Hard going being role model if you’re feeling old and cranky

On the eve of another birthday, I am doing my best to fight my cranky old woman tendencies.

I shudder at calling myself an old woman because I know there will be those who do not approve of anyone using the old word, and I am keen to avoid any controversy about woman as a descriptor too.

The ridiculous expression "60 is the new 40" would see me turning 46 tomorrow. That would make me pre-menopausal, still dyeing my hair, without a gammy knee or the aftermath of three arm fractures. Those were the days, my friends.

The reader who took issue with me using the terms laziness and being sidetracked in my most recent column over what they saw as the expressions’ negative connotations may be pounding the keyboard already. That anonymous person seemed to think I should be a role model. Are you mad?, I wanted to ask them, but that word mad is also fraught with undesirable connotations.

The expression role model is thrown about with gay abandon as soon as some sportsman falls from grace. Professional footy players are expected to be all things to all kids, as if paying a young man too much for running about and kicking and catching balls somehow transforms him into a paragon when actually, he is good at playing footy.

What might be expected of a role model of my age and stage? Playing footy is surely out of the question since I have yet to master an understanding of the rules, and did I tell you about my gammy knee?

Hopefully, in most situations a 60-plus role model would be able to act like a grown-up, remaining civil and not stamping their feet like a toddler when faced with the vicissitudes of life, no matter how much they might want to. (This might also include not boring everyone they meet with organ recitals — as in naming how many functioning organs they have left. Sorry about mentioning the knee.)

They might become increasingly aware of the preciousness that is life and the need to make sure they are kind and generous to those in their circles, family-close or friendship-wide (as Elizabeth Yates would say). There may be a selfishness in this — when members of the circles die, who remaining wants to be racked with guilt about the way they may have behaved?

In their families, the 60-plus role model might do well to do more listening than talking; less of the "in my day" and " I told you so" and more of the realisation that their kids need to work things out for themselves and are most likely to do it better than their parents did.

Since the stereotype of old people is that they are stuck in a rut, role models would do well to be prepared to challenge their thinking, or as musician/philosopher/comedian Tim Minchin puts it, be hard on their beliefs — "take them out on to the veranda and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege".

Although Tim gave that advice in an address to new graduates at his old university a few years back, the message is ageless. (I can recommend the speech as a refreshing take on a genre best known for its forgettability and torpor-inducing qualities.)

Not being sidetracked (oh dear, there is that loaded word again) by trivia when there are major world issues which need serious consideration would be another quality relevant to a role model. On that question, I beg indulgence. Being thankful for, well, almost anything is also important in a role model, so I reckon being thankful justifies my prurient interest in Boris Johnson’s "secret" (how secretive is something when a photo of it is released and splashed across newspapers) wedding to wife No3. I am thankful I am never going to come within cooee of this cad whose attention to vows in his previous marriages has been so woeful, who could take this trifecta seriously? I am thankful I cannot be one of his (insert number here because he seems to lack the arithmetic skills for this) children who must cringe at his mangy tomcat behaviour.

However, I cannot justify my trivial annoyance over the inability of many television and radio announcers and journalists to pronounce ing at the end of words rather than reduce it to een or the Prime Minister saying bin for been.

I know it doesn’t matter and probably just indicates how pronunciation is evolving but it does not stop me spluttering about it whenever I hear it.

No role model, then. Petty, cranky and still crazy after all these years. I’m off to the deck with the cricket bat.

■Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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