March 09, 2018

George Corones, 99, breaking the world record for the 100 m freestyle in the 100 to 104-year-old age group during the Australian Swimming Trials at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre last week.

When are you officially old?

Is it when you can’t do your shoelaces up without increasing your heart rate?

Or is it when you think Dr Dre is a herbal treatment for varicose veins?

The age issue has sparked discussion within these pages ever since one of our young whippersnapper reporters had the temerity to call a person aged 66 ‘‘elderly’’.

For some, the definition of elderly means someone at death’s door, while for others who are running marathons in their 70s, the term would be offensive.

I suppose it depends upon which end of the telescope you are looking through — and the telescope is not necessarily a chronological one.

In our culture, ‘‘elderly’’ carries a pejorative meaning.

It conjures walking sticks, shuffling gait, stooped posture and slow reactions.

To be called elderly means you are on the slow boat to Hades, which is a terrifying thought.

In other cultures such as the Japanese or Chinese and our own Aboriginal culture, elders are people who are respected for having survived the slings and arrows of life to gain wisdom and peace.

Nevertheless, in Australia old age does have some sort of legal definition — being the age at which the old age pension becomes accessible.

This was 65, but as people live longer the goalposts have shifted.

From July 1 last year, pension age became 65 years and six months.

After that, pension age will go up six months every two years until July 1, 2023.

So the definition of old age in Australia is a sliding one — until you reach 67, then you are definitely old.

However, the idea of old age has always been a sliding scale.

I have known people in their 20s who think and act like elderly people — depending on the drugs.

On the other hand I have met people in their 70s and 80s who would put a teenager to shame with their passion and versatility of thought.

Similarly, the description ‘‘immature’’ is equally elastic.

There are as many immature 60-year-olds as there are mature 20-year-olds.

Look, I reckon any bloke above 50 who wears length pants and a backwards cap has not matured — at least with dignity.

I also think a lot of people older than 60 are particularly immature when it comes to discussing issues of gender and politics.

I am in my 63rd year and I am surrounded by energetic 20-somethings who can discuss the state of the world with far more insight and perspicacity than many people my age.

I think I hold my own with them when it comes to banter, but not when it comes to mad mud-fest runs.

If someone called me ‘‘elderly’’, it would not bother me too much.

I play Call of Duty: WWII on Xbox and I know who Kendrick Lamar and Dr Dre are — so there.

If someone referred to me as elderly on a Monday morning after a particularly energetic dog-drag around the lake, I would agree.

On the other hand, if an elderly 66-year-old called me immature because I wear pointy boots and a tight shirt, I’d agree and settle into the sofa and plug into Spotify.

It is all in the mind.

Somebody once said age does not really matter unless you are a cheese.

There was a time when I thought I knew everything about life, but I was so much older then — I am younger than that now.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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