Adrian Barnes

Ageing: The final (old) frontier…

Image: AAP

Adrian Barnes may be old enough to be considered a drain on the economy, however, as long as he has work to do, things to learn and politicians to piss off, he intends to be 68 years young.

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

I am sitting at my computer at 4.30 in the morning. It is quiet. The occasional car passes on the road outside and I hear someone move down the hallway to the toilet. My grandson? My partner? The sounds are amplified by the stillness that surrounds the morning and I reflect on the radio programme to which I have just been listening about the problems of ageing.

I am 68 and heading towards a time in my life when I am considered to be past my prime.

I am “ageing”.

I am in no way ready to retire, I have more to offer now in my roles as an actor and an educator than I did twenty years ago. But, the industry I work in is populated by young, vibrant people who are, because they are younger, are considered better equipped to pass on information to an audience or a classroom of performing arts students. Another mark against the old fellow…the arts, you work in the arts!

I am not able to retire, as I do not have the required financial backing to provide an income that will assure my every need is met. I didn’t get the luxury of fame to back my career as an artist. With the way the industry works, even though I have spent my life working, I still have not been provided with enough superannuation to live off…there’s barely enough in that account to pay for my funeral! I still have outstanding payments from some of the companies for whom I have worked. I have spent almost 50 years of my life being contracted from job to job, ranging from three hours to three years. Having extended breaks in between jobs where, like every journeyman performer, I have served coffee and food to a constant stream of people who swear they have met me before (they have seen me on television in a string of support roles). Or signing contracts to teach young people the skills and the pitfalls to avoid if you wish to become that wonderfully enigmatic creature, an actor.

Some advice: consider your future and make sure you have a job that will support your obsession with the arts. (God, I sound like my mother!)

I am part of the large, and rather irritating, part of the population that falls between the gaps. Old and not able to live off my superannuation. Too energetic and financially poor to give up and conveniently shuffle off this mortal coil. Considered too old to be employable in the workplace and too competent to be given a state pension that might come somewhere near to supporting me. Renting a property because my employment has never earned me enough to buy a house in which I could retire. Still struggling to make sure there is enough money in the bank to pay the rent. Taking the occasional job offered to fill in for someone who is furthering their career in a film role, or a theatre work, that will give them more skills to pass on to their students.

But I deviate…ageing. I sat down to write about ageing. If we were living in Europe or Asia, we would be considered living national treasures. I am considered to be a drain on the economy. My pension is means tested every two weeks.  If I earn money it is totted up until I have earned enough to make sure my rather poor pension is reduced to make up for doing a casual job to make sure I can make ends meet. (Have you received a power bill recently, my partner and I have come to dread them…)

I am not permitted to study and keep my pension. At the age of 68, I get a small deduction on the fees and have to apply for fee help, which I will then have to pay back to the government. Heaven forbid I should try and educate myself at my age. Twenty years ago it would have been applauded, today it is frowned on as a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is conveniently forgotten that I have been paying tax for the duration of my working life and I still pay tax on every contract job I do, so perhaps it should be seen as a small and energising return for my contribution to government so they can provide services for me that support and encourage me to remain a vital part of my community.

Oh sorry, I forgot, I’m old!

Like the war wounded and the disabled we should be hidden away somewhere so we are not seen as too much of an embarrassment.

I still have to pay an accountant to make sure that I am legally declaring everything that I should to present a tax return that does not, unknowingly, break the law. I am getting tired just thinking about it!

Oops sorry, that sounds like the response of an old man.

My partner and I have a few friends (yes old people have friends) with whom we sometimes fantasise about building a retirement community. An old folks’ community populated with artists, musicians and actors. Keeping their craft and their minds alive, stimulating each other with the exploration together of years of accumulated knowledge.

Oops, does that sound like it might be a little more inviting than a lounge full of ageing people all pointed at the television making sure they are kept quiet and hidden.

I think I might be sounding a little grumpy.  Yep, I’m a little grumpy. I might be 68 years old but I am far from “old”. I am still very active, I still walk as much as I can, I am learning to drive, I am looking at finishing my masters and extending the research into a PhD (I have a lot of information to pass on). I am also looking at learning a new language, doing a theatre design course, performing in a cabaret or two with my wonderful partner. Am I making you feel tired yet?

I am fortunate, I only see age as a state of mind, not something to be endured. I have no intention of becoming old, I do not have the time! I have so much to enjoy, I have work to do, things to learn. Information to share and a whole generation of politicians to piss off. So from now on, I intend to be 68 years young.

Adrian Barnes

Adrian has had a long and varied career in the performing arts. After training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Adrian had a successful career in the West End as an actor/singer/dancer, appearing in such classics as West Side Story, Kiss Me, Kate and Hello Dolly, as well as working with some of the UK’s renowned repertory and Opera companies including The English National Opera, Birmingham Rep., Derby Playhouse and the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Adrian has lived and worked in Australia since 1981, appearing in such TV classics as Young Doctors and Sons and Daughters, the occasional film, The Slipper and the Rose and Thank God He Met Lizzie being his two favourites, and many stage plays and musicals including The Pirates of Penzance – The Broadway Version, Simon Gallagher’s famous ‘Pirates’ Tour, Seven Little Australians: the Musical and most recently the highly successful Australian 60th Anniversary Tour of The Mousetrap. Adrian has directed many plays and musicals, taught various performing arts schools worldwide, and today combines an active performing, teaching and directing career. Adrian can often be found performing some naughty satirical cabaret with his friend and partner Pat. H. Wilson.

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