Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have just seen myself as I very much hope that others do not.  You see, I needed to renew my Railcard and they (the railway powers that be) required a new photograph of me, so I took a quick selfie, uploaded it and Bob, as they say, was my Uncle (even though, strangely, my father had never mentioned him).  Job done.  I awarded myself a gold star for being tech savvy and down with the kids.  Great.

Except that I now have a Railcard that looks like it belongs to a deranged lunatic who has just awoken to find that he really should not have done so.

There were questions to be answered.  Obviously, first of all, I had to ask what kind of idiot would blithely use such a photograph without checking it first?  Well, the kind that looks like some kind of malnourished ginger Rasputin, obviously.  You know the famous photograph, taken after he was dead?  I know it’s hard to imagine anybody looking worse, but I do.  How could I have failed to notice it before uploading?  Somehow, it would appear, in the short distance between my face and the camera’s lens, I had lost about three stones in weight – and most of it from my neck.  I have more wattles than Bernard Matthews¹.  My eyes appear so sunken that I could probably see through the back of my head and something has happened to my hair that could only have been achieved with a chainsaw.  The mirror tells me that I have a short and fairly neatish sort of beard, but in the photo it looks like somebody has pushed a couple of doormats into a giant amorphous blob of pink plastecine: Wallace after a three week bender.  All of this under the shade of W.C. Field’s nose.  I could not look more like a Victorian convict if I tried.

Now, I am under no illusion: I am no oil painting – although having spent an afternoon in the Tate Modern recently, I’m quite pleased about that.  My face is not so much lived in as abandoned, but – and here’s the crucial point – it has never been as bad as that.  I look in the mirror and it’s ok.  No Brad Pitt – more disused colliery – but definitely human: a hint of a smile, a glint in the eye.  It is a pretty normal, if bland, face.  It fills the space between my chin and my hat quite adequately.  It might not be anything to write home about – unless, perhaps, you have the free loan of somebody else’s pen – but it’s ok.  It kind of suits me.  I don’t think that it would frighten the horses – although I must admit that in certain lights it does have a tendency to look as though it has been kicked by one or two of them.  It doesn’t look hideous in the mirror and it doesn’t look anything like so awful in the photographs of me holding various babies that are scattered around the house – wherever there are stains to be hidden.  None of the babies appear too shocked by the fizzog on whatever-it-is that’s holding them.  But the more I look at my Railcard, the more I am shocked by it.  It is as though the camera had the ability to see into the future – a very long way into it I hope.  The photograph certainly gives every indication that it might have been taken post mortem.  It doesn’t even allow for the possibility of being a good-looking corpse.  It leaves me wondering what I have to do if I am not to face a future walking about under a visage that serves employment as the ‘after’ photo on a thousand life insurance policies.

I’m relatively fit (for a man of my age²): I don’t smoke, I eat properly, I still run and exercise regularly³.  I have spent my lifetime looking younger than I am and now, quite unexpectedly, I am faced with a photograph in which I look older than it is probably possible to be.  I look like Keith Richards must look before he receives the attentions of the mortician (I’m sorry, I mean make-up artist) in the morning. 

And then the hope kicks in.  If, at the future date at which my Railcard photograph appears to be set, I am still looking younger than I actually am, then I must be very old indeed and, instead of hinting at a very bitter future, my phone could, instead, simply be predicting a very long one.

Of course, none of this helps me when I get to the train station.  Imagine how irked I will be if they refuse to accept the card because it looks nothing like me.  Imagine how much worse I will feel if they decide that it does…

¹A famous – in Norfolk – turkey farmer.
²This phrase can be attached to the end of any sentence which is clearly untrue, with the aim of making it seem vaguely possible.
³Once in a blue moon – regular as clockwork.

Sixty Two

Some of the things that are kicking about my office and make me feel my age.

Today is my birthday.  I am sixty two.  I made the decision to use a new photograph as an avatar, which I hope should have changed today.*  (It may not have done – I am certainly not sufficiently confident of my IT aptitude to put money on it myself.)  Providing the photo is there – I hope it is, I hated the last one – you can gauge for yourself the stories it has to tell about this particular ageing male.  For instance, the small scab on the end of my nose tells you that I am unable to safely carry a three-year old granddaughter through a wood without snagging my snout on a bramble.  The non-smiling concentration speaks of a total selfie-taking ineptitude bordering on the bloody-minded.  I need an extra thumb.  The one I have available merely ejects the phone from my hand.  In order to use the other thumb, I have to lean forward and I appear to be leering horribly at the camera from an angle that suggests that I might be more used to having my likeness ‘snapped’ by security cameras, mid-burglary.  I really have no idea why I always emerge from a smart phone lens looking like a creepy uncle.  I never really see creepy uncle in the bathroom mirror.  Fat geek, but never creepy uncle.  I’m not at all certain why a smart phone should choose to do this to me – unless it has some issue with my browsing history – although why a record of searches for cheap wallplugs, green ink and deleted CD’s should turn it against me, I cannot imagine.  I always look like the happy pictures of dead men released by the Kremlin in order to demonstrate how content they were in custody.  “Zoom in on his eyes and you can see the reflection of a man with a gun.”  “That’s not a man with a gun, that’s a family-sized tub of cookie dough ice-cream and a spoon for one.”  That deranged looking photo of Rasputin had to be taken with a smart phone…

I could ask my wife to take a photo, but she would think me, with a certain degree of justification, incredibly vain.
“Why do you need a new photo for your blog?”
“So that my readers can see what I look like.”
“Why do they care what you look like?”
Don’t you hate it when that happens? 

Anyway, what you have here is the latest photograph I have taken of myself and you have it simply because I do not hate it quite so much as the last one.  For some reason that I cannot fathom, I feel obliged to try to show you that I actually am a real person and most definitely nothing to write home about.  I think I might change it every month through this year, until I find something better – possibly a smiling sloth, a grinning cat, or a brightly coloured orphan fish – with which to replace me.  I have a soul that is predisposed to laughter but a face that’s predisposed to glum.  This is what old age looks like through a filter of rum.

Rum and ginger beer is the tipple of the day.  I don’t know why.  I like it and I’m not at work in the morning.  That’ll do.  Although I’m not at all sure that it is the drink of a newly redundant man.  What should that be, I wonder?  I’m not ready for hemlock.  Perhaps, in the future, I will have to accept that whisky can be blended – but I won’t have to like it.

I didn’t expect to be redundant at 62.  It wasn’t in my plan.  When I started to pay my pension, I expected to retire, a rich man, at 60.  The financial crash of 2008 destroyed that illusion.  I settled for ‘relatively comfortable at 67’, only to find myself torpedoed by unemployment five years early.  I planned to spend my retirement on holiday, now I will probably spend it on PG Tips and oven-chips.  Maybe I already look like a man who lives on tea and chips?  You will need to tell me.  I seldom drink tea and I will eat oven-chips only when all other options, including starvation, have been exhausted – do I look that way?  When you turn 62 and you sit in your office with a rum and a smart phone, and you think, ‘I know, I’ll take a new photo for the blog,’ and you point and – after several aborted attempts at artistically portraying the best of your right ear – you manage to take a snap in which the entirety of you sexagenarian visage appears, only for you to discover that you look uncomfortably like a Russian mad-monk, then some kind of independent appraisal is probably necessary.

Having established that I am not what I assumed I would be at my age, I perhaps ought to take a closer look at what I actually am.  More to the point, do I look like I’m 62?  Well, I don’t think I look like a 62 year old looked when I was twelve, but then, when I was twelve, the 62 year olds had survived a war.  I think they had earned the right to look a little bit jaded.  If they wanted a three-foot crotch on their trousers and a waistband under the chin, they had earned that right.  What have I actually done that has given me the right to look like a tangerine-haired lunatic?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it’s just what I am.  (My wife, by the way, constantly tells me that my hair is too long.  I ask, ‘Too long for what?’ and she just rolls her eyes and disappears for a couple of hours before she reappears and finds a new way to tell me that my hair is too long.  I don’t mind.  It reminds me that I’m not going bald yet.  Vain?  Yes, alright, I’ll give her that.)  I suppose I feel like a 62 year old because I am a 62 year old – and this is how I feel.  I will try very hard to get to grips with my iPhone camera before I crown 63.  Who knows, by my next birthday, I might have an avatar that looks like a rational old man.  God knows, I might even be one…

*The observant amongst you may have noticed that it actually changed yesterday. Doesn’t that just go to show?