The seven ages of love: 60s
Love: 60. The concept is as improbable in life as it would be in a tennis score. The two go together like my cat and the Large Hedron Collider. Or so I thought four decades ago when I was 22 and a review copy of a book on "Sex for the over-sixties" was sent in to the magazine where I worked. The features editor, as a diversion from his own shameful secret that he was over 30, had much fun in thinking of elderly, female literary agents to whom he might forward it anonymously. In the Sixties, nobody could possibly be in their sixties. Even my parents weren't that antique. Like The Beatles, I took "When I'm 64" to mean "When pigs fly over the Abbey Road studios".
It comes as a surprise to find myself at precisely that age and happily entwined with a fellow grandparent. Sadly, my wife never quite made it to her sixties. I never really accepted that her predicted death would actually take place, foolishly hoping that maybe there was some Faustian deal she could make, like forsaking her vaguely vegetarian principles and sacrificing a goat (a free-range goat, of course).
Unfortunately, there was no such pact. I never thought of having another partner after her death but I was rather taken by an intriguing woman at a party who purred, "We must meet for a drink and talk about our children." Although that was very tempting, I needed more: to discuss my grandchildren as well. Then I got lucky at another party; one of the other guests was an attractive woman on the look-out for a widower who liked going to the theatre. Those are two of my boxes she could tick anytime. It was like a sequel to the old song about a young and an old lover, "May to September", except that we're both September. Or perhaps October.
I felt at first like a new kid, or rather old kid, on this block. I can't claim, as did a widower of my acquaintance, "I never looked at another woman." (In fact, he was known in his City office as "Groping George". Maybe his eyes were shut while his hands were straying.) But for me looking was about as far as it got. Similarly, my wife fancied the radical barrister Michael Mansfield but saw him only twice on Newsnight.
Now I slipped rapidly into the cinema dates, the late-night phone calls, the shared gales of absurd laughter. Her dog was named Barney; so was my cat! Fate or what? There is, at first, the same inquisitive questioning from adults (this time it's one's children instead one's parents). But unlike teenagers, who act as if there is a local bylaw saying they are obliged to find a boyfriend or girlfriend by next Saturday night, senior lovers are under no pressure to become 50 per cent of a couple. They can begin easily as friends and take their time in becoming more than friends.
Meeting someone at 62 was different from meeting someone at 26. Like the figures, the priorities are reversed. We don't worry about what we're going to do with our lives because we're already doing it and have been doing it for decades. Unlike my poor children, we don't have to worry about a mortgage because we already have a house each (admittedly, it is the building society in my case but it will be paid off by at least the year 2099). If there were to be a lovers' tiff (not that there is, thanks to my perfect temperament), you can retreat not to your side of the bed but to your side of town.
At a stroke we have each doubled our friends, acquaintances and neighbours. A few overlap, as she has acted with people I have interviewed, and I have worked with the man who lives in the house next-door-but-three to hers; we can compare notes, not all of which are scandalous. We have doubled our spiritual quotient, too; she is connected to a Buddhist group and I have a token standing order with the local Quaker meeting. Neither of us can prove which is the One True Path but it is prudent to have a foot, or toe, in each.
We have doubled our exercise. I am joining her in the local lido and trying to conquer my water phobia. Despite the odd tumble into a blackberry bush, she is joining me on my country cycle rides and her knee will be better quite soon.
Some of our books overlap; better still, many of hers are the ones I wanted but never got round to actually spending money on. Her Motown and Bix Beiderbecke CDs are gradually migrating to my sound system. I have just borrowed her video of a classic crime caper movie which she doesn't watch because (a) her video-player is broken and (b) she doesn't need to, having typed out the script for her husband, who wrote it.
The downside is that we are set in our separate ways but the upside is that there is no need for either to wonder how the other is going to turn out. This is how we have turned out. What you see is what you've got. There is no denying that second love is second-best, in the sense that if the fates had behaved themselves, I would not have been bereaved and she would not have been divorced. However, given that the fates initially misbehaved themselves, it is wonderful that they are trying to make it up to us with a second helping of coupledom.
Since each of us is a second-hand rose, we lack the shared memory-bank of a long-term twosome. The good news is that with a fresh partner there are decades of totally fascinating personal dramas which can now be dusted down and told again. And again. "Did I ever tell you about?" I often ask. And, only too often, the answer is a gentle "zzzz".
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