We all know what it feels like to grow old, don’t we? The slow, but inevitable diminution of mental acuity and physical attributes: the deadening of the senses – sight, hearing, smell and taste, above all taste; the tendency to bruise like an over-ripe peach; to smell like an over-ripe banana; all part of the gradual, but inescapable descent into dampened gibbering. Except that it’s not really like that at all – at least not yet. I am ‘of an age’, but what lies between my ears is of quite a different age. Although I now do have a tendency to ache quite a lot, I’m not entirely certain that it isn’t just something of which I have just recently become more aware. That is, I have always ached – I just haven’t had the time to obsess about it before. Nor have I previously worried about why I am aching. These days I have to analyze everything. Everything could be a sign of something else. As long as I continue to do well on Pointless, I have always believed that I could accept my absent-mindedness as a minor peccadillo, but now I worry constantly that it might just be a sign of something altogether more sinister. Each forgotten bin day is another step down the path towards senility; each empty baked bean can in the fridge another lurch towards the vacant let. And I do get tired now – each thirty minutes beyond News at Ten, is another day spent trying to remember where I left my keys.
I feel that I am still capable of doing pretty much what I have always done, but now I anticipate the consequences, which definitely slows me down. I still feel instinctively that my grandchildren will always be safe as long as I am there, but if I stop to think about it, I now realise that it is not necessarily true, that it never was. I do know, though, that I would die trying to protect them – and that has to count for something. I would do the same for my children, of course, but they are mech stronger and fitter than me and would probably tell me to act my age.
Of course, acting your age is the first thing you stop doing as you get older. In any case, who really knows how a person of your age is supposed to act? I have friends who have acted like sixty year olds since their tenth birthdays. I also have friends who still act like they’re ten. Whatever your age, who can resist a playground swing; rolling down a grassy bank; splashing in puddles? Who can resist fishing in a seaside rock pool, or digging for buried treasure? That is acting your age.
And, as you get older, life does try to compensate by handing you some new attributes in place of the good stuff you have misplaced along the way. In place of good looks, an athletic physique, suppleness and stamina, you get the ability to understand that Midsomer Murders is not meant to be Shakespeare, and the strength to occasionally sit through a full episode without falling asleep and drooling on your slippers. You begin to realise that it really doesn’t matter if you left your mobile phone on the kitchen table in the morning, because the only people who ever contact you are trying to interest you in a discount at the crematorium. Old age is when you start to realise that, in order to set all of his fiendish traps, Dick Dastardly has to be miles ahead of the field – and you can’t help but wonder why he just doesn’t keep going… I can no longer climb a rope, but hey, I have learned not to question why I would ever want to. I have learned that dining out in a white shirt is never a good idea, unless I am going to be eating exclusively white marshmallows.
And – now I realise what age has really brought to me – suddenly I have no idea what I had on my mind as I started this piece. It is a balmy evening. I have drunk a nice bottle of red and the birds are singing (at least, I think they are, it could always be tinnitus) and the sky is the kind of blue that makes me think that if this is the best that the world has to offer then it really is more than enough. I do not know how getting older feels when you start to feel older, but I know that, at the moment, it feels like I could drink in every moment of it – with every ailing sense and physical attribute – and, if I could live forever, then I certainly would.
Unfortunately, that is the one thing that getting older teaches you will never come to pass…
Unusually, for me, this post was written in ‘one take’ and on the evening of publication – and so I ask you to please accept my abject apologies for any grammatical and syntax aberrations. This piece has festered in my head all day. This evening I typed it up with atypical speed and prepared to publish – before having my attention taken by my second ever post (‘Getting On’ from November 2018) – at which point I realised how little actually changes and, yes, that this is what it is all about…
“I have also begun to understand that advancing age is not to be feared, it is to be embraced. Embraced for its ability to allow me clearer vision than sight. Embraced for its ability to grant me the realisation that what is right for me, may not be right for anybody else, but quite frankly, that I care even less than they do. Embraced for the realisation that my appreciation of the world around me is linked, incrementally, with the paucity of time that I have left to enjoy it. Embraced because I have no choice. Embraced because it makes me happy.” Colin McQueen – Getting On