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What is old anyway?

Every so often something happens that brings it home to you that time is passing. That baby you were sure you only saw a few weeks ago is starting school in September. That person you haven’t seen for ages has suddenly got old. You look in the mirror and realise that you’re getting old…

But what is old, anyway? I’ve been thinking about that question a lot because I’m pondering a new set of books set round a sheltered senior living complex by the sea to follow on from the Lavender House series. Not an old people’s home but somewhere you’d downsize to, knowing help was on hand. Somewhere with flats built above an amazing bakers shop which has a little cafe attached. With the craft shop I wrote about in ‘Sunshine and Shadow’ next door to it and a small supermarket on the other side. It’s built so it faces onto the sea; and if you’ve never been to Sandbanks then you really should go, because the views are amazing.

It’s not a place to retire from life so much as to go to so that you can delegate some of the boring bits to someone else and not leave your family worrying about you or panicking because you can’t manage by yourself or they think you’re lonely. And quite often you are lonely, but it’s not the sort of loneliness that can be cured by plonking you in a crowd of people. It’s the loneliness that comes when you lose someone you’ve loved so long and well that they’re practically part of you. Or when the world you thought you knew has been turned upside down and you don’t feel as if you belong anywhere any more.

I think far more people feel this sense of disassociation than can admit or explain it, and that the usual advice - join a class, volunteer, get out and meet people, is probably quite right. But there also needs to be a time to acknowledge that one world has ended and a new one has to follow even though you don’t want it to. The formal mourning period, if you like, and it doesn’t only apply after a death.

So Harbourside is going to be a place where people are reassessing their lives. Where families are in and out. Or where people have no family. Where people know exactly what they want; and are maybe doing too much to block out the emptiness. Or not doing anything at all. Because I don’t think romance ought to be just for the young. Obviously, it’s different when you’re older. How could it not be? And older isn’t what it used to be when I was young because obviously I’m not old. If I live as long as my grandmother then I still have a third of my life to go, and this year has been an amazing transformational one because I promised myself almost a year ago that I would stop dreaming and start going for it.

But I’ll tell you about that next week. For this week, I’d like to know what you think about this idea. I’m going to have a couple of plots running in each book and it won’t all be tidied up at the end of the last chapter because life doesn’t work like that. What I hope it will have is the sense when you get when you’re beside the sea. It’s a feeling that there is time and space for everything and sometimes the very best thing you can do is slow down and watch the boats and the waves or walk by the water and collect shells and let the rest of the world go on without you while you think great thoughts or don’t think at all…

Today's picture is the view from the boat that takes you across to Brownsea Island. There's the visitor's centre, there's the landing stage and there, most of all, is the peace I'm trying to capture. Which is all the harder after that oil spill but I believe in our Harbour Commissioners and all the people who are working to sort it out. They're some of my heroes and heroines, along with the wildlife workers so of course I'll write them the happy endings theyd deserve.


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