Mark Blog – Season of the Disappeared

Mark Seymour blogs about comfortable retirements.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: 23 April 2013.

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Behind the seaside village there’s a boardwalk that winds along the creek into the forest. Here, the retired walk their dogs in the morning, usually around 10 am on a weekday but only when the sun’s out. Sun is good. Vitamin D they’re advised. And the advice isn’t cheap. The local clinic doesn’t bulk bill, which seems unfair but people around here are cashed up and mostly stay that way. Until they are quietly moved on to the next level of care, which is literally just over the hill.

They chat and swing they’re arms, if they can, gallantly blasting away at the boards, with their water bottles and poo bags, the little pooches snuffling along at their feet. Nothing large of course. Jack Russells are popular, mostly with attitude. Real little nippers they are, quick to snap at the slightest insult, like at other dogs, or some kind old Rotarian who bent down once to pat a particularly nasty little piece of pampered dog meat just as it was dropping a healthy log on his Julius marlows, while it’s owner, a puffed up beach widow in a Versace track suit, hovered with her plastic poo bag.

“Oooh naughty boy.. heh heh, isn’t he the touchy one?” she said, eyeing off the bloke’s opal cygnet ring..

The bloke couldn’t straighten up so they called an ambulance.. it was there in ten.

There are those of course, who sadly, are so close to the coil they have to plan the daily stroll with care. There was one ex-high-court judge who literally shuffled all the way to the wild-life sanctuary and never came back. “Oscar” did though. His King Charles Spaniel. It was hungry.

These elderly people are living out their last years in a kind of coastal nirvana. And though they are facing the end bravely they didn’t arrive here by accident and didn’t they get rich that way either. They planned it, well ahead. They demanded the best, and got it; a village with every amenity. The shopping strip is barely a scratch in the forest but it boasts its own plastic surgeon who is authorized to prescribe human growth hormone, only when needed of course, and an interior design shop full of decorative knick-knacks priced to float an African nation.

They have a nose for the weather too. When the thermometer nudges 25 degrees the board walk numbers thin. Anything over 30 and they disappear altogether. Inside. Into the cool temperature controlled interiors.. The weather needs to be just so to get them out. Of course, it works in the other direction too. Get down there mid-winter and you’d swear everyone has moved north. And not just out of the village either. The houses that festoon the hills appear to be empty.

The massive decks that hang out over the water, normally brimming in summer with visiting relatives, sons, daughters and gorgeous screaming grand-children, the outdoor entertainment areas furnished with teak and gigantic stainless steel BBq’s, all empty and silent. Even the great sheets of hardened glass built to withstand the winter ocean blast and display to the street those magnificent mood-lit interiors, all empty of life, but still declaring to an envious world that there is a degree of wealth beyond imagining in this country which is not to be coughed at, not unless you’re too old to get up and turn the lights off..

Yes, there are times when even paradise seems emptied by the weather and only the brutal architecture remains..

But impressions can deceive because the hard fact is, these people can never leave. Where would they go? They are so near to the end and it’s all here. It’s all they’ve got and all they could ever get their hands on. The sum total of all their strategies and maneuvers, all the risked investments, the professional triumphs and betrayals, the blind faith and adultery, the divorces and second families, the profligate greed, the sad human avarice.. every folly and conquest, all of their sins, got them here. The stakes could not get any higher and there’s no time left. Oh yes, don’t be fooled..they’re around all right; just hiding, hiding from every mild inconvenience.. like heat and cold, rain, wind, frost, humidity, sweat.. and yes, these locals are real sticklers for consistency. If it’s one in it’s all in.. nobody breaks ranks and everyone has a thermometer.. they’ll be out in the back rooms, the kitchens and the bedrooms, away from the covetous eyes of wandering tourists. And why not? They’ve earned the luxury of total control.. These rich superannuated Aussies. They chose to be here, surrounded by nature, between the bush and the beach, and when it all gets too much, why hell you say, bang up the A/C and order in. So that’s what they do. Easy as that. At twilight, in the scorching nocturnal heat, or the rugged winter wind, the couriers do good business roaring up and down the hills in their hi-aces, delivering from “Johnny’s Vegetarian gourmet Pizza” or “Alexandra’s on the Esplanade” a multi-award-winning dining experience, featuring international Chef Orlando Martinez.

Yes, and when the weather gets really bad, for a while, like more than a day, the locals get things done around the house.. by others, then the streets fill with the help.. the tradies, the gardeners, the phone-in sole traders, who thunder around in four-wheel-drive navaros and BMC’s with ten mil chrome roll bars with stickers that read charming little epithets like “Piss-off. We’re full”. They get paid at the back-door, in cash. No G.S.T. Everybody wins.

But there’s one thing that no amount of inclement weather will deter them from, these superannuated ancients; that which is closest to their hearts, the small delicate animals that give them delight in their twilight years.. the dogs and the cats. Down at the local vet they’ll line up either when the temperature drops, say, below 15, or rises above 30 and they will of-course, dress accordingly. There’ll be leggings and wraps and five star gortex on all of them, including the animals, or conversely, far too little clothing on bodies no longer meant to be admired.. After all, they’ll tell you, dogs and the cats are god’s creatures too, they suffer as much as their masters, and no expense should be spared helping the little darlings cope with every adversity, no injury too small, no scratch or neurotic cough too insignificant.

There’s one old couple, the Crowhursts, up on Waratah street, (he’s a retired chemist), who had the pelvis of their ten year old Siamese reconstructed after it was crushed from a ten metre fall off the observation deck. It walked around in a titanium frame for two months. It didn’t seem to notice actually, just went about its business, as cats do, the vet won’t mind telling you. And the cost? He’ll tell you that too, for free, even though he shouldn’t. No change out of $15 grand. Wow.

The vet loves a chat. He loves the weather too.