Life is a risky business.
As you grow older, ‘things’ begin to conspire against you. Things that were once easy become fraught with difficulty: things that required no pre-thought whatsoever, now require the kind of planning more normally associated with moon-landings; things that offered no possible avenue to physical danger, now become lethal weapons. The aptitude for self-harm draws daily more adjacent: a slight tendency towards physical instability; a slowing of reactions; the failing acuity of senses – particularly eyesight – all combine to make the process of manoeuvring beneath a low door-lintel ever more perilous. The strange Ying and Yang of the ageing brain that dictates a developing sense of caution, is counter-proportionately overwhelmed by the bravado of ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ I can only assure you that whatever it is, it will. Add an ever-more sluggish healing process to this cauldron of auto-injury and you will see why we in our autumn years are so seldom at our best. Especially since the new century has piled on the pressure with its new weapon: knowledge. The realisation that the tiniest pin-prick could lead to fatal sepsis; that any, and every, unusual bodily function or sensation may just be a sign of terminal something-or-other; that the indigestion brought on by last night’s curry might just be the coronary that has your name on it. It is entirely possible to be so focussed on the signs of incipient danger that you walk into the signpost. There is little more liable to cause you damage than the fear of damage, and fear is one thing with which you become increasingly intimately acquainted as you get older. I do well remember the feeling of fearlessness, the lack of ability to fully comprehend consequence. I also recall the pain often associated with such fearlessness – and I have no desire to experience it again. The memory of falling from the uppermost branches of an impossibly high tree is enough to make me shy away from ever putting myself in that position again – well, that and my inability to lug myself up there these days. There was a time when I would go anywhere and do anything. Now I will only do so after I have seen somebody else of my age doing it first – and not leaving the scene wrapped in an aertex blanket, having their hand held by a paramedic.
Unfortunately, it is not necessary to go looking for trouble. As your ability to escape it dwindles, it comes looking for you in all manner of disguises. Take socks, for instance. I do not know at what age you suddenly realise that it is more sensible to put them on from a seated position, but it comes to us all, unfortunately not always at the same time as the realisation that a similar repose is also preferable for removal. The daily battle to get your pants on without falling over becomes one that you seldom win. I am sure that when I was younger, I never found myself falling like a pole-axed cartoon character having forced both of my legs down the same trouser-leg. I don’t remember ever poking myself in the eye whilst putting on a T-shirt in my youth. Or garrotting myself with a hoodie.
Clothes also offer an altogether more subtle layer of jeopardy to the ageing male. The danger of being inappropriately dressed is one that descends upon us with the passing years – and by ‘inappropriate’ I do not mean, for instance, a tendency to wander around with your flies open – although, God knows, constant vigilance is required to guard against it – I mean the danger of miscalculating what others (principally wives and daughters) consider to be age-appropriate attire for you. The raised eyebrow and the blandly delivered ‘Really?’ is generally sufficient to have you hanging the shirt back in the wardrobe prior to its ritual de-buttoning and demotion to the rank of duster. Think of all the things you could have worn thirty years ago – and don’t even consider wearing them now. The obvious exception to the rule: jeans. Once the costume of the young and now the uniform of the elderly. Nothing dates a man quite so much as un-ripped jeans – particularly when held up with a belt sporting a buckle the size of a radiator grille. My own ‘leg-wear’ regime is strictly compartmentalised these days:
- Work – trousers
- Exercise – shorts or ‘joggers’
- All other waking moments – jeans
Even when my jeans are ripped at the knee, they were almost certainly not bought that way. That my more recently purchased pairs have a tendency to go at the arse first, tells you everything you need to know.
And I also own a cardigan. It is a long, chunky number, very reminiscent of that habitually worn by Mike Starsky* in those days of long ago. Back then it was a fashion statement – now it is a testament to my loss of marbles. I wear my cardigan around the house, but I am not allowed out in it. My wife fears that it would bring on the unsolicited attentions of rogue Funeral Directors. I love my cardigan: it has pockets that would hold a pipe, and it is the same colour as my slippers. It is also very warm. If I could persuade my wife to wear one, I could turn the central heating down.
It is a thin line to walk: dressing too young/dressing too old – and a long drop when you veer off it. Getting your clothes wrong may not cause you physical harm – unless you really should be wearing lion-proof overalls – but it could turn you into a social pariah: nobody wants to be associated with someone from whom it might rub off – particularly if they’re old. It’s all very well to allow yourself to absorb some worldly wisdom, but nobody wants to become ill-dressed by osmosis. A young person’s life, without fear, is all well and good – but nobody wants to be fearless whilst looking like their own dad. Ridicule is a painful thing and life is risky enough without it.