Golden oldies

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This week, I set my sights on older men who, according to two women friends involved in romances with octogenarians, have many advantages (I may have to visit a hypnotist to be convinced of this). The pluses are: 1) old men possess old-fashioned courtesy; they open doors and pay for meals; 2) their careers are usually over so they can give you more attention; 3) they are absurdly grateful that a woman 30 years younger will go out with them; 4) they are half-blind so will not notice an extra roll of fat if the liaison ever gets to that stage;

The disadvantages are: a) You may end up being a nurse, b) older men often have bad memories which can be a nuisance, c) if, as is likely with this age-group, you are going out with a widower, you will have to fend off the hordes of tenacious women who knew him first. (one friend who, at 55, married an older expatriate vicar whose wife had died, had to spend weeks unpacking his freezer. It was stuffed with out-of-date dishes cooked by elderly hopefuls.

Nevertheless, I decided to set aside my prejudices and boldly rang an older man I had met at a Christmas party. Some friends had invited me over for a cosy supper so I asked if I could bring him. I hoped he would be flattered that I, a younger woman, found him interesting and, indeed, on the telephone he seemed to be. But I was in for a shock. The door of the basement flat where I went to collect him was opened by a pert-looking woman with hennaed hair, at least 15 years older than me, holding three West Highland terriers on leads. She offered me a drink - my date was standing subserviently in the passage - then took me into a room with a four-poster bed where she announced that she was staying the night. (She lived in the Home Counties where her husband farmed.) She dramatically threw open a wardrobe and showed me a large collection of her clothes on hangers, thus stating, in no uncertain terms, that she was my date's permanent mistress.

After that chastening experience in an oldie Den of Vice, my plans were thrown off course once more when the blond student whom I had met in the summer rang again, this time leaving his number. I rang back. He was returning to university the next day but offered to travel from Epping just to see me for an hour. (I explained that I was going to a dinner-party - with oldies - which I couldn't cancel. I thought of taking him, but worried that my friend Duncan might make a pass at him.) When he appeared, he was far better looking than I had remembered. He looked like a Greek god. Clutching a book on Wittgenstein, he stared me in the eyes several times. We drank some wine and talked about philosophy - at least, he did and I tried to. (I had dropped out of my philosophy course at Edinburgh University in 1969. I kept my mouth firmly shut about the date.) All too soon, I had to leave. He promised to telephone when he returned from university.

After this, everyone at the dinner seemed far too old. Even Duncan's handsome, tanned 47-year-old face looked lined and ravaged. (He and I were the youngest.) Another guest, one of the most handsome men of his generation, said that he had recently had a check-up for a heart murmur and had to go back for further tests.

"Have you had your obituary done yet?" I asked conversationally. (He had once been very successful in the media.) Everyone else at the table became paralysed with heartless laughter. I explained that I had meant it as a compliment. My mind was on the subject as I was writing a pre-obituary on another interesting and charming older man. I was taking it very seriously and still hadn't read all his 15 novels, let alone his autobiographies and biographies. He was married, unfortunately, but I was spinning out the task by doing personal interviews every so often. Our last meeting had been a tete-a-tete lunch in a pub where I had asked: "Are you a Christian?" and avidly taken notes.

Anyway, my interest in older men had now been ruined by the vision of the young Greek god from Epping. With him in mind, I thought of The Rules, the book that was a hit in America recently, teaching women how to play hard to get. You have to be very disciplined. One rule is that you must never, ever, phone a man. (I had already blown this, as I had telephoned the young man back.) If he shows interest in you at a party, walk away and talk to another male. His hunter-gatherer instincts will be so aroused that, even if the second man is gay, the first man will assume that he is a heterosexual competitor. (I had not done this, either, at the summer party where we had met. I had gone straight out to dinner with the young man.) If he telephones you for a date, refuse the first time. (I had accepted, although I had gone out to the oldies later on my own.) Do not sleep with him for at least three months. (I did not know if I would ever see him again, let alone sleep with him.)

Duncan says we must both buy skin-tightener. You can get it in any good chemist. It lasts an evening but you have to be home by midnight, like Cinderella