Recently, I met an acquaintance, a younger man, whom I
hadn’t seen for some years. The first
thing out of his mouth was, “You seem to be holding up well”. The implied observation was, “Blimey, you’re
“Well, barely,” was my sneering response. “But tell me, what is your name? The old memory
isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid.” (And in case you’re wondering, I knew
perfectly well what his name was.)
Six months into my eighth decade, I can say, with hand
on my still vigorously pumping heart, that I feel no more and no less decrepit
than I did six months into my seventh – or for that matter my sixth. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not vain enough to
delude myself that the years haven’t taken some kind of toll, but I appear to
be bearing up as well as most, miraculous as that may seem.
The trouble is not that one feels older oneself, but
that other people seem to think that one ought
to feel older. Why else would they keep dropping
little reminders in carelessly minor ways to which they are plainly oblivious?
“Here, let me help you with that,” said a recent
dinner guest, leaping needlessly to my assistance as I prepared to open a
bottle of wine. My reaction was testy,
and you may think inexcusably rude: “If I can’t open a fucking bottle of wine
any more, I might as well call the Grim Reaper’s hot line right now”.
I find myself similarly – and unworthily – affronted
when offered a seat on a crowded Tube train, as I was on Friday. “No, thank you, I’m getting off the next stop,”
I lied, seething internally that the polite young lady – it’s nearly always a
young lady – should have thought me more in need of a seat than she was,
especially as she’d probably spent an enervating day in some frightful office,
while I’d spent a long lunchtime at El Vino.
The press doesn’t help. Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a
newspaper to find out that baggy eyes and baldness are warning signs of a heart
attack. “Danish researchers,” the
article pointed out, “found that people who exhibited up to four key visual
signs of ageing were 57 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack”. The other two symptoms cited were “yellow
fatty deposits around the upper or lower eyelids and earlobe creases”.
Now, I’ve been bald since my late twenties, and the
bags under my eyes have always tended to the pendulous, so I’d say that neither
symptom means very much. Meanwhile, I’ve checked lids and lobes, and they
seem to be in pretty good shape – not a fatty deposit or a crease in sight.
On the same page, two other articles were headlined,
“Dementia time bomb warning as deaths rise” and “Cancer now kills more than
heart disease”. All three pieces were
written by the same reporter, billed as the paper’s ‘Medical Correspondent’.
Well, Stephen Adams – that being the author’s name –
may be a bright and enterprising reporter, but I think he should spend more
time discovering something that constitutes real news. Dementia comes to many of us, in all walks of
life, as it always has, and it’s hardly a revelation that cancer and heart
attacks are what kill most members of the human race, at any rate those who’ve
managed to avoid some frightful misadventure, like falling under a bus or attempting
to fix a hair dryer in the shower.
The late comedian George Carlin used to do a funny
routine on the passing of the decades.
It went something like this: we become 21; we turn 30; we are said to be
pushing 40; we reach 50; we make it to 60; and we hit 70.
I’ve now hit 70, and so far it hasn’t got off the
floor to hit me back.
I’d like to offer a prize for a verb to describe
attaining 80. At the risk of tempting
fate, I’m certain I’m going to need one.