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Getting on with getting old: There's no fool like an old fool, but Eric Newman says it is possible to defy brain rot

BEING FIFTY or sixty- something, and suddenly out on your ear - or occupationally challenged, as the politically correct would have it - can be a daunting experience. But take heart, fellow sufferers. More famous men than us have enjoyed a comeback after being cut off in their prime (Napoleon) or having their prime cut off (Bobbitt).

The need now is to take stock of your new situation: what are your strengths, if any, and just how long is your list of weaknesses. Your wife will know, but you don't need to ask her - she'll be telling you quite frequently from now on anyway.

Let's begin with your physical appearance. The chances are that, given your seniority or length of service in your previous occupation, no one had the nerve to tell you what you actually looked like. You may well have done what most of us did: get stuck into whatever freebies were on offer, let yourself go, and finish up looking like Patrick Moore on a bad day.

So, now that you have plenty of time and nothing much else to do, why not try getting into a healthier state, for starters? There are some quite good incentives, such as avoiding coronaries and strokes. It couldn't be simpler: less of everything, to begin with. Then, some slightly more strenous exercise than you have been used to. The rewards could be worth it - revitalising your sex life, getting your gut back inside your trousers, living long enough to see most of your enemies dead, to name but a few.

Jogging not your style? Suffering from agoraphobia? Not good enough excuses, I'm afraid - not since they've come up with indoor exercise machinery. It is possible now to sit in your own lounge watching television or raunchy videos, and at the same time be rowing the equivalent of the Atlantic or cycling along with the Tour de France. And I'm not talking about any of this fancy virtual reality business, wearing a weird helmet and dubious glove - I'm talking hard, sweaty effort. An inventive friend of mine has even got his one-wheeled bike rigged up to produce electricity. Granted, it's hardly got the output of Niagara Falls, but he claims he can at least shave now without troubling the National Grid.

A course in self-improvement might also be a good idea. I know a healthy mind in a healthy body is a lot to ask at our age, but one out of two wouldn't be all bad. You could start with some mental gymnastics. A professor at Manchester University is conducting experiments, using the ageing likes of you and me, into what he calls 'brain rot' - defined as the rate at which we become more forgetful and generally slide downhill mentally.

Sadly, this brain shrinkage is irreversible at present, but it seems we can slow it down to some extent. 'Use it or lose it' applies upstairs as well as elsewhere; it requires more than just adding pages 2 and 4 of the Sun to your reading schedule. Try chess, crosswords or mastering any DSS document of more than seven lines.

Remember also that there's no fool like an old fool, so never admit that you are one. Do as Teresa Gorman did: lie. She knocked 10 years off her age to get into the Commons. Mind you, she also uses hormone replacement therapy to maintain this illusion and I am not at all sure what this does to the male form. Do let me know how you get on if you try it.

Set yourself targets. Use your imagination as a stimulus; the more outlandish the idea, the better. For instance, as soon as you have got yourself back into an acceptable condition for your age, you could enrol as a nude male model at your local art class ( pounds 5 an hour, but I found it draughty work). No need to worry about the odd wrinkle: they can add a welcome hint of experience.

Hobbies are another source of inspiration. Breeding things, except perhaps children, can be rewarding. But a word of warning: don't get too attached to whatever you are acting in loco parentis to. If someone wants to use your stick insects in the cause of science, then provided the price is right limit yourself to ensuring prompt delivery and leave it at that.

So take heart. Your second chance to really be somebody could still come.

Remember that at 62 Winston Churchill was still a washed-up has-been on the Commons back benches. You never know when the call to greatness may arrive.

(Photographs omitted)