<i>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</i>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

”I like to tuck their most expensive prosciutto behind the toilet-paper rolls five aisles away,” says the bolshie old lady I take tea with occasionally.

”In the packet?” I ask.

”Oh no, no, you order it from the deli counter, get them to slice it and wrap it up, take up a good 10 minutes of their time.”

”The purpose being?”

”To stick it up the bastards, why else?” she hoots, meaning the supermarket chains that have wiped out every corner store within a half-hour bus ride of her retro semi.

”The consolations of decrepitude,” she says, now in her 72nd year. ”If they ever caught me, I’d act flustered, say ‘Oh dear’ a lot and keep looking in my basket.”

Jane is a pleasant reminder that the elderly don’t just take naps, start wars and complain about inflation. Although she happily recites a growing list of humiliations – varicose veins, cataracts, arthritis, haemorrhoids, shingles and gout – she says a litany of small triumphs are still to be had.

”I quite enjoy being beeped in traffic, now. If it’s safe, I’ll stop in the middle of the road and, by the time I’ve struggled out of the driver’s seat and walked back to their car, they look very sheepish,” she says.

”What do you say?”

”I ask, ‘Is everything all right?”’

Dismissive sales people are another unintended joy. It’s always fun to let them condescend for a few minutes before shouting ”F— yeah!” to an innocuous suggestion.

Jane lives by a few steadfast rules, one of which is ”never buy cheap shoes”.

”I made that mistake only once and they squeaked! A gentleman neighbour told me he could hear me coming – not something a lady likes to hear about herself,” she chuckles.

Despite caricatures of the elderly pottering in the garden, Jane is not one for horticulture, unless you count the several impressive marijuana plants she grows each summer and doles out as payment to the ”young spunk” who mows her lawn.

”I do practise my ‘confused old lady face’ in the mirror in case the police ever pay a visit,” she says.

”Why doesn’t the gardener just steal the dope?” I ask.

”Because he’s well bred,” she replies, ”and I lunch with his aunt.” Lunch is, perhaps, Jane’s last great, unchallenged passion, which she indulges without any of the constraints with which, say, a tattooed, 25-year-old might be brought to heel.

”Responsible service of alcohol doesn’t seem to apply to old ladies,” she says. ”As long as I can make it out the door standing, they keep pouring.”

It’s always gratifying, she says, ”bringing ’round” the disregard of hipster restaurant staff by dropping a line about how ”busy” the methedrine she used to buy in the ’60s in Collins Street, Melbourne, made her when she was a waitress.

Then she’ll toddle off home – ”I do like a concession card”, she says – and if she sees someone with their bag on a seat on a crowded bus instead of removing it for a goodly pensioner … ”You just sit on it!” she says.

”That always gets their attention! Though you need to be careful it’s not takeaway food. I had a friend sit on beef and black bean sauce once and it wasn’t pretty.”

Although she’s not one to give advice, I push Jane for a life lesson she might have glimpsed from her eyrie of experience but she’ll only offer: ”I hate people who think they’ve got it all worked out.”

Which is why she never listens to talkback radio.