[As published in Jan/Feb BayBuzz magazine.]

This is the year I turn 50 … my gateway to the third age. I’ll be a fabulous senior. I’ll wear a velvet turban and clout goggles, and lie topless in the sun getting happy on vitD. I’ll garden in a kimono and hand-stitched babouches. I’ll give children boiled sweets from a paper bag I keep in my pocket. I’ll don an outrageous maquillage with rouge on my cheeks and Iris Apfel-lips. I’ll own a pekingese and do decoupage and collect antique thimbles. And I will be The Best at something … anything. 

If I start now I have a second-shot at being a prodigy. All the hot-housing in the world couldn’t save me as a child; I was just slightly above average at most things (and a bit crap at the rest). I often wished I had a secret talent. Like being a chess whiz or knowing all the Greek gods by heart or playing honky-tonk piano. Instead I’m okay at chinese-checkers, I know about 70% of the pantheon and I can play chopsticks as long as I get the easy part. 

Now I’ve got a decade and a half to really master something before I get my Gold card. It’s my second chance at being ahead of the rest and best of the best. It’s vital though that I choose soon because as Malcolm Gladwell coached us: “it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills.” If I set aside 12 hours a week, every week, for the next fifteen years then by the time I hit retirement age I’ll be an expert. 

About 40 years ago my friend’s mother introduced me to Mahjong and I loved the “chattering of the sparrows” and “going out” on a “chow, pong and kong”. I loved the feeling of the ivory and bamboo tiles, and the pretty little pictures of dragons. So perhaps I’ll take this up, get some You Tube tutoring and break out the set my Nana left me. There’s a lot of counting involved though, and you do need to concentrate. Tricky for an impatient active relaxer like me. 

Those are the exact same reasons I haven’t started my bridge training. Professors Punch and Snellgrove (Stirling Uni, 2020) researched what it takes to be an expert bridge player and found: “They need to be able to control their irritation with their own failings so as not to give their opponents an advantage through a verbal outburst, whilst also changing plans based on the ever-evolving game.” That’s me out before I’ve even started! 

I need to look for something that already plays to my strengths. There’s a pretty active Scrabble network in HB. The second-best scrabble player in NZ actually lives in Hastings. His other passion is beetles, so he’s an entomologist and an etymologist. For any logophile, that is a deeply satisfying thing to be. Scrabble though isn’t really for people who love words, it’s for people who can remember that cazique and cwm are both allowable in the Scrabble dictionary. I’m more of a Bananagrams fan and there’s no place for a game with no actual score on the OAP competitive past-times circuit.

Something really competitive does appeal. I like the idea of that dopamine hit when your heart rate is up. Apparently we get a similar hit when we win stuff…double the fun! But I’ve never been sporty so my muscle-memory is more aligned to ambling than actual physical exercise. I like a stroll, but there’s no competition in that, therefore it’s hard to be the best at it. 

There are some sports specifically designed for people who haven’t ever done sport before. Lawn bowls. Petanque. Croquet. They’re about right for an ambler, and for people who prefer chatting to sweating. Then there’s golf. That looks perfect, basically being a long walk with a few detours to look for balls in bushes. Golf though has a whole culture and language to learn. There are rules of conduct and a dress-code. You need to get to grips with all that, then you have to get to grips with your actual grip… and your stance, your eye-line, your follow through, your hips and your swing. 

If I wanted to think about my hips and my swing I’d take up Lindy Hop. I love watching jitterbug…but I also love keeping my centre of gravity low and my feet on the ground so I’d rather be a spectator than a participant. If there were prizes for best audience, then I’d have a shot.

Which brings me to pool. I’d dig being a granny with a monogrammed cue bag and a tailor-mode ferrule, hustling the youngsters, racking, chalking and pocketing like Paul Newman. Playing the patsy then knocking them sideways with a trickshot off the cushion and a faultless break’n’run. Better start soon to get that level of skill by 65. 

I could do all that, and pickle-ball too, but I probably won’t. I’ll probably just keep doing what I’m doing: being bog standard at most things (and pretty good at a few), having a go but not trying too hard. I’ll aim for average so I remain approachable and relatable. I’ll be the best at being ordinary just so I don’t intimidate people. Because what’s better than being best is just being yourself. That’s pretty much your only sure bet. 


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