I recently contributed a chapter to a book called Loving All Of It – Eminent New Zealanders Write About Growing Old. Gordon McLauchlan edited this collection of essays by 11 women and 21 men, all over the age of 65. It’s a wonderful book, full of humour and the insight into the twists and turns, the ironies and contradictions of life that perhaps only old age can bring. Or maybe ‘getting older’, for whatever year appears on their birth certificates, none of these writers has reached ‘old age’, none of them is old. Invite any six to a dinner party and you would be guaranteed a wonderful evening of stimulating conversation, passionate debate, brilliant storytelling, side-splitting humour and, quite possibly, the heated exchange of opposing views. What defines these 32 Supergold card-holders is that they are gloriously alive.
A quite different view of aging was provided by Sunday Star Times columnist Rosermary McLeod yesterday. In a piece entitled In Praise of Older Men? Not Likely she offers as reality a caricature of older men, so sick and jaundiced that one can only wonder what life experiences have drawn her to these conclusions. Her concentration is on the physical unattractiveness of older men, their geriatric self-delusion in imagining themselves still appealing to younger women, their pathetic attempts to retain or revive their fading libidos. Equating ‘older men’ with ‘dirty old men’, McLeod chooses as representative of the species: 74-year-old Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 84-year-old Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner and, one might have thought prematurely, 51-year-old New Zealand politician, Rodney Hide.
On Berlusconi: ’74 and showing every minute of it; gets pretty girls into his cot only because he’s very, very, very rich and because they can shut their eyes.’ On Hefner: ‘Doddering; musters women with gifts of money, and surely pays them to say how fabulous he is in bed.’ (‘surely’?) On Rodney Hide: ‘I don’t want to think about Rodney Hide, but there he was last week, announcing that his much-younger partner is going to have their baby, and modelling a pair of baby bootees on his digits. Hide is 53, his partner 21 years younger…. And I wish them well. Really I do. But I will never understand their chemistry. They talk about older women as cougars; well, older men are possibly labradors, amiable scavengers and a bit slobbery.’ On the Archbishop of Canterbury who will marry William and Kate next year and: ‘whose wild facial hair makes him resemble a benign prawn.’
And on older men in general: ‘paunchy partner takes off for younger pastures… shacked up with a slip of a girl, dandling what should be their grandchildren on their arthritic knees. seen jogging, sweatily… they take up fitness for the first time in their lives, like Rodney did after his life-changing stint on Dancing. With The Stars… newly single older men’s hair takes on a sudden strange yellow or reddish tint, or they shave themselves quite bald to hide their real baldness as Rodney does, and no female under the age of 30 is suddenly safe from their rusty moves… a man old enough to be her father then struck her as – what ? Sexy? In a tatty bathrobe in the morning? In a white singlet watching telly?…. You know all about older men nowadays because of those ads promising a ‘no obligation chat’ about – oh, little things like erectile problems, premature ejaculation, testosterone replacement (intriguing, that), low libido and general trivia… most likely the bloke is swallowing these products in an attempt to impress a woman half his age…’
Well, there we are. That’s us. You ‘know all about us nowadays’ because of the Viagra ads in the paper and the Cialis ads on the telly. What vile, disgusting, faithless, dribbling, doddering, sweating, slobbery, paunchy, balding, impotent, Viagra-swilling, self-deluded creatures we are in our tatty bathrobes and white singlets watching telly and scratching our balls (which Rosermary forgot to mention). And, if only in fairness to Rodney, whom Rosemary wishes well but has nonetheless singled out as her best/worst New Zealand example of the older man species, here are the names of the 21 older men in Gordon’s book: Barry Brickell, Bernard Brown, Bob Harvey, Brian Edwards, Bruce Slane, Elric Hooper, Erik Olsen, Gordon McLauchlan, Hamish Keith, John Coley, Max Cryer, Mervyn Cull, Merwyn Norrish, Michael Corbalis, Ranganui Walker, Raymond Columbus, Rhys Jones, Robin Charteris, Rodney Walshe, Rodney Wilson, Wilson Whineray. Who’d have thought it? And people like that have the effrontery not only to be ‘older men’, but to write about it and use their real names. Shameless!