheless, I always moved forward, and seldom was lost. I also never arrived at my final destination.

On Third Age Attitudes


A while back, I changed the subtitle of this blog from “Life on a Small Island & Beyond” to “Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age.” Third Age is the phrase used in Spain to describe those of us who have left the rat race because of age. (I thought very careful about how to phrase that.) It sounds a whole lot better than “seniors/senior citizens,” “retirees/pensioners,” and especially better than saying “folk of an advanced age,” or even “elderly,” doesn’t it? The Oxford Dictionary describes it thus: “The period in life of ACTIVE retirement, following middle age.” The emphasis is mine.

See, I have met far too many people for whom retirement has meant giving up on real life, and becoming an observer, and, especially, a critic, of what is going on in the world, without any longer participating. It might be enjoyable, but, honestly, all of these folk were …. boring. They had no first-hand tales to tell, their stories were of queues at the bank, gossip about neighbors, or that ever-popular topic, the weather. Some of these folk still inhabited the world of their past glories, stuck in a time warp of big hair, prawn cocktails, and Tom Collinses.

Many of my friends are of this age demographic, but they spend their time in finding new challenges and adventures. They write books, travel the world (and I don’t mean from the comfort of a cruise ship); they paint and draw, run successful blogs (as opposed to this one which is not), do volunteer work. They walk, climb, dance, cycle, study, windsurf, take yoga and Pilates and tai chi classes, and learn new skills. Some continue their work, because they are passionate about what they do. Most of us weren’t that lucky, or were too foolish to have found passion in our work, of course. Some of them make decent money from their Third Age ventures, others find the rare satisfaction of accomplishing something they have dreamed of for decades.

What my friends have in common is that they have never lost their curiosity. They ask themselves, “How will that next wave feel?” or “I wonder what’s over the next hill?” “How can I share this wonderful experience I just had?” or “How do people from this or that country view the world?” They want to know how to make their own bread, hats, furniture or pottery. They grow their own food or flowers, or simply ask themselves “What if…” Many folk find joy in helping raise their grandchildren, having the time for them they never had for their own children, when putting bread on the table was the main goal in life. It’s a different journey for each of us. What they do not do is park themselves up in the sidings, waiting for the train that carries the Grim Reaper to hurtle into theirs.

All of which is a long way round of saying that I am going to be focusing more on that aspect in this blog in future. It doesn’t come all at once, this discovery of Third Age freedom, like most things worth doing, it’s a learning curve, and bound by the same peaks and troughs as earlier stages of life. The trouble may be that it’s easier to give up, to sink back into the relative certainty of the lifestyle a pension affords most of us. It also takes more effort. It’s so much easier to snooze the alarm rather than get out for an early walk; down one more beer, intending to eat healthy from tomorrow on; or give up on that book and flick on the TV instead. I know because this is what I sometimes do. Not always, often these days I rise to the challenge, sometimes I don’t, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me …… there is less and less time to do the stuff I want to do!

me sea

Of course, Western society and attitudes encourage us to vegetate as the clock ticks. We may be exhausted from a lifetime of making ends meet, cowed by new technology, or coaxed into spending our pensions on new anti-wrinkles creams, exercise machines which don’t require us to move from our chairs (and that is no reflection on those who really cannot move from their chairs), or a new car, which remains, a status symbol, rarely used, sitting in our driveway.

Then, of course, there is the attitude of others, family, friends, the press, who subscribe to the conventional view of age. Family worry for us. Friends are afraid of being jealous if we do something which breaks the mold. I am indebted to a former friend, who, when I idly expressed a desire to get a tattoo when I was in my late 50s, said, “OMG but what will people think?” You miss the point, m’dear! Attaining age is attaining the freedom to “Not give a damn.”

The press view of anyone over 60 is that they are about to die. Even now, when the phrase Baby Boomer appears in the media daily, manufacturers and advertisers haven’t woken up to the fact that this segment of the population has spending power beyond false teeth adhesive and joint pain pacifiers, not that either of those things are unnecessary.

I am beyond lucky in the support I get from my sons, who encourage me to hike, write, travel, and keep fit in mind and body. I owe them a huge debt. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on my way! You see ….. you never should stop travelling!

One of my heroes is Katherine Switzer, who broke the gender bias of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, when women were forbidden to participate. Just last week, at 70, she ran and finished the New York Marathon, now she’s breaking the taboos of age as well as gender! The oldest woman to place, by-the-way, was 84 years old, and the oldest man, 80. Switzer placed third in her age group. Although she won the New York Marathon in 1974, she doesn’t always win, but what she has done, since 1967 is inspire women, and now Third Agers. It ain’t, of course, the winning, but the taking part, and most of us are too afraid of failure, of being laughed at, or just too lazy to even try, or perhaps simply lack the confidence.  Check this if you think that finishing last is for fools.

I use marathon running as a metaphor, achieving something amazing can be anything you want to do, because you think you’re too old…..ask my friends how they felt when they saw their book cover, stood on the Great Wall of China, sold a painting or a photograph, got positive feedback  on their blog, or rode a wave.

On Being Fit for the Challenge

sunrise swimmers

Part of facing up to a challenge is being fit enough to do it, even if the fancy that haunts you isn’t a physical one, you do need to be fit to keep your grey matter healthy too; not to mention that life is simply easier if you keep those aches and pains at bay, and exercise and diet help that.

I had thought of starting a brand new blog on this subject, but since I am, and always will be, a student of this stuff and not a master, then it would be wrong to preach or try to teach about it. That said, over my last, two, non-blogging years I’ve learned and read much more about nutrition and keeping fit than at any time in my life. Honestly? I’ve always been kind of “fit enough.” I always had just enough willpower to reign in my eating when I began to bulge, and to exercise when I really needed to. Actually, I always enjoyed exercise, but what I didn’t do was to prioritize it enough. Now, as I said before, there is a gnawing awareness of time running out.

I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that one should eat the cake and drink the wine ad infinitum, because tomorrow we die. Sure I will eat cake and definitely will drink wine, and I will enjoy every crumb and sip, but not so much that it means that I will die tomorrow, as the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because, heck, who knows what delights tomorrow holds? Seeing the aurora borealis or Victoria Falls, being out on the ocean at night where there is no light pollution to see the millions of stars and planets, are worth far more than that extra slice of pie, or the third bottle of beer.

So I might just be rambling on about food and drink, and exercise now, because I am sooooo fed up of people saying “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or even “why.” In that period I covered in recent blog posts, I twice stuck to a pretty rigid diet, and faithfully followed an exercise regime, because it was obvious that if I wanted to enjoy life, I needed to do so. And, yes, twice I have gradually given up on both. (Neither of those a first over a lifetime btw) Both times I have retained some of the information, gone overboard on Instagram with “healthy food” photos, or probably been so overenthusiastic that it couldn’t last. Rallying cry of we, Third Agers, might be “It’s never too late!”

The challenges we face are really no different than those we have always faced, it just seems, from my personal observation, that the older people get, the more inclined they are to not take on the challenge, because in their arsenal of excuses they now have “I’m too old for this.” The impetus we have, which we lacked when young, is that  …. to be brutally frank ….. we may not be able to start tomorrow. We have to start today. Right here, and right now!






On Being Fired at 63

I turned 63 at the end of last year.  It’s an age around which a lot of people give up on life it seems.  I didn’t know that until I became aware of it happening all around me.   A growing awareness of what I observed in others created a growing determination inside of me not to be like that.  I turned 60 at the end of 2006, and that was one of the most rewarding years of my life.  You could say I began as I intended to go on.

January 22nd of this year found me at my desk, then, having returned Christmas week.   I’d just spent two and a half months on sick pay after falling and breaking a wrist. (More lessons in economy!)   I went back after New Years full of positive energy.  So you’d think that losing my job mid-January would have sent me into negative spin, wouldn’t you?  Truth is that my work ethic and that of the company had been running in ever-diverging lines for some while, add to that the slow, but sure, grind of spending a good part of the working day listening to whinging, and then add the irritation of office politics, and, well, I can’t say my heart was broken.  The euphemism I was asked to use was that I was taking “early retirement”; friends advise me to say I was “made redundant”, and there is a certain amount of truth in that because I am not the only one to be let go.

I feel sorry for people who dislike change, who aren’t ready for life’s twists and turns.  First off, it must be so worrying and second it must be so boring!

In that sense, then, it didn’t faze me.  Since I was under no illusions about the machinations which lead to my dismissal, and since, so far as I know, I was given the correct amount of severance pay, it resembled more a granting of freedom than anything else.

It capped a month of turnings points, Guy moving to England, Austin moving to Adeje and starting a new job in a field new to him, all of us moving house, so the timing was appropriate.

El Médano

The enforced downtime after breaking my wrist last October had already set in motion a self appraisal, and had made me take a look at myself in depth.  I didn’t much like what I saw.  An inner voice, one that whispered about stability and which condemned risk- taking, had led me into a string of dead-end jobs since my nest emptied back in 2002.  Although volunteer work had restored my self-esteem after 2005, it was a balance that had tipped back into a personal negative in recent months, the immigration crisis having lessened, and the need to be on constant alert having disappeared.  Comfort eating, mainly from boredom at work, had piled on pounds, especially over the last, two years.  Working in a basement, away from the public eye, in recent months, had made me tend to the hippie/sloppy in appearance (no problem if that’s you, but it wasn’t me).  Up until my reduced income in October a monthly pay-check had made me lazy about my dreams and ambitions, and it showed on the outside as well as inside.  So perhaps I had, in effect, done all the angsting and appraising before, rather than after, my dismissal, so that I had none of the loss of self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness a social scientist would have predicted.

Am I worried about my future?  You bet.  Do I feel as if I am on the scrap heap, unlikely to do anything with what remains of my four score and ten?  No way!  Am I going to let that worry rule my life?  No way!

I’m a fan of Aerosmith, so the first time I heard “Life’s a journey, not a destination” was in their song, as I bopped in rhythm and agreement.  Of course it was Emerson who said it first.

This enforced change of direction then, is a new adventure, a “fork stuck in the road” (Offspring I think?).  True, generally speaking it’s better to make these turns oneself, but my feeling is that my positive energy may well have been the precipitator.  There was me thinking I could harness the energy to enjoy my work, when all the time it was pushing me in entirely the other direction.

This blog is now become a survival manual, a finger raised at convention and certain people (if they ever read this, they will know who they are).  This is me saying I refuse to roll over and retire, to spend my days gossiping with other miserable ex-pats or to add any more to the inevitable lines of age by baking myself in the sun every day.  This is my record of my new life.

This is my first collage for foto-class, and symbolic – doors which may open onto just about anything.

Within 24 hours of my dismissal I had bought a Canon EOS 500D.  Media Mart didn’t have in stock the Nikon over which I had been fantasizing, and no way was I going to risk my “sensible” voice cutting in and telling me this was folly, (my experience has always been that when I listen to that voice it turns out wrong) so I went for the Canon, before I could rethink, and no regrets as yet.

Within two weeks I had signed up for a photography course.  I am halfway through now, and can report it to be one the best things I’ve ever done.  My efforts, as shown below, are still feeble, but improve by the week.  Much of the rest is on my Flickr page (see sidebar for link).  This is not going to transform me into Eve Arnold, but it will help me to help myself to explore any talent I may have.

This picture, the collage above and the video in the previous post were what I submitted for the first exhibit of          students’ work last week.

I also took advice from both sons, and invested (I use the word advisedly because I did feel guilt) money in workout clothes and equipment, and made notes about what they told me about diet, which goes way beyond what I have read in magazines or on the internet.  Gym membership is out of the question, so this will all be in-house stuff.

I am also in the process of taking up other, abandoned or postponed ideas, more on those another time.  Sadly, the thing I can’t do is complete the BA with the Open University for a while, there just isn’t enough in the kitty.  Maybe I will be one of those people who, at 80+, makes the headlines by completing their degrees, who knows!  My lack of degree has weighed heavily around my shoulders over the years, but at the moment putting it on the backburner doesn’t hurt so much.

Otherwise, of course, I moved, and I already recorded my delight in the change of atmosphere.  I unpacked.  I packed up the owner’s stuff and took it down to the real estate agency, where they will store it for the length of my lease – that was a bit like moving twice over, but it’s all gone now.  The new place lacks a view, but the ocean is almost on my doorstep, so this means I will not be spending time watching passing boats and ships and daydreaming of being on one of them.  I am near the airport, departing flights almost pass overhead, but somehow, what with all the noise, they don’t inspire so much from this distance.  For the first time in a year and half or so my possessions are all unpacked, and in place to make my life as pleasant and purposeful as possible.

I have given two weeks to my father, whose annual inspection visit took up the first part of March.  What is more, I did that without giving away the fact that I am unemployed, without losing my temper and without allowing him to make me feel like a naughty fourteen-year-old – things must be looking up at last.

There is no doubt about it, I need to work, in more sense than one.  I think I always will, because I don’t expect much in the way of pension, but that’s the choices I made in life.  On an entirely other level, I don’t think I would ever not want to work anyway.  Work gives life purpose, satisfaction and fulfilment, raison d’être, so long, it goes without saying, that it isn’t the sort of mindless, repetitive and boring stuff I have been known to sell my soul for in recent years.

I can’t help wondering if another inner voice, one which is now way louder, was chipping away at my lifestyle bit by bit, pushing me onto the road down which I now travel.  Note to self:  “LISTEN next time!”

My feet itch less just now.  I think that’s because I am, actually, on a journey, even though I am still islandbound at the moment.  It feels like travel.  It feels like uncertainty and new discoveries.  I am running down the road, not ambling, anxious to see what lies around the next bend, and this will be my story about what I find there.