THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH – 29 November 1998
You are only as old as your inner Tony Blair
THERE can be few more accurate sayings than "you are only as old as you feel". Virtually everyone finds to their astonishment that their inner persona remains virtually unchanged over many decades, irrespective of the wrinkles, greying hair and other signs of age that might be taking place outside.
None the less, this "inner" age can vary widely. The significance of the Prince of Wales’s recent birthday, as the journalist Mary Ann Sieghart recently pointed out, was that it was a double celebration for, not only had he achieved his chronological half century, but had also finally reached his "inner" age, which has always been 50.
"He never looked comfortable when young," she writes. "He preferred the Goon Show to pop music. His passions – architecture, gardening and the language of the Book of Common Prayer, have always been those of the middle-aged."
The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition present an interesting contrast of "inner" ages.
William Hague, Mary Ann Sieghart hazards, is "around 62", while Tony Blair is "definitely 19. Left to himself he would live like a student, playing Oasis a bit too loud, with a saucepan in the sink lined with two-day-old congealed baked beans".
This disparity between their inner ages shows how misguided the Conservatives were in assuming that William Hague would naturally appeal to the young. He might have been born eight years later than the Prime Minister, but he is at least 40 years older.
The important point, however, is that whatever one’s inner age might be, it always remains the same.
Among the many benefits of modern medicine is that this inner agelessness can be prolonged well beyond the time that physical infirmity would be expected to confront people with the reality of their true chronological age. Dr Theodore Schwartz, from Chicago, describes the case of a woman who, after bringing up four children, embraced several additional careers, including "being an authority on ethnic dancing". By the age of 80, however, progressive arthritis in both knees had made her life increasingly painful and difficult. "I told her with earnest good humour that she was no longer ‘as young as she used to be’ and that a judicious reduction in physical activity was in order," Dr Schwartz writes. "Her response was explosive and instructive." She insisted on having both knees replaced and several years on "remains as active as ever, with straight legs and artificial knees, still teaching belly dancing".
The reason for this disparity between chronological and "inner age" is that the brain is much the most resilient organ in the body. Barring the annoying tendency to forgetfulness (and those unfortunates afflicted with a dementing illness), mental function and intellectual and emotional capabilities remain astonishingly consistent over time. Similarly, the decision to abandon one’s inner age and "become old" is as much a mental act as anything else. After recovering from a small heart attack in his late seventies Martin Grotjahn, a Californian physician, realised he "had had enough".
"I now sit in the sun watching the falling leaves slowly sail across the water," he writes. "I feel free from worry, almost free of this world of reality. I have become old. I have time now, I do not know how much, but I am in no hurry."
And that, ideally, is just how it should be. You stay feeling 25 (or, in the Prince of Wales’s case, 50) for the best part of 60 years, and then you "become old".
Copyright: Telegraph Group Ltd