Real men know when to give up

Growing old gracefully does not mean cleaning out the toolshed - unless, of course, you want to

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Growing old gracefully is one of the few things men do better than women. Like Stilton or port or carpets from Isfahan they ripen, expand, mellow and, in some cases, actually get better looking. Old men snoozing on park benches in late-afternoon sunshine have a dignity you simply don't find in crabby old women swathed in woolly scarves pulling shopping baskets behind them complaining about everything. Dignity is one thing. Honesty is the other virtue men carry with them into old age. They can live with grey hair and wrinkles, whereas we spend a fortune vainly trying to keep ourselves looking the way we did 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago.

Growing old gracefully is one of the few things men do better than women. Like Stilton or port or carpets from Isfahan they ripen, expand, mellow and, in some cases, actually get better looking. Old men snoozing on park benches in late-afternoon sunshine have a dignity you simply don't find in crabby old women swathed in woolly scarves pulling shopping baskets behind them complaining about everything. Dignity is one thing. Honesty is the other virtue men carry with them into old age. They can live with grey hair and wrinkles, whereas we spend a fortune vainly trying to keep ourselves looking the way we did 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago.

I ran into a friend recently who looked as though she had just run into a bus. "What happened to your face?" I gasped. "Temporary bruising," she said, patting her damaged cheek. She had just had that new treatment where they freeze your wrinkles, pump them full of collagen and, after three days, your skin looks the same as it did when you were 16. It didn't seem the right moment to remind Angela that when she was 16 we called her "Acne Annie".

What prompted these serious intimations of immortality was the much-publicised account in the papers of a press conference held by the ageing television game-show host Bruce Forsyth, at which he complained bitterly about being unfairly eased out of his job by the ITV controllers. Shafted is how he put it. Liberated is how I would put it, for surely no sane person would want to be hosting a television game show called Play Your Cards Right at the age of 72. I've never actually seen Bruce Forsyth on television, which, my friends tell me, is something of an achievement because he has apparently dominated prime-time TV for the last 30 years. I wonder what I was doing instead. Learning Arabic, making marmalade, freezing my wrinkles.

Will the Forsyth Saga force me to revise my opinions about men growing old gracefully? Certainly not. One swallow doesn't make a summer. One game-show host doesn't make - well, anything much except perhaps make me feel that being a household word on television doesn't count for a great deal if, when you've reached your three score years and 10, you don't want to call it a day and spend more time in your household.

Ah, maybe that's the problem. Could it be that prime-time evenings spent asking half-witted contestants half-baked questions to enable them to win a fridge freezer and a holiday in Torre Del Mar is preferable to an evening at home with Mrs Forsyth? I read somewhere that Mrs Forsyth is a former Miss World some 30 years younger than her husband who rejoices in the name of Wilnelia. I bet it was Wilnelia who made him buy that dreadful toupee. There's another thing; graceful veterans don't wear wigs.

There's a depressing statistic about retirement that shows that the more high-powered you are in your job, the sooner you are likely to kick the bucket when you retire. Harley Street consultants, for instance, who carry on practising into their eighties stay healthy and happy. Harley Street consultants who retire at 65 are generally pushing up the daisies long before their seventies. It's something to do with the boredom factor, and I can well believe it. If the people I know who've retired are anything to judge by, they're bored of being nagged by their wives to do something, anything, make a rockery, take up landscape painting.

I dread sitting next to people who say "Retired? I've never been so busy in my life..." Growing old gracefully does not mean cleaning out the toolshed - unless, of course, you want to, and there are people who do. But somehow I don't think Bruce Forsyth is one of them. He will die in harness, gradually winding down to afternoon shows on shopping channels until he finally ends up with an early-morning phone-in quiz on digital radio. Don't do it, Bruce. Put your foot down. Tell Wilmelia you need a break, you've had enough. We certainly have.

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