I have started my annual review of health issues: it’s the kind of thing you can get done at the doctors, but with more coffee and less sighing. It started because of my neurosis regarding body odour. I shower so often that I have actually shrunk by an inch since my youth (I know that it is actually age, but I’d sooner blame water). I constantly monitor any area that left unattended has the potential to become unsavoury. I sometimes sniff my clothing. I have given my wife and my children strict instructions to notify me immediately if I ever smell in any way noxious. I have instructed them to lock me in the bathroom and burn my clothes.
I constantly check my mental acuity by… by… well, anyway, I constantly check it. I keep myself as fit as not doing any physical exercise allows. And I check my mental acuity. I still have times when I only know what day it is by checking my pill packets, but I am fortunate that I retain the capacity and desire to learn. And I check my mental acuity… Anyway, in the hope that it may offer some succour to those of you who feel that you suffer the symptoms of ageing alone, I share with you here the results of my latest ‘stock take’. If you too experience any, or all, of my symptoms, we can both take comfort from that. If you suffer from none of them, you can be as smug as you like, but please keep it to yourself.
I have developed a series of just in case checks: keys, wallet, flies… that pass through me like a series of tics every time I leave the house. I never forego the opportunity to take a toilet break. You never know when the next one might come along. If ever I am asked to estimate the length of a journey, I always do so on the assumption that it will be ‘a bad run’ rather than a good one. ‘Google predicts two hours for a good journey, so that’s three for a bad one, better allow four, just in case…’
I have become aware that wherever I go, whatever I do, I have a ragged accumulation of bits and pieces that I take with me ‘just in case’. In case of what? I don’t know really, if I did, I probably wouldn’t need to take them. I have a £1 umbrella, just in case it rains, when I will be the first to send the little decapitated canopy Frisbee-ing along the road at the slightest breath of wind. I used to carry a Mars bar in case of extreme hunger, but I kept eating it, so that had to stop. When I go on holiday, wherever I go, always the same routine: pants and socks for fourteen days – check. Extra pair of pants and socks just in case – check. Foreign currency – check. English currency in case I lose foreign currency – check. Credit card in case I lose both – check. Passport – check. If I could claim dual nationality, I would, just so I could have a second passport. Sometimes I feel that it would be safer to just stay in the house – but you never know when it might burn down.
One of my main problems (and God knows, the list is a long one) is that of temperature control. In the winter I find myself encased in so many layers of clothing that I resemble a perambulatory onion. One brief look in the mirror would, once upon a time, have sent me scuttling back to the bedroom to change into something (in all senses) cooler, but now it just provokes me to think ‘Meh! I’ll stay warm’ and carry on regardless. In the summer I overheat like a Morris Minor on a trip to the seaside. I find myself in a constant search for shade (which I usually find in a bar). I wear a strange, frayed straw hat that looks as though it might have been discarded by Worzel Gummidge after he lost his John Wayne head. I have one of those little battery-powered fans and, worst of all, I don’t care.
I still find myself referring to ‘old people’ as if I am not one of them. I notice that so many things about me have changed with the passing years. I seldom impulse buy anything, just in case I change my mind. I think about it for a few days before I go back to find they’ve all gone and I live the rest of my life in regret. I have witnessed the horror in the eyes of people who find themselves wallet-less having already put everything through the supermarket checkout. I never even enter a shop until I have checked that I have at least two means of paying. I am the king of ‘leaving my card in the key pad’. I have been chased through the supermarket car park by checkout staff more often than a hyper-active shoplifter. I have developed a disturbing tendency to pause at the bottom of escalators; I talk myself through the instructions at the ATM; I have conversations with the people on the TV. I rarely enquire after the family of acquaintances I might meet unexpectedly just in case they are not who I think they are, and their entire family has, in fact, recently been wiped out by a meteor strike. I have developed ‘vague’ into an art form. I can carry on a conversation for hours without once using anybody’s name. I burn with the knowledge that every time I get cocky and address the milkman by his Christian name, I am, in fact talking to my granddaughter’s headmistress.
My whole life has evolved so that I am governed by the precautions I take to guard against the myriad possibilities of happenstance: things that just could (but almost certainly will not) possibly happen. I live my life protecting myself from things that never happen, but for which I am ever prepared. And if not – well, my funeral’s paid for and I have clean socks in my pocket… just in case.
Growing old is compulsory. Growing up is optional. Bob Monkhouse.