As my 49th birthday approached in 2002, friends felt it their duty to warn me that I could relax for a year, but when I turned fifty, they said, it’s as if someone up there trips a switch. You start to short-circuit all over the place. Rubbish, I said, why should it be fifty – why not forty-five… fifty-two? That’s just superstition. You wait and see, they said.
My forties were a peaceful decade, I didn’t see why it couldn’t carry on as it was. My fiftieth birthday came and went, and as the months did likewise I smiled to myself marvelling at how people like to believe in old wives’ tales.
Then one day I went into the bathroom and found the tap in the basin running at full blast. There was no one I could blame, I’d been alone all afternoon. “Must be something wrong with it”, I thought.
The joints in my hands ached a little, then I realised that the smallest ones had bumps on them. My big toes no longer allowed me to wear other than open ended shoes. I got rashes when I stepped into chlorinated water. My vocal cords were weaker and I was getting hoarse easily – goodbye to playing the Spanish guitar and singing unless it was do-re-mi-croak-la-ti-double croak.
My oily hair continued undeterred by the ageing going on underneath, except for a strip at either temple, which dried out and subsequently caused my hair there to stand at right angles to my head. Looking like a newborn chick is fine for humans of similar age, but not for fifty-two year olds. Year upon year, in cumulative fashion, the pains and aches multiplied as I performed the daily ritual of getting out of bed every morning, till now at 58 when I resemble a beetle on its back waving its legs and arms in the air as it tries to get upright.
Last month I had just finished copying out an address as I sat at the dining-room table, then got up and went to the fridge to get my usual bottle of iced water to take to bed with me and caught myself red-handed about to put the address book on the bottle rack. As if I had just woken up from a dream. Since then pens and a comb have occasionally been sighted in that particular location, but I’m blaming the cats.
A close friend consoled me telling me she had recently lost a bundle of clothes she had intended to put in the washing machine, and they turned up a few days later when she went to the freezer for some frozen peas and found a brittle ball of clothing when she opened the frozen veg drawer.
John is not known for his keen powers of observation (cleavages excepted), and in the last 8 years has let me climb into my car to go to work with hair as pristine as when it was towelled dry after a shower half an hour earlier, or with different shoes on, or a symphony in colour-blind black and navy clothes (bad eyesight where these two colours are concerned when seen under electric light). It was his fault utterly that my bemused office colleagues could not resist mentioning that I needed a comb or a third shoe, to my boundless mortification.
In August this year my lovely neighbours gave us a bag full of apples, which were much enjoyed cooked with pork chops, as apple pure with roast pork, in apple crumble puddings, and so on. In September I came home to find another bag on the kitchen worktop, and I trotted over to thank them once again. It was a strange conversation, and it was only when I was about to depart that we worked out that (a) they thought I was thanking them for the apples of a month earlier because I had forgotten to do so at the time; (b) the present bag contained pears, not apples – which I hadn’t noticed - and (c) they had nothing to do with it, suspecting it was the neighbours on the other side; (d) they wondered why they hadn’t been given a bag too.
So my brain is going as well.
When a much loved camera club member died suddenly five years ago, quite a few of us resolved to go to her funeral on the other side of Bristol. I got organised and asked to take the day off from work, and we even did a practice run to ensure we would know where we were going.
On the appointed day we arrived at the crematorium, and while John parked the car I made my way up to the chapel and was dismayed to find that the service was already in full swing. Realising I must have got the time wrong, with heart pounding I edged open the very large door and squeezed into an over-crowded room, feeling terribly self-conscious and embarrassed.
A stranger smiled at me in welcome, beckoning me to stand beside her at the front (no hope of a seat of course). She handed me the service sheet and I smiled gratefully at her, at the same time feeling sorry for John who would shortly be going through the same ordeal as I had. Hating the fact that I was now so visible and that my lateness would have been noted, I sang the next hymn without looking up.
But when I eventually did, several facts became blindingly apparent. I didn’t recognise anyone. I looked at the service sheet properly and it wasn’t our camera club friend’s name. I was in the wrong service. John would be arriving any minute.
With a prickly feeling under my collar and my face perspiring I edged my way out again with what sounded to me like deafeningly loud “excuse me’s”, trying to ignore the “but you’ve only just got here” looks, and made it through the large squeaking door just as John walked up to me apologising for having taken so long to park the car.
A quick check with the administration office confirmed that our friend’s funeral was seven days’ later, at the same time.
So I must face up to the forgetfulness of old age, use lists and diaries, and try to remember where I left my spectacles. You know, the fridge is not a bad place for putting such things – it is after all the cupboard you’re most likely to visit during the day, so why not keep it all handy?
Note to Santa: I want a bigger fridge.
PS: I’m preparing a story, which will start a new category – Tales from Wartime - but it’s taking a bit longer than it should. My concentration has been affected because I’m just starting a new job, and the apprehension involved has spilled over into my time at home which is usually sacred to writing. Normal service will be resumed …..etc etc
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive
(with apologies for the fact that I don't know most of their names -
feel free to let me know if you recognise them!)
feel free to let me know if you recognise them!)
The venerable ombú, Phytolacca dioica, astonishingly not a tree but a giant evergreen herb. The branches can be cut with a knife, and reveal a spongy inside quite similar to a cigar. Native of the pampas in Argentina, regarded as symbol in both Argentina and Uruguay.
The humble and cheerful little wild verbena which appears in spring
The cactus of northwest Argentina, this one about 12 foot high, showing very rare flowers.