GRIFF RHYS JONES: Now I'm 70, I have a **** it list

Now I’m 70 I don’t have a bucket list, I have a **** it list… so I’ll never go to a formal dinner, a fireworks display, an endless guided tour or a stadium rock gig ever again, writes Griff Rhys Jones

I’ve just reached the national speed limit. The biblical allocation. You may gibber that three score and ten is the new two score and ten.

You can try to reassure me that these are ‘the wonder years’. That at least I’m not 80, that I can wear purple and shout at the traffic, that I can become a regular contributor to the Oldie magazine, that it’s only a few more years until the ‘National Treasure Status’ for little more than the ability to outlive Rik Mayall, Mel Smith and Robbie Coltrane.

But I can’t be sanguine about being 70. I hadn’t planned for this. My dad told me that, despite a portly form, thin white hair and age spots, the bloke inside him was still essentially a student. The one he’d been at the age of 20.

I am about 14. Yes, I grew up, put aside short trousers and worked out how to avoid bores, but sometime around the early-interest-in-girls years I became my fixed, immutable self. I don’t think the essential inner me has changed since then.

For God’s sake, I still like toys. I bought a model steam beam engine only three weeks ago. I crave cream cakes and peas (in the same meal if not on the same plate). I don’t pretend to any extra wisdom or diminished appetite. I am not and never will be ‘mature’. Only half my face grows a beard.

Feet up at home: But Griff won’t be idle for long. Now that he has reached 70 he is determined to make the most of life

Griff Rhys Jones (right) with brother William and a chimp in 1956

When I meet an old person, by which I mean a 50-year-old, I naturally think they are a bit doddery, slow on the uptake, possibly ‘elderly’ compared to me. I went for my flu jab the other day, in the same place that I got the Covid one — some half-abandoned hut on a Suffolk showground — and the improvised clinic was thronged with stooped old white-haired folk, walking in small steps.


Without thinking, I assumed I had come to the wrong place. This is no lie. I thought ‘care home’ and ‘mistake’. I turned to get out, but a passing nurse took me by the elbow and gently turned me around.

‘Here we go, dearie, this way.’ That’s what she said. To me.

‘But you don’t understand, nursey. I have a mirror in my bathroom. I can stand under the light at a certain angle and I look about 40. Don’t get me confused with these old crocks.’

But 70! There’s no fudging that, is there?

When I turned 60, my daughter got all her mates together and threw a party. They dressed up as nurses, served canapes in drugs trays and pushed my friends and me around in wheelchairs. Oh, how we laughed.

It’s not that we couldn’t repeat that and laugh again — except, surely, that was just yesterday, wasn’t it? Three years past, at most. Not ten years ago. Why is it all speeding up?

There was that incident, a while back. I got my Freedom Pass at 60. This was one of the greatest benefits of old age — a mad idea from former London Mayor Ken Livingstone to give millionaires like me a free ticket to the Underground. I started to go everywhere by bus and train. So much quicker than waiting for that antiquated car-share scheme called the London taxi. But then I went down to Great Portland Street station and it just didn’t work.

Obviously being a middle-aged man (a late-middle-aged man), it was impossible for me to ask for help. A kindly guard noticed me standing in front of the barrier and distractedly waving my pass, walking back and trying to surprise it, you know, the proper technical way, and asked if I needed assistance. I said: ‘My thing doesn’t work.’

1963: This picture of my pretty sister Helen and me was taken at our family home in Epping in Essex. It might have been an outer London suburb, but the capital felt very remote back then. My mother Gwynneth appears to be carving the Sunday roast

‘Essex boyo’ Griff Rhys Jones is pictured at his farm near Goodwick, Pembrokeshire, Wales

He said: ‘How old are you?’

‘Sixty five, yesterday,’ I said.

‘Well, there we go. It’s run out.’ he said.

‘How can it have run out? This was given to me by Ken Livingstone until I die.’

‘You have to get another one at the age of 65 . . . for really old people.’


But why, oh why is it all going so quickly? The writer John Mortimer pointed out that everything speeds up as you start to slow down.

‘Your 60s run away, the 70s flash by, and when you get to the 80s you can’t keep up with it.’

When the great movie director Billy Wilder got to 90, he told someone that he felt he had wasted his 80s. So he decided he had to get back to work.

It’s like being inside one of those sand-timers. You’ve been sprawled on the grit, having a picnic, peering out at the distorted world and then the ground beneath starts to shift.

It’s slipping through the hole. It’s all beginning to run away and you are going to go with it. Hold on. Wait. Wait. I am not ready for this. I haven’t even started a career yet.

There is a gallon of heart-warming silvery-haired spew about the ‘wonder years’, ‘the best is yet to come’, ‘salt and pepper, grey pound, silver surfer’ twaddle. It all seems a little bit desperate to me. Do not go gentle into that down-sizing.

Advertisers seem to think that you want to sit on a dock looking at a stretch of glittery water with some mountains in the background. As if you now deserve to be bored silly.

The big dilemma, as I see it, is do you scrabble to finally write that children’s book, appear on Radio 4’s Just A Minute, commit to playing a surly detective in some apparently paradisiacal setting where everybody is murdering each other for no reason for seven seasons (as if), do Glastonbury, play a revisionist Romeo at the age of 92?

Or do you start jumping out of planes, exploring seven cities in autumn, learning to cook in Bologna, learning a new language and playing trombone in a jazz band: all the things that you thought you really wanted to do when you were working so hard. Or do you do both?

I am only too aware that some of the people — people I always thought were my seniors and now turn out to be roughly the same age as me, like the King for example — seem to have launched themselves into geriatric hyperactivity.

I am frightened by how much I might have to do to keep up. Over-achieving wrinklies have become the role models of the era.

You can guarantee that any actor who we all thought had officially retired will suddenly reappear in a film as a digitally de-aged version of their younger self. Or have a baby with some deluded friend of their great-granddaughter’s.

I genuflect to Mick Jagger, though if I got down there would I ever get up again?

He’s not in a home. He’s out there, strutting about, posturing and flicking his barnet, goading the rest of the band to get at it, with a few running repairs to the heart and a replacement drummer on the way. Jagger is now planning his centenary tour, no doubt.

David Hockney fills a sketch book a day and is always daubing something colourful by new electronic processes. David Attenborough confronts hyenas in Botswana, for those series that take years to prepare, while at the same time signing long-term contracts with Sky.

And the thing that unites them all is that they are most emphatically still alive. The retired do tend to croak early, don’t they?

Listen to me, Elton. Don’t hang up Vegas. If you mean to see in your hundred and tenth year, you have to get that comeback tour under way.

I am clearly a mere stripling at 70. Ahead lies a neurotic 70s and active 80s and restful 90s, maybe. It’s all positively exhausting. I think what all these white-haired role models (or ginger-haired, if Mick) seek to show us is that work is the elixir of youth. This is all new.

My Welsh granny gave up the shop when she was 60. She owned a Fruiterers. She hobbled straight off to Old Person’s Supplies and bought the clumpy shoes, the bouclé coat and the thick specs and, lo, she was an old woman.

Me, even if I think Taylor Swift is a construction company, I’m always getting down with the kids in natty dark denim and bucket hats. I am now on Instagram so I also have nagging social media anxieties to share with the young. But in so many other ways I have left the stresses of early life behind. I can take my clothes off in a swimming pool dressing room.

I don’t fret about things that I can’t possibly control such as world poverty or transphobia, when with a bit of reasoned thinking, I can solve real problems like ‘where did I leave my shoes?’

It is, however, a race to the finish. I went to my doctor ten years ago and pointed out that my eyelids had got a bit flaky. ‘What people don’t know,’ he intoned, ‘is that there are tiny glands in your eyelids. They lubricate the skin. Yours aren’t working.’

‘What will get them going?’

‘No you don’t understand. They’ve run out. They’re empty. That’s your lot. They’ve finished. You’re old. Here, have some ointment.’

Medical science is going to start offering me replacements, supports, infusions and extractions, of course, but it is inevitable that other bits are going to run out too. They say that men in particular find utter bliss after 60 with all those silly responsibilities gone — and then something major inside starts clanking and the engine begins to fall to bits.

Obviously, I have to get going and do stuff. But I don’t have a bucket list. I have a f*** it list.

At the age of 70, life is genuinely too short for a hell of a lot of things. Or might be.

I have vows. I must eschew forced activity I am simply never going to do again. No more formal dinners.

Even a Roman orgy would have been dreary if you had to wear a dinner jacket and sit talking to the chairman’s wife. I’ve completely satiated any desire for stadium rock. (Bye Mick.)

Or whale watching. It’s nearly worth doing these things once, I’m sure.

But watch out for those loved-ones’ earnest entreaties, ‘Oh you’re going to love this,’ or. ‘It’s only an evening, you grumpy bastard’.

Firework displays, after-dinner speaking, poetry recitals, lengthy guided tours, three-day weddings, AGMs, school speech days. Night clubs. They’re the obvious ones. Dodge those bullets. (‘I’m just having my eyelids seen to that day, alas.’)

Put aside the obsessive habitual pursuits you think you enjoy.

No more long, self-righteous letters of complaint.

Watch out for the young at heart impulses. Don’t buy a racy supercar. Don’t climb yet another volcano — if they were doing anything worth seeing, except exhaling steam, they’d kill you.

Three-star meals that take four hours to dish up. Forego. Mind-expanding drugs. Clubs. Collections of magazines. Hoarding of any kind. Jeans. (The faded denim ones look like an alcoholic on day release and the Japanese rail worker dark ones with the turn-ups are reserved for young men with big ginger beards.)

Even some friends. (‘You don’t have to see them,’ Richard Briers said winningly, ‘most of my old friends are very boring.’)

So I know you’re thinking: ‘Yay. And eventually I can give up breathing and die.’ But we must overcome disdain.

I’m not boasting but I did my first bungee jump three years ago. I was forced to, for TV. But it cured my back-ache.

Karaoke! It’s asinine. I knew that. We all know that. I did it for the first time at my birthday dinner. I loved it.

I’ve never been on a cruise. I wouldn’t be seen dead on one. But I had better do it once, hadn’t I?

Line-dancing? Why not?

Do you know, I have never even played golf.

I’m not talking about new habits. I’m not bungee jumping ever again. God forbid. I am just echoing Alfred Tennyson:

‘Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done’

Fellow decrepits. If you haven’t read Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, that masterwork of pensioner active involvement, do.

You’ll immediately want to smite the sea’s sounding furrows and set sail. My God. I haven’t even yet played golf.

Or did I tell you that already?

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