In case you didn’t know, Ellie turned thirty the other day. THIRTY! To give you an idea of how large a number that is, try counting up to it using your fingers. You run out of fingers after ten. If you are the character Goofy from the old Disney cartoons, your toes will now break through the ends of your shoes and you will continue to count your way up to twenty. So far, so good. Now what you have to do is remember that you’ve gotten as far as twenty and go back to your fingers to count out the remaining ten needed to take you up to thirty. I’m only twenty nine. That, if you’ve followed the method correctly, leaves the little finger waving free, not weighed down by an imaginary number denoting a year of life. Not so in Ellie’s case. Twenty nine is much younger than thirty.
Still, old age comes to us all. I am starting to become aware that tiny little aches and pains that I used to have when I was nineteen are far worse now that I’m twenty nine. I can only assume that these will continue to get worse as life goes on. So, I have to look for some positives to the whole business of deterioration. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. People expect you to be a bit mental
Sometimes I’ll get to the checkout counter in the supermarket and the cashier will say something like, “Good morning, sir.” To which I’ll reply, “Fine, thank you.” And then immediately wish I was dead. When I’m old, embarrassment in such situations will be a thing of the past. I will either be able to follow up immediately with “Oh fuck off, I’m old!” or, I can follow in the footsteps of my Grandfather. What he used to do at supermarket checkouts was hold the gaze of the cashier and wiggle his ears at them until they either laughed or got flustered and embarrassed. His ear wiggling was masterful. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to live up to his high standards, but I’m certainly going to practice.
The point is, the stupid stuff you’re worried about the world seeing you do when you’re a self conscious twenty/thirty something won’t matter at all when you’re old. Erratic behaviour in the elderly is expected and endearing, so you might as well make the most of it. Unless you’re driving.
2. Laziness is encouraged
As well as deteriorating mentally, we can also look forward to a physical breakdown of our body as we grow older. This is obviously a huge drawback if you enjoy running, jumping, climbing mountains and so on. I do enjoy these things, but I also enjoy lazing around watching endless DVD box sets and eating sweets. Once your body starts to turn on you, the decision making process on how to fill your day becomes a whole lot easier.
I am prone to the occasional guilt pangs over my lifestyle. Every week or so I will say to myself, “Jesus, Matthew. Look at yourself. You’re turning into a formless slug. Get out and do some exercise. You used to go jogging. Do some of that again!” And sometimes it works, and for a while I’ll successfully trick my body into going running maybe two or three times a week. Inevitably the habit wears off and is replaced with yet more guilt.
When I’m old, I am fully anticipating such guilt vanishing away like morning mist burning off in the midday sun. People that would, in my younger days, criticise my slothful ways will now encourage them. They’ll bring me a blanket, biscuits and a cup of tea. Bliss.
3. People take your ailments really seriously
I don’t buy in to the whole “man flu” thing. I can’t remember my dad ever taking a day off work because he had a cold. He would come home from work making a noise like an elephant seal being choked to death by a pack of wolves, but that’d be on his own time. This hasn’t particularly rubbed off on me, I must admit. I’ll take a day off if I’m feeling a little under the weather, but this is less to do with feeling sick and more to do with hating my job. I don’t look for sympathy from people when I’m sick, or even when I’m “pretend sick.” I don’t know if it’s because I don’t want to show weakness or because I’m embarrassed or what the hell my reason is.
Still, if sympathy is offered it is not an unpleasant thing to receive.
I’ve not noticed too many people criticising sick old men for having “man flu.” No. Sick old men get told they need to have a lie down and get themselves a flu jab as soon as possible. Sympathy is much more forthcoming for sick old peopler. Rightly so. When I’m old you’d better believe I’ll be making the most of that fact. Sickness as a pensioner is going to mainly involve slippers, an armchair and a bowl of something steaming.* I have about thirty five years to perfect my fragile victim look.
*Obviously, unless it’s something potentially terminal, in which case it will involve demands for morphine, fists shaking at the heavens and cries of “Damn you, God!”
4. Comic effect
My Granddad was very good at delivering a joke with a deadpan expression. It would sometimes take several seconds before you realised he was joking about something (usually because he himself would start laughing.) I don’t think people really expect old people to make jokes about nailing someone’s feet to the floor because they hate them, but my Granddad did. I am planning on using my old age to maximum comic shock effect (without being annoying, like that Catherine Tate character.) In fact, I am planning on being just like my Granddad. I miss him.
I will sign off with my favourite thing that my Granddad ever said to me. On the subject of weight loss, a pearl of wisdom that I will remember forever:
“The quickest way I ever found of losing weight was to get diabetes.”
Adjacent to Perranporth beach in Cornwall-where I live-is an old peoples’ home. It’s a nice location to end your days I guess; to look out over the golden, expansive beach and out over the wild seas in the distance must be better than what some get to look at through the window in their final resting place. As I walk by, I see elderly faces gazing through the glass at the world outside, a world which they are no longer able to enjoy and engage in, as they once did . It makes me think about my own inevitable old age (if I live that long) and I wonder what I’ll be like when I am that old, and what (if anything) I will think about as I sit there, day in day out until the coming of my final day. I wonder, too, what they are thinking when they see the likes of me, Mr young, agile and “free”, wander past and off into the distance. Are they looking back over their lives, reminiscing over days gone by when they were that passer-by; are they even thinking anything at all? Maybe they have dementia and are unable to think about anything. Maybe they are thinking deeper than I am, maybe they are thinking about there impending demise. Who knows? After all, who ever knows what one is truly thinking. Surely, they no longer look to the future like they once did, for that future holds no promise, no excitement, no adventures.
Do we ever really appreciate our youth-a time when we have the ability to do, see and become anything we want? When we are young, ahead of us lies limitless opportunities and a wealth of experience and adventure. So why, when we are young, do we live life as if it will go on for ever? I guess part of being young is to live fast and live as if you are invincible-for it is those who think like that who probably experience the best life can offer. It is only as we grow older, when we see those we thought would always be here, grow old, fade away and leave us behind, that we began to realise we, too, one day will be that person. When we each become that old person gazing out of the window, we will either look back with regret or we will rejoice in our past. What will go through your elderly mind when you are old depends on how you live your life NOW, what you think NOW, the choices you make NOW and the experiences you have today. What will you be thinking when you are that old person? The choice is yours…