So life has a way of teaching you lessons in the most unexpected way. One of mine occurred when attending a recent Christmas market with a friend.

Generally I avoid these affairs like the plague but my friend needed some moral support.

Did I mention that it was at a local old-age home – er – I mean lifestyle village?

Political correctness has dictated that we may not say the word – OLD. On the list of unforgivable things one should never mention is old, infirm, stupid and fat.

In the next ten years, these words will be banned from our language and modern dictionaries will have replaced them with more flattering and cumbersome alternatives… so I apologise in advance for my lack of… verbal finesse. As I have aged, I just don’t have time for that crap. I digress.

Nearing 50, I realise that old age is no longer just a vague notion that happens to other people

I feel it creeping up, when my joints are stiff in the morning and I spot another new wrinkle in the mirror.

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At the retirement Christmas market, I had the opportunity to see old age up close, and as people say – old age is not for sissies …

It is entirely un-glamorous, and surprisingly we are all headed there whether we like it or not. Living in a world that worships the young and beautiful, old age is a very real and unavoidable destination.

I have always baulked at the idea that I might end up in a retirement village

The idea horrifies me – rows and rows of small identical houses. No pets and no personality allowed. Bingo, bridge and canasta… save me now.

But perhaps I will only really appreciate this style of living when I have run out of options. When my kids have evicted me from an imagined cottage at the bottom of the garden, or when my neighbours complain about my nude moon bathing.

I have always planned on defying old age… but I guess it’s all about how you look at things

Perhaps these residents consider it the hip thing to do – like staying in a commune for geriatrics. I noticed that the bar was well attended. Now instead of wandering around in a haze of drugs – the oldies play dodgeball with dementia.

The Christmas market was fun, but I was fascinated by the accoutrements that come with old age:

Hip replacements are very hip.

Walkers are great for shopping as they have a built in basket for goodies.

False teeth are fashionable and very useful for munching mince pies.

Hearing aids are a common fashion accessory and bi-focals are all the rage.

Walking sticks are useful for balance and for poking at people in the way.

I noticed that selling to the elderly is a whole new challenge. They can’t read small print on packages and can’t hear what you are saying so the usual sales patter doesn’t fly. Don’t expect them to have an email address – huh!

Generally the folks wander around nodding and smiling benignly

They are polite and to my surprise, despite their advanced years, they are a chipper lot. Perhaps the Christmas market was the social highlight of the week. Maybe it was the flow of sherry and the nostalgic Christmas carols.

The stalls at the market were filled with an overflow of kitsch hand-made items ranging from woollen toy animals to baby jackets – all painfully knitted and created with arthritic hands. There were also lots of frilly coat hangers and crocheted angels for adorning Christmas trees. So many hand-made items that are sadly no longer fashionable.

A stand of knitted Barbie doll dresses would have been very in vogue in the ’70s – but today not so much. Today’s generation of kids are into Power Rangers and techno-gadgets.

A stunning toy wooden rifle made and crafted by an elderly gent was beautiful. It would have been very cool in the “old” days but not very fashionable for the current kids. Their parents decry violence and refuse to buy toy guns, and in the next breath buy their kids the latest TV game involving shooting, rape and pillage. The ironies are huge.

Sandwiched in the middle of the youth-obsessed and older generation, I am often confused by my conflicted ideas about ageing

Getting old is like having an incurable disease. Mostly I feel irritated that while I look like a middle-aged tannie I still feel like a cool 30 something – apart from the stiff joints and scary appearance in the mirror.

I remember that, when I was 18 years old, I thought someone in their late 30s was old. Now I think someone in their 70s is old.

If you reach 80 or older, it means you probably flossed a lot, have good genes and a good medical plan

I blame the segregation of the generations for our condescending attitude towards ageing.

Old people in the western world are farmed out into geriatric villages for a myriad of so-called sensible reasons – safety, security, social inter-action and health.

But this means that most of us head into old age blissfully unaware of the challenges and advantages of ageing.

Instead of treating old age like a dreaded disease we should see the friendly fossils as an inspiration

Devoid of the pressure to compete in this chaotic world, they instinctively gravitate to the things that really count.

Comfort wins over fashion, kindness wins over competition, family matters more and success matters less. Old people are discerning when it comes to money because they know that the best things in life can’t be bought.

Health is not about having a sexy body but more about shuffling to the toilet in time – bowel control is no longer an optional extra. Time cannot be taken for granted, so they use it wisely.

Old people are discerning when it comes to money because they know that the best things in life can’t be bought

The battle of the sexes is an issue for the young – men and women wrestling about their power and place in the world.

Look at most older couples and you will see the battle of the sexes has morphed into a truce. The clearly defined roles of men and women become less important.

At this Christmas market full of golden oldies I learnt a few lessons:

  • Instead of living in the past and glorifying our youth, we should remember that it’s not how old you are but how young you feel. Don’t let yourself be defined by a number.
  • Life is not about how we look, what we earned or what we accumulated – it’s about reaching the end of the race with good grace and experience.
  • No amount of Botox, vitamin E, lotions and potions are going to save you from the inevitable – wrinkles, liver spots and hair loss… Don’t waste your money making other people rich.
  • Ageing has its advantages – a failing memory will allow you to forget your faults, poor eyesight will help you ignore your imperfect image in the mirror and poor hearing will allow you to ignore the useless bombardment of information overload.
  • Without your spectacles you will notice life has a much softer focus. People who matter are not the young, famous or the beautiful, but those who never gave a damn.
  • In this life there are no “do-overs!”

I plan to be a geriatric rebel… my wheelie walker will have disco lights and a pouch for flavoured condoms… see me at the geriatric backpackers!

Trish Beaver is a freelance journalist, blogger and chocolate addict. Read more from her at www.trishbeaver.com