On Being Seventy

I’m going to be a little indiscreet here, and I apologise in advance to any of those who were present at the occasion I’m describing and feel uncomfortable about what I’m about to reveal.

Is this how it’s going to be from now on?

On Friday I was seventy. I should say I’ve never had trouble acknowledging the passing of years before now. This time, however, the number choked me. It seems so impossible an age, and not the person I see myself as being. Or perhaps I should say ‘saw’ myself as being, because now, I do. I have to.

In 2019 I was commissioned by a big organisation to lead on a project to design what was to be the major element of their creative theme of the year. The first meeting took place at the offices of the digital render company who would build and launch the project, so we could all talk and get the ball rolling on the design work. There were quite a lot of people around the table, including the digital company’s Managing Director. I was the only old man at the table. Most around it were in their late twenties to mid thirties. The M D looked super cool, a bit of a surfer-boy-turned-exec. He was, if I’m honest, a tad prickly, as he’d lobbied for his company to provide in-house design. Instead he got me. As the creative talk began and ideas flew around the table, I listened carefully before beginning to throw in suggestions that I could see were going down well with the team from the organisation who’d commissioned me. I could see I was making a lot more work for myself, but on the plus side all the thematics of the project were going to play to my strengths. Toward the end the MD turned to me and said that if I found the pace and demands of the project to be too much, his team would be happy to take on any work I wasn’t up to completing. The air around me turned to ice.

The MD was being a twat. But just as I drew a sharp intake of breath before releasing a fusillade, the Art Director of the commissioning organisation stepped in and quite sharply explained to the MD that there would be no designer on the project other than me. And that’s the way it went. I wasn’t yet out of the woods. The Project Manager at the digital company threw deadlines at me throughout the design process that would have daunted a man half my age. I worked through weekends and nights for three weeks. It was a sort of hell, though it was also exciting.

I never missed one of those deadlines, and I’m proud of that. And in the end the project looked damned good. The old man pulled it off.


I’m guessing there’s going to be more of this, as time goes by. People will look at me when I walk into a room, and make assumptions. That bothers me, a lot. Keep watching. I’ll let you know how it all works out.

13 thoughts on “On Being Seventy

  1. I’M WRITING THIS IN CAPITALS BECAUSE I’M SOOO CROSS. Let them BE BOTHERED not you!
    Let them be disturbed by the knowledge that your ‘gentle years’ and all that they contain, bring with you.
    Stopping now, or I’ll start swearing, your young, belligerent (70 next year, I hope) chum.
    Bern xxx

    • No need to be cross. I dealt with it and I came out of the situation having proved something to myself, which was that I could adapt to new ways of working with a team of people who wanted things delivered in a different way to what I was accustomed to, and still produce great results. I WAS angry that he was manipulative and patronising at our first meeting, but at least I knew where I stood, and was able to be on my game right from the starting-pistol. There were times when I was deeply conscious that if I slowed any of the schedule down, then he’d pounce to lay the blame at my feet, so I worked like a galley-slave to bring everything in not just on time, but in good time.

      There will always be a gulf between the young and the old, between innocence and experience. We all see things from the perspectives of our ages. Most likely we’ve all been guilty, in youth, at looking at older people and making assumptions, though I would hope not voicing them. I can recall pushing the envelope with my father, making him step beyond his comfort zone because I needed to prove to myself that he was still ‘OK’. (And I recall the look on his face of being outraged and hurt when I made him walk further and higher than he’d been prepared for one summers day in the countryside. But he made it to the summit, in his suit and polished shoes, with his mackintosh over his arm. And he ate his sandwiches – which I’d prepared though hadn’t told him about – with evident relish.)

      • If you age with the grace and finesse of ‘Bampy Trevor’ then he’ll be smiling, somewhere, behind his ‘tash.’ I remember when 30 was old!
        Tee hee, with glee,tra la, la lee.
        Love from Bernee xx

  2. Happy Birthday Clive ¡¡¡

    I am older than you, and I have a trick which I learnt from my grandmother: I only celebrate birthdays every five years. On the years with 5, and the years with 0. And I count those years in advance. That is, I admitted being 70, on my 66th birthday, 75 on my 71st, and now, I admit to being 80, since my 76th birthday. Like that, people tell me I look younger, and I know I really am younger, even if only by a few months. But I say I stay younger thanks to Clint Eastwood’s CBD oil, so they stop bothering me about my age. (If Clint is great at 90, and he says it is because of his hemp oil, they think I still have time in me.)
    And, most important: I have five years to come to terms with my being my age.
    And when I first began using “viejecita” as a nickname, I was jus barely 63.
    Being old and feeling youger inside is great.
    Love from Madrid
    ¡ Muchas Felicidades !

    • Maria, when I was a young choreographer I always pretended to be older, so that people wouldn’t count my youth as inexperience. I didn’t add much, usually three to five years. Much later, when I was still friends with some of those same people I’d worked with, they often told me how much younger I looked than my age! Ha ha!

      I think your idea is a great one. I’m now going to start telling people I’m seventy-five. Thank you for the excellent tip!

  3. (Something wrong with this reply system, I can’t see what I’m typing, but I’ll have a go anyway I’ve tried writing it elsewhere and copy pasting)

    I agree with Phil, 70 is the new 50, in fact I was going to say that but Phil got there first!
    Clive, you had such a rotten time of it, and yet you came up with a wonderfully engaging result despite the ghastly stuff that was going on. I often think one of the prerequisites of an artist is to have a fair bit of terrier in him/her. The important thing here was you doggedly kept true to the style you were contracted for, luckily for the Art Director who could probably see his vison of a uniquely interactive website being smashed to smithereens by the MD; and lucky for the the AD that you came up with such superbly refreshing ideas, the juxtaposition of the digital and the uniquely designed, handcrafted feel worked beautifully. Let’s hope the MD has learned a thing or two from the Old Master!

    Whilst I agree with some of what Ian Baker says, and I admire his life choices, I would not scoff at anyone who chose to have a “safe” life: i.e. mow his lawn and get a pension, even what he calls “timid lives” are just as important to society as anyone, in fact if it were not for the diversity of people’s life choices, the world of humans would be pretty boring. No life is a safe life due to the nature of the beast, in essence it’s whatever floats your boat isn’t it? xxL (and another HAPPY BIRTHDAY from hot sunny France!)

    • Dear Lizzie. You and I are softly spoken and courteous in our daily dealings with people, and I think that many who take us for a soft touch, including the patronising MD, don’t suspect that we are indeed tough little terriers who take no hostages. I’ve seen you in action when stirred to anger, and watched grown men wither when those blue eyes of yours turn to ice. I never want to go to war in matters of work, because the best results come from collaboration and mutual respect. But when taken advantage of, or lied to, or bullied, we both unleash our inner terriers. Nothing wrong with that.

  4. I am 74, still going, not strong, but slowly now. There are people half my age who are twice my weight and never been further than the airport for a flight to the sun or down the local pub or bookies.

    I gave up wild camping in my self converted motorcaravan nearly 4 years ago as it died of rust. It was the 5th vehicle I converted on my own, and over the past decades I have explored all of the UK and Ireland with my partner.

    Don’t let any younger person criticise you unless they have walked where you have been, done what you have done. Most people lead timid little lives and cut their lawns to show stripes and save for their pension and like one of my schools friends, are middle at age 14. Go on doing your own thing. There is literally no one else on the planet who can do it instead.

    Time limits and deadlines are the torture tools of incompetents who need you to do what they can’t, but don’t like to admit it to themselves. The world is full of bosses like Gordon Britass, who don’t like the way you do the job, yet can’t do it themselves. I have a friend who at the age of 78 started building a new barn on his own. He did it.

    It is so easy to play games on a computer and delude yourself you are any good at anything else.
    I am reminded of a very famous American businessman who was advised to hire management consultants to help bring his business up to date. He replied that he would start employing them when they sold their houses and bought shares in his company.

    Now I must carry on packing for our next holiday. Leaving tomorrow and staying at 5 locations and ending up on The Hebrides and will be back in 19 days time.

    The most inspiring words I ever heard come from a King Crimson song on the Earthbound LP
    “It don’t make no difference what you think about me.
    It makes a whole lotta difference what I think about you”

    I am a great fan of the larger than life Robert Gibbings who made book artwork into a beautiful thing in its own right and lived an interesting life. I love you work.
    Ian…..in rural essex

    • Thank you, Ian for that wonderful comment, full of ideas and spirit. You clearly lead a full and rewarding life, and I admire that. Have a great holiday.

      I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that in collaborative situations they will play fair, be respectful and work with me to assure the best results. I always start from a position of courtesy. But the moment I’m taken advantage of, then they get to see the Jack Russell they’ll wish they hadn’t stirred. I’m not a big man, and early on I had to learn how to take care of myself. Never could abide a bully.

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