Quiet, Late Achievers

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Yesterday, I spoke to a client who casually mentioned she used to be a lawyer. 

“At the age of 70,” she told me proudly, “after completing my eighth degree, I was admitted to the Supreme Court as a solicitor.”

“You must love studying,” I said.

“Well it’s better than housework,” she replied. She had gone on to practice for six years before retiring.

I thought of my own neglected house, and the tumbleweed of dust and fully formed cobwebs clinging to the corners. I, too, have better things to do than housework.

Such people are inspiring to those of us who were too busy working and raising children in our younger years to achieve other things. I marvel at anyone who is able to write and wrangle a family. Raising three children took all of my energy at the time.

A character in a book I’m currently reading—Mallachy Tallack’s The Valley at the Centre of the World—talks about growing older and how looking back starts to take the place of looking forward. I don’t like the thought that you stop having things to look forward to. Perhaps you do, but they just grow smaller.

My mother gave up at the age of about 70. She decided that she’d lived her biblically prescribed “three score and ten years” and said No to every opportunity that came along after that. “My world is finished,” she would say when we suggested she try something new. My father, on the other hand, retired at 80, bought himself a computer and found someone to teach him how to use it. He also took a flight down to Antarctica. Had my mother not been such a wet blanket, they could have had great adventures. They had money and good health, but my mother simply sat down and said No to everything. 

When we were in Bali recently, I found myself thinking often of my father. Like me, he loved seeing and learning new things. He would have loved to come to Bali. If he ever saw someone interesting in the street, he would go up and talk to them. He told me about a time when he and my mother were in Moscow. He saw a queue of people so he stood on the end to see what they were waiting for. Ice cream. So he bought one too.

It was my father who bought the set of beautiful encyclopaedias called The World and Its People that I used to pore over, sitting on the cool linoleum in his office. It was in those I first read about Iceland, leading to an obsession that finally saw me stand on the streets of Reykjavik in 1993, long before the hordes of tourists that now invade. I wonder what my father would have made of my travels in Nepal. Sadly, he had died before I went there. My mother’s only two questions were “What do they drink in Nepal?” and, “When are you going to get over going to these places?”

In May I am travelling to China for the first time. Another adventure. I have many others in mind after that. My hero, good old Dervla Murphy, published her last travel book in 2015 at the tender age of 84. She has finally accepted gracefully that her health is not strong enough for further travels, but having published twenty-six travel books in fifty-three years, I think she’s earned her retirement. 

I’m starting a bit later but I have a good few years left yet. 

2 thoughts on “Quiet, Late Achievers

    1. They did a lot of travel earlier on, but Mum just gave up when she got older for a number of reasons. Dad would have had so many more adventures if she’d been willing. She thought he was silly flying down to Antarctica. I wish he’d still been around when I travelled to Nepal. He would have loved to hear about it. They’re both gone now.

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