I was very much a part of My Generation, the baby-boomer naifs who thought they were going to die before they grew old. As we moved from teenage years to twenties and and finally hit forty, first The Bomb, then drugs and finally AIDS were designed to kill us. But none of them did – not even alcohol – and so now we have to accept the fact that we’re all going to mooch about moaning about the same things our parents did.
My wife already tells me on a daily basis that I’m grumpy. I’m so grumpy, even watching the programme Grumpy Old Men makes me grumpy, because being almost all younger than me, they don’t get grumpy about the things I get grumpy about. But Jan also tells me I shuffle my feet, and that really hurts. (The remark, not the shuffling). When a dentist told me in 1983 that I had receding gums, it was like the end of the world. The observation gave me visions of a wearing a permanent rictus grin because my gums had receded down my throat or up my nose or wherever the hell it is they go.
But the real turning point – perhaps tipping point would be more appropriate – is when you and only you observe the faltering march of decrepitude from close quarters. That inability to get into a pair of swimming trunks without falling over. The daily tally of forgotten beers petrified in the freezer. The desire to sit down in order to put on even slip-on shoes. Constantly forgetting things, then making lists. Then losing the lists. A pair of spectacles in every room and the car. The road to cremation is paved with irritating experiences.
After a certain age – and if you’re uncertain, it’s about sixty – a whole tedious variety of things from micturation to gardening become painful, until life is an uninterrupted repetitive strain injury. Last week I used a pair of secateurs to prune some roses (My God, I prune roses even) and my right thumb has been reminding me of it ever since.
For two months now, I’ve been creating an area at the far end of our plot here: a special place – a den – where a chap might write in peace, soak up the first gentle sun of the day, and put his feet up without facing a Nuremburg Court. The project was going to take a week when I scoped it out on the drawing board, but now I’m fairly sure I’ll be dead before it’s finished: like Sagrada Familia stands as a testimony to the vision and drug abuse of Antoni Gaudi, so too this little epic of recycling unwanted bits will be my legacy. It’s not quite in the Tony Blair league, but I can at least claim that no lives were lost in the building of it. Except mine.
It’s hard to describe every douleur associated with The Den, but I shall try. To hammering in seventy-three nails: twanging wrist ligaments and one hugely inflated finger. To raising the resultant wind-break: ripped bicep and inability to turn body in order to reverse car. To digging three terraces where once there was a slope, and unearthing a complex root system along the way: Axeman’s shoulder blade and Navvy’s elbow. Going to sleep now is a complex process of deep-brain Buddhist meditation in order to sever the many pain synapses working overtime to warn me, “Stop this now or I will make you mad”.
Over supper with chums last month, a morbid discussion ensued about which would be worse – the loss of marbles or mobility. It’s a toughie this one, as I’ve always fancied myself one of the Hemingway breed: 8,000 words before breakfast, and a blue marlin beached by teatime….wordsmith as man of action and all that. But as a patient I am the most terrible wimp, whereas the scribbling comes naturally. So for me, writer’s block would be easier to live with than spinal lock.
Talking of which, even lying face down to catch some rays has become an exercise fraught with danger. Last year – while Mrs Slog was out picking up some haute cuisine for the dogs – I heard the house phone, and jerked upwards as the prelude to running indoors. My wife arrived back to find The Bowman, a U-shaped thing resting on its groin. It was me, although she later testified that the wailing noise sounded more like an old door with rusty hinges. Which was how I felt.
Perhaps the time has come to rest on my laurels. And I would, if only I knew where in my body they were – and how to fall upon them without it hurting like hell.