In 1979, Ian Dury and the Blockheads had a mega hit with a song called ‘Reasons to be cheerful, part 3’. Its opening line, repeated ad nauseum, was ‘why don’t you get back into bed’. At the time I was an extremely poor single mum, and nothing would have delighted me more than to get back into bed. Now, more than forty years later, it once again seems to me to be extremely good advice.
‘Reasons to be cheerful, part 3’ is what is usually described as a ‘shopping list’ song: once you resist the siren call of getting back into bed, the song is an endless list of reasons to cheer yourself up. Some of those items are still pertinent; some now, alas, deeply mysterious.
Recalling this song caused me to think: now that I’m 74, what would be on my list of reasons to be cheerful? So, with apologies to the late Mr D, here’s my list of ‘RTBC, part 4’.
Naps. Getting back into bed never goes out of style, and the older I get the more naps I can manage.
Hope. Changing the government feels positively therapeutic—my bolshie feminist roots have not deserted me, and I’m again excited about the possibilities of the incoming Labor Government.
Unemployment. After 60 years in the workforce, last month I stepped away from my last board role. Any moment now I expect to stop panicking about not having anything to do.
Music. Ian Dury’s original list contained lots of great music and musicians—John Coltrane and the Bolshoi Ballet are the two I remember. Bach and Brahms for me!
Teeth. I still have my own (mostly).
Friends and family. I have both and the time to pay them the attention they always deserved.
Growing stuff. I’m a farmer’s daughter, and I have discovered very late in life that I have a green thumb—who knew! And ferreting about in the dirt is very gratifying.
Cooking. Like most others of my generation, my mother was a truly awful cook. I learned to cook in self-defence. All these years later I still love it, and now I can do all those dishes that take lots of time (pig’s trotters, anyone?)
Impatience. I was born with very little patience, and I spent most of my working life disciplining myself to listen more, ask questions, take time to process information—so boring! Now, as the shadows lengthen, I feel no compunction about quick answers: there might not be time for slow ones!
Reading. I’m returning to the books I loved in my early adolescence: Dickens, the Brontës, the Russians (have just finished Dostoevsky’s The idiot)—long, satisfying reads. And I know how they all end, so there’s no need to rush!
Autonomy. After juggling work/life demands for so long, I’m now entirely relaxed about saying, ‘I don’t want to do that.’
Curiosity. These days I can take the time to investigate all sorts of things I’ve never thought about much, like dying. I have a very clever science journalist friend, Bianca Nogrady, who has written a book called The end, which is all about how your body shuts down as the process of dying begins. I plan to die in my sleep, neatly tucked up in my best nightie—but just in case, I now know what to expect if I’m not that lucky, which is weirdly comforting.
Vanity. I’ve abandoned it early to save time; I can’t remember the last time I bought clothes (underwear excepted). I’m happy to get socks for Christmas, and lockdown has taught me I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars a year at the hairdresser—my silver pony-tail does me just fine.
Inconsistency. I no longer fret at my amazing ability to hold two seemingly contradictory views at the same time; for example, ‘the British Royal Family is an obscene waste of money’ and ‘I’ll be devastated when the Queen dies’. Also, my brain still thinks I’m middle-aged, while my body is sending me urgent messages to the contrary.
Tolerance. I’m prepared to admit I make mistakes, and I don’t beat up on myself when I do. Granting the same courtesy to others is still a work-in-progress, but I’m trying hard.
Persistence. It took me several goes to find the love of my life. I used to feel bad about that, but last year, when we celebrated our ruby wedding anniversary, I figured it was all worth it.
Parenting. I have a pigeon pair, both now in their fifties, both much-loved, independent-minded, smart and gorgeous. I’m still encouraged by Germaine Greer’s observation that there’s no need to get anxious about bringing up children—even if you do nothing, they come up anyway!
Grandparenting. This is the best bit! None of the anxiety of parenting, just the freedom to love them in all their energy, sweetness, kindness and generosity. And you can go home whenever you like.
Gratitude. I’ve lived through some amazing years of change for women; the inequality that so enraged me in my early years is replaced by recognition of the many gains we’ve made, although there is much still to do. It makes me so happy to go to my gay friends’ weddings and cry along with them. Voluntary assisted dying laws, now uniform around Australia, are an important step forward in recognising our bodily autonomy and our ability to make our own decisions. And now we have a new government, with its promise of safety for women, action on climate change and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and integrity in government. I’m grateful—the future is full of promise.
So, what makes you cheerful? Make a list—it will cheer you up!