Cynthia – Age 70

“I’ve got grey hair but I haven’t lost my brain cells. For my 70th I played rounders, hosted people on my houseboat and did a wing walk on a 1920s bi-plane – I think everyone else was more nervous than I was!”

I’m Cynth and I’ve just had my 70th birthday. Only biologically, not in any other way! I did lots of things, I didn’t want a party. I just wanted to celebrate with people. So, when I was in Liverpool – I have family in Liverpool – in June, for a wedding, I celebrated with them. Then on my birthday, which is July 12th, I went to dinner with about 15 people. After that, I had an open house on my boat. Other people have wined and dined me individually because I couldn’t be there. That’s the reason why I didn’t have a party this summer, because trying to get everyone together is difficult. They gave me a tea party here, and flowers, and also we did a fun rounders day.

Everything I’m doing for my 70th birthday is in aid of YHA ‘Breaks for kids’. I’m doing everything for charity. YHA is the Youth Hostel Association. They do breaks for disadvantaged kids and bereaved forces families. I didn’t want presents – I wanted people to donate to that. I’m a longstanding member of YHA and also do voluntary work with them.

I did the rounders with the guys from work here. Some people did actually buy me some gifts, bought me booze, so I raffled them. So I did actually get the donation and they did donate, indirectly. John, very kindly, has given me a week of bucket collections here, for my charity. Then I did my wing walk – that was my family celebration, which was half an hour from where they live (they live in Northamptonshire). A wing walk is where you go on a 1920s bi-plane and you’re strapped to the wing, on the top of the wing and you fly, basically. The girls, they’ll actually do acrobatics and things. It’s the 1920s, so it used to be like a flying circus and do all sorts of things. You’re just strapped there and go up and have a flight. When the pilot realised I was 70, while he was strapping me in, all my family were around me, stood around the plane. They said ‘She’s doing it for her 70th birthday, for charity’. The pilot looked up to me and said ‘I’ll be gentle’ and I said to him ‘No, I’m not a frail old lady, don’t be gentle – do twists, turns, do loop-the-loop, do whatever!’ They did say, before I ventured, that they won’t do dips and dives but I said ‘No, just do it! I’ve wanted to do this for so long, come on, let’s go!’ Everyone else was more nervous than I was. It didn’t bother me – I’ve done other things in my life. People say I’m brave – I don’t understand that. I would say adventurous. I don’t believe – firmly, firmly don’t believe – that you can’t do these things when you get older. I’ve heard people who are a third of my age say ‘I can’t do that because of my age’. So I say to them, if they go on too much ‘Please don’t swear’, because I think it’s so negative. I haven’t got time to go and die, quite frankly. I’ve done a lot of living and I’m going to do lots more.

I don’t like people pigeon-holing me. To a certain extent, that has happened since I stopped dying my hair. It’s been in a way that I haven’t liked, so I’ve spoken up. It’s the epitome of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. Just because I’ve got grey hair, I haven’t lost my brain cells. I’m not an idiot or a silly old bat, so don’t treat me like one. It’s as simple as that. Half of me is a Northerner, so we are pretty gritty people. I stopped dying my hair because it was very dry, so I decided to have it all cut off and reconditioned. I wondered what it was like, because I’ve had it cut off for years, and I just haven’t dyed it since. I noticed people started treating me differently in a way I didn’t like. I stand on my soapbox and I say, ‘Philip Schofield has got grey hair’. One of my friends feels she is invisible. You don’t have to be a burden on the state if you feel that way. It’s up to you. You can keep fit and active. That’s come from the fact that I’m the youngest in the family – touch wood, I’m the only one who hasn’t had a stroke, diabetes or cancer. I’ve tried my best to keep myself well.

I did have a period of long-term illness. I gradually got better – you had to do it yourself. I did eventually get help from the medical profession but it was very much find your own path through that.

I think ageism is as offensive as homophobia and racism. My way of dealing with it is, if I don’t like something, I say so. I change their minds, hopefully, and say what I’ve done with my life and what I intend to do with my life. I’m certainly not going to sit in front of the fire with a pair of slippers. Someone said something to me about a bucket list on Facebook and I said ‘It’s not a bucket list. I wrote a bucket list at 40 and when I get to the bottom of it, another list appears’. I haven’t got time to go anywhere, thank you very much. I’ve done a lot of living but I’ve got too much living still to do.

I live on a boat at the moment, at the Marina. That came about because I was divorced. I had my share of the house in Northampton but I was recovering from ME and I couldn’t get a mortgage. I came to Brighton for a break, not planning to live here or buy a boat. It was a result of not getting a mortgage and the rents were twice the price. It would have come out my lump sum that I have. So it was the bit in the between. I now own my boat outright and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It was the right thing for me. I’m always getting this. 50% of people were saying I’m crazy, 25% said I was brave and then 25% said ‘Go for it’. It said ‘Yes’ to me. I’d looked abroad and had actually stood back. I came to Brighton for a break for three days and never left.

I like Brighton because it’s creative, cosmopolitan, open-minded. You can be whoever you like here and no-one bats an eyelid.

We are becoming the majority age group but we shouldn’t be the minority in recognition.

People used to work and work and work, and then stop and die, literally – but we don’t now, and we are living longer. We’ve had the advantages of medical help and health education. I was brought up on prevention, rather than wait until something happens and do something about it. We went through an immunisation program, free school milk and things like that.

If I was to encounter somebody who made an age discriminatory comment, I wouldn’t be angry with them. I would let them know who you are as a person, so they don’t just look at this or if you’ve got a slight physical disability, or you’re not going as quick as everybody else or that you’re not thinking as quick. They should go and talk to that person and find out who they were, and what they’ve done in their lives. Also, sometimes there’s this impression that you’ve never done anything in your life because you’re old but when you talk to people they say ‘Oh really, you’ve done that?’ They need to talk to people and ask questions and be encouraged. I did have an incident happen a few years ago and I felt like saying ‘I could be reverse ageist and be ageist towards you, because you’re younger but I’m not. OK, I’ve gone through lots of stages in my life that you haven’t. You haven’t experienced everything I have but at the same time, it is a perception.’

My grandson has taken an interest in the Second World War and he’s actually found out, with his dad, about my dad. I actually found out that my dad was in a POW camp. I didn’t know he was in two but they’ve discovered that. So he’s quite keen to hear about my father and his experiences. My grandchildren have just been down to stay with me – we had to go back to my boat before I went to do my wing-walk. I’ve got a memories box and in it, there’s a pirate ship that my son had. So I’ve got things in there that they can play with, that my children had. My granddaughter was fascinated by the photos. She was saying ‘Who’s this? Who’s that?’, so she was very keen to know who people were. Part of ageism is that we put everybody in age groups. I’ve stopped saying ‘Old’. Even when a baby’s born, we say it’s ‘One hour old’. Why? I prefer to use the word ‘Mature’.

I love working at The Theatre Royal. I consider it my reward for all the stressful, responsible jobs I’ve done and all the commuting I’ve done. I’ve always done dance, I’ve always been interested in theatre and live performance. You know when you’ve had a bad day and you’re glad to be home? It’s always the reverse here.