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“Compared to when I lived there … it’s night and day. Give them credit,” he said, adding that he would give the Obama administration high marks on dealing with China.

“I think the administration’s handling it pretty well,” he said. “I think they’re being patient - in the sense that they’re not lecturing them all the time and bawling them out all the time.”

As for life now, Mr. Bush has slowed down after two hip replacements and major back surgery, although he did announce shortly after parachuting into a churchyard near his sprawling compound on the sea that he’ll jump again “when I turn 90.” But Mr. Bush, who unlike five years ago now walks with a pronounced gait, turning his hips as he shuffles, said life at 85 is far different from life at 80.

“My body’s given out a little bit. I’m getting old, and I know it. … I don’t have any balance, I can’t even play golf because I fall over if I’m trying to swing a golf club.”

But after 65 years on the fast track, slowing down is just right, he said.

(Corrected paragraph:) “Sleep late, go to bed early. … Life is great for me; life is about family,” he said. His wife of 64 years, Barbara, and all of his children and 19 grandchildren joined him over the weekend to celebrate his birthday.

“But then it will be just Barbara and me alone, and that’s wonderful, too. … Barbara and I sit there at night and watch some silly TV program and go to bed early,” the former president said with a smile. “She’s a great mate as we’re going down the final stretches - what might be the final stretches of our lives, and we could not be happier. I can’t think of one single thing that would make me happier.

“So it’s a nice place to be. … We know we’re blessed. We say our prayers every night and we thank God for all the blessings of our life. And there are many. Many.”