“So if you can survive, to a hundred and five, Think of all you’ll derive, out of being alive…”
(Young at Heart by Johnny Richards and Carolyn Lee, first sung in 1953 by Frank Sinatra).
Despite the over-commercialisation there is still a lot of innocent joy to be had at a time of year that, whatever your religious beliefs or lack of them, is all about family, feasting and frolicking.
At the Top of the Hill Over 50s village a small group of women and one man are rehearsing for their Christmas pantomime.
Last year they got together and reworked two Roald Dahl fairy tales into Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, performing it at the annual Christmas dinner. It was so popular that they had to hold a special dress rehearsal for younger friends and relatives.
This year they are busy rehearsing for Cinderella.
Youngest cast members are in their 60s, the oldest turned 90 this year and though she is losing her sight and wears a hearing aid she says she can “scream well”.
She proved this last year as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and this year there’s a scream written into the script especially for her.
John, next oldest at 83, doesn’t have a word to say but will play the coachman, his mobility scooter serving as Cinders’ pumpkin-turned-coach.
As one cast member says, “We had so much fun doing this last year and so did the audience. It’s silly, it’s childish but it gives us a chance to kick up our heels and do things we wouldn’t normally do.
“It’s also quite physically demanding not only because of the many necessary rehearsals but all the falling about. I’m an ugly sister this year and that calls for a lot of slapstick but what’s a bruise or two when you’re having such a ball!”
Feeling young and foolish again is why a group of six retired local business and professional men head overseas each year for a holiday unashamedly devoted to what they call “boy stuff”.
And no, says group member Ron (surname withheld because he is afraid his grown-up kids will laugh at him) it’s not “all that girly, sexy stuff” but just doing the mad things they don’t usually do at home.
“It all started,” Ron says, “when I took my grandchildren to Wet ‘n’ Wild on the Gold Coast and they begged me to get on the waterslide with them.
“It was so great I told my mates about it and one of them said he’d like to try it and so we all did.
“And then someone else said ‘what about other theme parks’ and we did all of those in Australia and then went to Disney World and some of the other great theme parks in Florida.”
Each year the six friends try something new and to date activities have included jet skiing, kite surfing, rolling around in giant water balls and sand toboganning.
The only criterion, Ron says, is that the activity be “completely crazy and the sort of thing we used to love when we were kids”.
It is, he adds, one way of not growing old too fast. In the last couple of years, the trips have been to Asia where there are now many world-class theme parks.
“Somehow the Asians seem to be more tolerant of adults who act the fool,” Ron Says.
Anyone who has lived in that part of the world, or studied Asian cultures, will agree with this.
Dutch-born academic Ian Buruma, who has written extensively on Japanese society, says that the ability for otherwise soberly-behaved adults to occasionally “let go” has long been ritualised in Japanese culture.
Men can be seen getting drunk and playing childish games in bars and clubs today, just as they used to do in the geisha houses of yesteryear.
Buruma’s theory is that in an essentially paternalistic and constrained society with emphasis on self-discipline, duty and conformity it is a very necessary way to let off steam.
Though Australians like to think ours is a more free and easy society it is still one in which notions of responsible “adult” behaviour are dinned in to us at an early age and even those who survived the hippie-dippy days of the late ’60s and ’70s mostly learned to conform to an acceptable behavioural norm where “fun” is only for kids.
Yet in this age of affluent oldies we see evidence everywhere of a happy return to the joys of youth with activities on offer from ballet dancing for seniors to rock and roll, karaoke, frisbee throwing, kite flying, ziplining, Zumba and even an exercise program called “sillycise” which apparently involves a lot of rolling about on the ground and exercising in children’s playgrounds.
In the US, the many children’s museums have Adults Only nights where grandparents can have fun like their grandkids in light-hearted interaction with the exhibits – an idea that could be taken up by Australia’s only dedicated Children’s Museum in Wollongong.
Obviously Americans take second childhood seriously because they even have events where seniors can re-experience the summer camps of their youth, including toasting marshmallows around an open fire.
Similar campouts are available in Oz, too, such as the government-sponsored Have a Go LiveLighter events, but these really focus on what’s called “age appropriate activities”.
What many are looking for today is age Inappropriate activities that are just pure fun however old you are!
The best new is that acting silly isn’t as silly as it sounds – in fact it is officially good for you!
Dottie Ward-Wimmer is an acknowledged expert on the importance of adults letting the kid inside out of the box occasionally. In her article The Healing Potential of Adults at Play (in Play Therapy with Adults, Charles E. Schaefer Ed.) she references Jung when saying that play is a natural and enduring behaviour in adults that has healing powers for the mind and spirit which psychology therapists are only now beginning to learn to use.
“Play, joy and spontaneity are rooted in all of our hearts … for adults, play continues as an important vehicle because it fosters numerous adaptive behaviours including creativity, role rehearsal and mind/body integration.”
Louise Haggarty is high-kicking her way towards 60 and, her friends agree, something of a madcap – despite a successful career in the ultra-serious world of banking and finance.
“My inner child has always been on the outside!” Louise says, adding that her energy and optimism meter has always been set on high. She can still sing and dance like a 16 year old and every year or so she likes to take on a new challenge.
This year, apart from scaling a volcano in South America, she took the role of Cora in the play Calendar Girls, put on by her local amateur theatrical group. It’s the story of six “mature” women who get their gear off to pose for a calendar which is sold to raise money for a cancer hospital.
In this, her first stage performance, she had to bare her body before a sometimes-rowdy audience and carried it off with great aplomb, as did the rest of the cast.
And yes, she found it challenging because despite her exuberance she is also a physically modest woman.
Louise also directs a program called The Joy of Singing for U3A and is also a member of an all-woman chorus which, while it takes its music very seriously, is still noted for unwinding with girlish antics and a lot of giggling when each practice is over.
“Everyone here has problems but we forget them when we fool about; there’s something very liberating about behaving like schoolkids again”, says one of the other members.
The other day, in a shopping centre, passers-by stopped to watch an elderly man buying a bubble-blowing kit for his small granddaughter and showing her how to use it. The sheer glee on his face was a sight to behold because the magic of blowing bubbles never goes away, however old you are.
There is a website called Great Senior Living which sums it up nicely: Having fun is simply too important to ignore. You deserve to smile!