Do you know what a curmudgeon is?
I arrived at my swimming spot and found it full of people. Swimmers and picnickers and cars and folding chairs and rugs and towels spread wide. And kayaks and dogs and stand-on boards and bridge jumpers. And I thought, how dare they. Make way. Go home. I want to swim. It’s a beautiful day, and I want to swim.
I find it dismayingly easy to be a curmudgeon these days. I didn’t use to be. It seems to be something to do with ageing. I remember being aware of elderly curmudgeons when I was younger; subconsciously conscious of a certain scorn for them. Grumpy old … Unsmiling … Disapproving … Move over, Grampie, was my subconscious thought: we’re coming through, we young people. Watch out.
Nowadays I’m one of them. An ageing baby boomer who’s had his day and wallows in gloriously blessed sunset years. And, while I’m endlessly grateful for what life has dished out, I find it increasingly easy to be a curmudgeon. As if I haven’t lived. As if I’m not gloriously blessed. As if the world, and all those younger than me, owe me something. Space in my swimming spot, especially.
It seems that we become grumpier and more cantankerous as we age. It’s noticeable that older people are more likely to make inappropriate comments; and their behaviour is often excused with the understanding that they are “from a different time”.
But psychologists say this, if true, is only part of the problem.
Research from the University of Queensland, Australia, showed the brain’s frontal lobe – which is involved in regulating our thoughts – gets smaller as we age. This means elderly people may lose their ability to censor inappropriate thoughts, making them less restrained and more likely to vocalise offensive viewpoints!
“They may have said them anyway, depending on their personality when they were younger,” said researcher Dr Abrams. “But for the most part, they probably wouldn’t have … Once we reach that old age where our brains start to lose that ability, those more hidden parts, those more subconscious thoughts, we are less able to inhibit them.”
So, there you are. It’s not my fault. It’s an age thing. So maybe I can’t help it.
But, no, of course. Now knowing, I am complicit in my curmudgeony-ness, and I must remedy it. Compensate for my shrivelling brain. I shall. I shall continue to arrest myself when I find myself grouching. And my wife is sure to help.
Have you ever read Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant? You must. I could relate it, but if you read it yourself … well, it can move one to tears. I will say that (amongst other things) it’s a short story of a converted curmudgeon. A mean old giant learns a cardinal and eternal lesson of life.
As am I, as I work on my decreasing frontal lobe!
It really was a beautiful scene. There was such a lovely mood of family and fun after all. The kids were splashing and paddling, the dogs were romping, barbecue smells wafted. The sun shone, the water, full tide, sparkled. I was suddenly grateful to and for all those people sharing my swimming spot. I was glad for them to enjoy it … briefly.