I’m feeling my age at the moment. No, I’m feeling more than my age. I have shingles and though I’m not exactly in the first flush of youth (I’m 53) I’ve always associated this particular nasty with old ladies. Silly I know. Anyone who’s had chicken pox can get shingles at any age, but even so, it makes me feel positively ancient. I itch, I feel foul and I also feel profoundly reminded of my mortality.
This is further compounded by the fact that I’ve decided to grow my beard again and it’s coming through as grey as a badger’s arse! In fact it’s as grey as a badger’s arse would probably look after a decade of using that hard, supposedly medicated toilet paper of the deep and dismal past. Does anybody else remember that stuff? As a kid I discovered it made great tracing paper – before it was used for the purpose for which it was designed I might add – and at school we’d use it as the final veneer on our papier mache creations in art class. Weird stuff. It was about as absorbent as broken glass. What a wondrous revelation soft toilet tissue was!!! Though I must admit, it took a long period of adjustment on my part before I could employ it properly; I soon discovered it wasn’t as robust as the old hard stuff, and the subsequent disintegration could be a messy affair.
Anyway, I digress. I’m feeling old, or at least my body is. That’s one of the oddities of the ageing process; the body drops to pieces, but the spirit remains forever young. Internally I feel exactly the same as I did when I started my first job as a car trimmer at the age of sixteen. Then I could sink gallons of best bitter of an evening and wake up the next day as fresh as the proverbial. Now if I have more then three pints, the following day is lost to a dragging exhaustion and deep abiding pessimism.
In fact it’s probably this immortality of the spirit that makes the first view in the bathroom mirror such a shock every morning. Just who is that old, miserable git staring back at me? If the eyes are the window of the soul, then my face is definitely a set of dirty worn out curtains!
This also applies to photographs. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m an artist as well as a writer, and I’ve been painting a series of pictures called ‘In Our Hands’, which as the title implies, includes several studies of hands holding different creatures. Anyway, after struggling to make preliminary drawings using a mirror, I decided to use my digital camera and took several shots of my hands in different poses. What I hadn’t realised until I checked through the results was the fact that I’d also captured my face in some of the shots. What a shock! I hadn’t composed my features as I think we all subconsciously do if any other sort of pic is being taken, and there was the mug of a man undeniably in his fifties! I wasn’t smiling; I hadn’t positioned my face in slight profile to minimise the effect of my crooked nose; I hadn’t raised my head to smooth out the double chins. And worst of all I looked like my dad. Not that there was anything wrong with the way my dad looked, bless him, it’s just that he was always an old man to me when I was growing up, and as I’ve already said, my subconscious is still convinced I’m a teenager.
Even so, I think he had exactly the same ideas as me about ageing. I recall talking to him once just before he had to go into care. He was sitting in his favourite chair and leaning forward to rest his chin on his stick. “I remember training to get on and off landing craft in the Bay of Bengal.” He said quietly. “We were preparing for the invasion of Japan, and nobody was happier than me when the buggers finally surrendered after they slung the bomb at ‘em. Years ago now, of course, but you know, in my head, I’m still that young soldier hanging over the side of a ship while the swell rose and fell under me, and the sharks swam around the landing craft waiting for dinner.”
Anyway, I’ve had time to think about it now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the eternal youth of the spirit/psyche/soul/personality is a wondrous thing. If there is life after death – and yes Sue, if you’re reading this, of course I believe there’s life after death– then perhaps we can all hope to be eternally young once we’ve sloughed off what remains of our bodies.
Right I’ll shut up now. See you next month, health and computers allowing…