How to grow old

Photographer Fenna de King captured the true beauty of last weekend's swell.

By Phil Jarratt

Your grey (actually more like white) and grizzled columnist has a significant birthday today, and while I do not ask for your sympathy, I do ask for your indulgence while I explain the significance. And six of the best if there’s any noise up the back!

The significance relates to the likelihood that if you reach the Biblical three score and 10 you are henceforth living on borrowed time, and should therefore put your house in order, literally and metaphorically. Given the way I’ve lived my life so far, this is unlikely to happen, so friends have stepped up with advice, the most poignant of which was a small parcel that arrived by snail mail from America about a week ago, preceded by daily reminders from its over-excited sender that I should check my mailbox.

The sender is, and always has been, five years my senior, and one of my dearest friends. His name is David Hill, of which there are many, but in Australian media circles there are only two of note – one used to run the ABC but is more famous for making the trains run on time, the other is famous for inventing Daddles the Duck and reinventing televised cricket for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Although I’ve amicably shared the Mitchell Library reading room with the former, the Daddles bloke is my lifelong mate.

Over the many years we’ve shared family celebrations of birthdays, weddings, christenings, whatever, in various parts of the world. We were together in London for the Olympics in 2012 as the sea parted when he entered the International Broacdast Centre and for the first time I realised what an impact he had made on the global landscape of televised sport. We were together in Mexico in 2014 for the wedding of his son Julian, and we were together again in London in 2018 when he confronted a cancer diagnosis.

We are joined at the hip, which is why Hilly must share his discovery with me. “Have you checked your mailbox?”

Yes I have, you stupid old bastard, and I love you for it!

It’s a small, slim volume, that my friend received for his own recent significant achievement of three quarters of a century, and had to pass on because it contains the wisdom of the ages. The Ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero didn’t set out to write a self-help book in 44BC when in his early 60s– read late 70s for now – he had a late life crisis that involved a parting with a wife, a brief second marriage with a much younger woman – wow, I thought we invented all of that – the death of a much-loved daughter and career disintegration following a blue with Caesar, but he found the exercise of forming an attitude to the final phase of life hugely therapeutic.

Of course Cicero didn’t call it How To Grow Old – that would come from a marketing hack a few millenniums later – but what we need is all right here. Hilly told me he read it in an afternoon, sitting in the breeze on an Adirondack chair at their Cape Cod place last month. I’m trying to achieve the same effect, looking across the river to the North Shore from my dreamy late-life home office.

Just as I was getting into it the swell came up and I had to reorder my priorities, which to me is a statement in itself about how to grow old, but I’m back into it now, and here are the takeaways:

A good old age begins in youth. The qualities that make our later lives productive and happy should be cultivated from the beginning. Miserable young people do not become happier as they grow older. [Unless they invented an app or invested in krypto.]

Old age can be wonderful. The senior years can be very enjoyable if we have developed the proper internal resources. [And don’t have arthritis in too many places.]

There are seasons to life. Nature has fashioned human life so that we enjoy certain things when we are young and others when we are older. Attempting to cling to youth is useless. [Unless the youthful person in question happens to be your fourth wife.]

Older people have much to teach the young. [If only they’d take their headphones off and listen.]

Old age need not deny us an active life, but we need to accept limitations. [Except when we surf.]

Sex is highly overrated. The reduction of sensual appetites gives us room to enjoy other aspects of life that are much more satisfying and lasting. [Speak for yourself, Cici!]

As you would expect from one of the world’s great philosophers, Cicero does make a few cogent points, and in general I like where he’s going with this. It just needs a bit of work.

No doubt I’ll go back to this little book again and again as the years progress and the flesh grows weaker, but for me the code right now, and forever more is simply this: surf till you drop.

The swell from heaven

Short, sharp, clean, beautiful, not that crowded. A multi-sourced swell that doesn’t even have a name, it will be remembered locally as the breaking of the drought. Perhaps not enough motion of the ocean to alter the sand flow, but certainly enough to remind us all that the Southern Goldie doesn’t own the copyright on deep sand barrels.

Ace photographer Fenna de King shot these golden images of sweet Sunday on the points. Check out more of Fenna’s great work at