I went to dinner with friends the other Saturday evening. There was a time when this would be hardly worth mentioning: a time when I was always out and about; a time when, if not out, folk would be pouring through my front door in droves to eat, drink and be exceptionally merry. It must have all changed around the same time that my face did.
In that other country we call ‘the past’, I would read accounts written by people who, having hitherto believed themselves indestructible, looked in the mirror one morning to discover that they had inexplicably aged overnight. With no apparent warning, life had caught up and was busy overtaking in the fast lane. One particularly memorable example was Vera Brittain, recalling in Testament of Youth – a singularly ironic title – how she had found herself unexpectedly sporting a beard. I believe she was eighteen at the time.
How boringly clichéd it all seemed to me as a person who was always mistaken for someone much younger than I really was; a woman of self-esteem who would never develop hair where it wasn’t wanted. Ever heard of threading? Now, I regularly subject myself to public torture in the local shopping centre where beautiful Asian women apply their rolls of cotton to painfully remove hair at follicle level.
‘Going anywhere nice’, colleagues ask as I leave work early? ‘Just off to get my eyebrows and moustache seen to’, I reply sadly. Only once did the beautiful Asian woman ask whether I’d like my beard done. She never asked again. And as for the wrinkles – well don’t get me started. On alternate days, I swim at 6.30am. I rebuild my face with increasingly expensive make-up in a changing room devoid of natural light. I arrive at work inwardly smug at my early morning exercise. I also arrive at work looking like Coco the Clown and have to allocate time to filling in the lines that were, apparently, non-existent an hour before. Maybe I should live permanently under electric light, although not of the wattage they employ in elevators: I used to avoid lifts because I suffered from claustrophobia; I’m over that – more terrified of the woman in the mirror these days!
So, back to the dinner with friends. That would be friends of a similar age of whom I see less and less. This isn’t because we’ve become unsociable in our decline: it’s because, like me, they spend most of their precious weekends with their grown-up children. It’s another overused adage that the number of friends one has decreases as one ages. Illness and death aside, it has to have something to do with a lack of personal energy to move further afield and the desire to participate in the life of younger folk. Thankfully, I work with those largely aged between 18 – 23 years who are far more interesting than most people of my demographic. Don’t get me wrong – my life seems to have got more varied as it’s progressed, even with the excess facial hair; and I haven’t finished yet. It’s just that, well…
…I went to a conference in London the other week. The subject matter is irrelevant. The point is that, at a juncture where we participated in the obligatory group activity, the conversation turned to aged parents and how they refuse to do as they’re advised. Aged parents insist on living their precarious lives away from younger members of their families in isolated locations where buses never dare to venture. Aged parents are often on the case regarding the internet but insistent in their dislike of mobile phones: they don’t charge them; if they do charge them, they forget to take them out; and if they do charge them and take them out, they refuse to switch them on. After we’d exhausted that topic, we talked about our pensions. Or the lack of them.
When I went to dinner the other evening we didn’t have to do any group activities apart from eating. We didn’t even do group drinking as the days when one chose between dangerously driving home and kipping on a sofa are long gone. We just had a nice chat – about aged parents and non-existent pensions. To be fair, we made valiant efforts to move onto something more interesting – books we’ve read, films we’ve seen; before falling into the lives of our children. It was nice. It was boring.
I write this on the eve of my father’s birthday. He will be 88 tomorrow. My mother will have a birthday in a couple of weeks and will be 85. They’re off to an hotel somewhere or other to celebrate for a couple of days. They won’t be taking the mobile phone and if they do it won’t be charged; and if it is, it won’t be as switched on as they are. Happy birthday both.