Living a long life: fun or hard work?

I see that Paul has commented: “Wineou, what has happened to this blog? Too much wine perhaps? Nudge, nudge…”

Thanks Paul for showing some interest; I was beginning to think that nobody cared whether I wrote or not. The reasons for my silence are partly lack of motivation, and partly because I’ve actually had quite a lot on my plate lately. Also, like the excellent Yau-Man Chan ( I write when I have something to say. Incidentally it’s worth checking Chan’s blog for his informed take on Tibet and the Dalai Lama (about whom there was much controversy when “His Holiness” was refused a visa to attend a peace conference in South Africa).

I thought that today would be a good day to take stock and look at what I’ve been doing lately. I am 66. Many people of my age are retired and living a life of ease and boredom, spending hours every day watching TV soapies, reading popular magazines and trashy novels, taking un-needed naps, and doing little exercise of body or mind. I, on the other hand, have made some poor choices in life and have to work for a living. But it is my intention to live to 120 or die in the attempt! And to spend most of my remaining minutes doing something worthwhile.

I believe in the concept of a healthy mind in a healthy body. So I keep the mind active by reading good books and interesting articles in newspapers, as well as stuff resourced from the internet. I try to exercise my slightly overweight body for at least 5 hours a week by walking, cycling and some gentle mountain climbing (all while listening to books on my MP4 player); and also by doing regular stretching and strength building exercises. I have visions of getting back to the lean body I had when I was running marathons, or cycling hundreds of kilometres a week. But that dream is fading . . .

I am lucky to be a tour guide who gets to meet visitors from all corners of the world; and I am chairman of the body corporate that helps run our block of flats (condominiums to Americans). This involves seeing that the place is properly maintained and improved where possible. Mostly it is a thankless task and I have to fight flak from all sides. But there are satisfying moments when one can see the results of hard work and motivating others. Like a new sign designed by our resident architect, cut out of steel in a style commensurate with the block’s 1930s era, and fixed to the wall yesterday. A few years ago I taught myself to touch type with the aid of a computer program. Being able to type at the speed of my thoughts (not very fast, but fast enough) makes life a lot easier. My persistent emails to sloping-shouldered figures in authority have resulted in holes in local roads being filled in, new road signs, and an improvement in the litter situation (after a lot of nagging and personal intervention it was established that certain shrubby areas were never cleaned because Parks and Forests thought that the Roads Maintenance division should do them, and vice versa). This has now been resolved.

Occasionally I feel the need to be nasty to the editor of one of our local newspapers for really stupid errors. (Can you believe the writer of an article on cycling saying: “I pump the peddles” and “I peddled furiously”? – just before the newspaper’s famous cycle tour – which I helped to build up to become the world’s biggest bicycle race when I was the newspaper’s promotions manager.)  But, not all the words emanating from my flying fingers go into the unpaid ether: I was recently asked by the tour company I work for to write training information for new drivers/chauffeurs (and was quite well paid for this).

Last week I attended a seminar called Humanising Darwin at the SA Museum. After Tuesday evening’s lecture I had a brief chat to the speaker, Dr Randal Keynes, who is Darwin’s great great grandson (and the great nephew of economist Maynard Keynes). I asked him if he had heard that when Christ’s College, Cambridge, celebrated its 500th anniversary its three greatest intellects were named: John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts. He hadn’t, and was fascinated to hear it. Unfortunately, an academic standing nearby said that the story sounded apocryphal. This caused me to email Catherine Twilley of Cambridge University’s alumni department when I got home, and I asked if she could let me have the correct info before the next evening’s lecture. I told her that on 9 Feb 2005 I had attended a lecture given by Penny Grimbeek who, for nine years, was the curator of the house lived in by Jan Smuts, and she had told us the above story. Catherine was kind enough to reply at 11.39pm the same night: “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get a definitive answer by tomorrow but I think it is safe to say that we recognise Smuts as one of our great alumni, alongside Milton and Darwin”.

I heard no more from her, and while I was writing this I checked out Wikipedia and found the following in the long biography of Jan Smuts: ‘Smuts graduated in 1893 with a double First. Over the previous two years, he had been the recipient of numerous academic prizes and accolades, including the coveted George Long prize in Roman Law and Jurisprudence.[5] One of his tutors, Professor Maitland, described Smuts as the most brilliant student he had ever met.[6] Lord Todd, the Master of Christ’s College said in 1970 that “in 500 years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding: John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts” [7]’

This entry also appears in Smuts’s biography: ‘After Einstein studied “Holism and Evolution” [a book written by Smuts in 1926] soon upon its publication, he wrote that two mental constructs will direct human thinking in the next millennium, his own mental construct of relativity and Smuts’ of holism. In the work of Smuts he saw a clear blueprint of much of his own life, work and personality.[citation needed] Einstein also said of Smuts that he was “one of only eleven men in the world” who conceptually understood his Theory of Relativity [10][11]’

Authors C. Norman Shealy, MD, PhD; Patricia A. Norris, PhD; Steven L. Fahrion, PhD wrote in a paper on mind-body medicine: ‘Jan Smuts, former Prime Minister of South Africa, wrote in the 1920s the most elegant integration of all aspects of science, philosophy, and psychology in his book, Holism and Evolution.  This was essentially the foundation of what is now called Holistic.’

So I think we can accept that Jan was pretty bright boy. He also believed strongly in the benefits of physical exercise. I was told by an expert at Kirstenbosch that he used to climb Table Mountain regularly, starting at Kirstenbosch and leaving his security guards puffing in the rear. And when he was in Pretoria he used to walk every morning from his farm to the Union buildings – a distance of 22 km – giving a botany lesson to those walking with him (he became an authority on Transvaal grasses). He lived to the age of 80, while his friend Churchill, who did little exercise and smoked, ate and drank to excess, lived to be 90. So, if you believe in a market research sample of one, you can follow Churchill’s example. I’ll go with Smuts.

By the way, if you want to read the full text of Holism and Evolution try clicking on

I found it surprisingly readable.

Today’s quote

It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. – Woody Allen

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2 Responses to Living a long life: fun or hard work?

  1. Paul says:

    Good to see you’re back!

  2. Chris says:

    Hear, hear.

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