When I was a kid, I wanted to be older… This is not what I expected. (Anon)
If I’m honest, I expected to feel a lot older than I do by now. Most of the time I feel exactly as I have for years. One of the few times when I can really put my finger on a creeping sense of age is when I am faced with a long drive, particularly at night, or ‘in weather’. As a young man I vividly remember listening to old people talking about the difficulties of driving at night and thinking ‘Get a grip! You’ve got headlights,’ but now I see headlights – other vehicle’s headlights – as the enemy. I am absolutely fine driving in the dark – as long as I am in the only vehicle doing so – although there is a creeping sense of shame nagging away at the back of my mind that I might be allowing the rationale of ‘Oh, there’s somebody coming towards me: I’ll just slow down a little bit,’ to take hold. So far, I steadfastly refuse to be cowed by the inability to see, but I can feel my confidence ebbing away along with my ability to chew toffee or to open a packet of peanuts without spilling the entire contents all over the floor.
I’m not certain whether it is a change in the nature of headlights or of my eyes, but the glare of an approaching vehicle – particularly in the rain – seems to flood my entire field of vision. It is like that moment of alien abduction in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (I sense that I might just have lost everybody under 50 years of age with that reference. It’s a film. Look it up!): everything else is engulfed in the blazing white glare that consumes all notion of light and shade. All that remains is a blinding light and the faint suspicion that Twinkle is playing on the radio…
My whole being is absorbed in the battle to stop myself from joining the ranks of elderly yo-yo drivers who speed up (sometimes to over thirty miles per hour) every time the road is clear and stamp on the brake every time there is something (anything) coming towards them. I have a nagging suspicion that it might be a battle I am losing.
How do I tackle it? Well, like all cowards, I turn my back on it. It is so much easier to face things when you don’t acknowledge them. It is so much easier to tackle a problem by avoiding it than facing it. I would sooner sleep on a park bench than tackle unfamiliar roads in the dark of night and I would, almost certainly choose to walk rather than drive like an old man.
I must admit at this point, that I have never really been a ‘car person’. A car, to me, has always been a means of getting from A to B (via Z if my wife is navigating), but never the reason for it. I cannot conceive of ever deriving any pleasure from ‘going for a drive’. I drive only when I’ve got somewhere to go: somewhere I need to be. When arriving at my destination is all that matters. If I want to enjoy ‘getting there’, I go by bike, or I walk. Age does preclude me from roller-skating, scootering, pogo-sticking and skipping, but it should not. I aim to address this – and I will – just as soon as the weather improves. My grandson does not approve of my using his skateboard or scooter. He thinks I might break. He could just be right – we’ll see.
I appreciate the car whenever the weather is… well, British. Rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow – all far better viewed from the driver’s seat than the bicycle seat.
And I look after the car because I dread the thought of breaking down. (I mean, of course, I dread the thought of the car breaking down. Although now I come to think of it…) To sit and wait for several hours until an overalled somebody turns up in a little green van, covered in reflective stripes, with the sole intention of making me feel inadequate by starting the car within seconds using nothing but a ‘surely you knew how to do that’ shrug… I have never felt ‘as one’ with a car (It’s a bloody car!) but I do, generally, know when it is not running properly, and I know the basics of what to do in those circumstances. (Phone somebody who is at one with the car.) I could not tell you if the engine sounds anything but normal, because I never hear it. I never travel anywhere without music playing. Whenever I hear the car engine, all that goes through my mind is ‘What’s wrong with the radio?’
I have fully embraced SatNav – it doesn’t seem to stop me getting lost, but it does at least give me some idea of where I did it and, occasionally, it helps me get back to where I should have been before I wasn’t (Huh?) – and I have now partially accepted hands-free, although, generally, I have to stop the car to do it. Whilst the internal combustion engine is a complete mystery to me, I am pretty much au fait with the inner-machinations of my brain and so I tend to ignore most other ‘driver aids’ which, in my own instance, would generally result in nothing other than tempting me to let my mind wander further than it really should – look! Rabbits! I cannot adopt the automatic gearbox as I know that it would thrust my brain into neutral. I have no need for parking aids as I never leave the car in a space that could not fit the QEII.
I think, If I’m honest, I would be perfectly comfortable as the passenger in a self-driving car – I have been married for forty years: I have no illusions about being in charge of anything – and it’s actually quite comforting to think that in the event of an accident, the two vehicles involved could haggle over blame whilst I sit serenely taking in the scenery. I suppose that this is one thing that old age does prepare you for: being a better passenger. In life, sooner or later, everyone becomes a bit of a passenger and, in the end, we all just go along for the ride.
Life is like a helicopter. I don’t know how to operate a helicopter. (Anon)