For the past fifteen years I have travelled around the UK giving lectures and talks to schools and different societies, the most recent to an audience via Zoom, entitled Fings Aint T’what They Used T’be. The title comes from the 1960s musical by Lionel Bart and Anthony Newley, and refers to my book, Age and the Antique Sideboard, which was published in 2017 and is full of amusing short stories about growing old, designed for an audience of +50-something and peoople who are eagerly anticipating this state … growing old. This is a sample:
I must look old.’
I have the builders in. Except that they are out, redoing my patio.
But the electric socket they are using is in.
Until they blew it … and all the electricity in the house too.
I tore downstairs as my computer – and my precious new book – Book 3 of a trilogy – went black.
‘We’re so sorry, water got into the cable.’
No excuse, those things might happen to me but young men cannot use clumsiness or forgetfulness as an excuse.
I go towards the kitchen ready to flip the cut-out switch on the fuse.
I then position a stool ready to climb on to it.
Young builder – eying his dirty boots which need to be removed before traipsing over my carpet. ‘Would you like me to come round to the front of the house and do that for you?’
Immediate rush of conflicting emotions:
Yes, it was good of him to offer. What a very considerate young man.
No, it was totally and insultingly unthinking to imply that I look as if I am far too old to climb on a stool.
I stretched to my full height. ‘I can manage quiet easily,’ I said with dignity, eyeing a nearby radiator and doorknob on which to lean while I climbed up.
My audience were ladies of a similar age, who love reading, and who were driven to listening to a talk over the Internet because of the ban (covid related) on meeting up. Whilst writing it, I realised that the core element of my talk was no longer relevant. ‘Fings mot definitiely Ain’t What they Used to be…
In a little over a year, the entire world has changed … because of covid. And what, if I am honest is so awful about it … beisdes the obvious. Years ago if you were poorly, friends rang up: ‘I heard you were poorly,’ Or if you were upset, you might visit a close-friend for a cup of tea and a chat, when you could pour your heart out. You can’t do that today, because it affects all of us – so instead of admitting how miserable, lonely, scared or just downright unhappy you are; when someone says, are you all right – you have to reply. ‘Yes, fine thanks’ because TV night after night features the lives of people far worse off than you. So, then, in addition to feeling miserable, lonely, scared or just downright unhappy, you instantly add guilty and selfish for feeling all those things in the first place.
And it doesn’t get any better from there. Because in an effort to ward off the megrims (as Jane Austen would say, a word meaning low spirits,) you pour yourself a glass of wine and then when you switch on the news, the first item is concern about people drinking too much in lockdown!
If I continue down the honest route, I have worked out that the only person who actually sympathises with me is me – and I have the longest and most sympathetic conversations with myself while I am making coffee or cooking my lunch.Nevertheless, if this was a real talk in a hall, at this point I would be handing out sheets of paper and pencils and asking member of the audience to write down, what for you have been the best and the worst things of the past year?
All of us have been affected by different aspects of this pandemic and the list would vary enormously except for perhaps two items:- the kindness of strangers and the incessant repeats on TV of Midsomer Murders and Call the Midwife!
And so I gave my talk and went up to bed in a state of despondency after realising the none of my experiences are new. Most date back a good few years and since March 2020 all I have to talk about, that is both relevant and new, is my garden and my writing. I can’t even forge out a new career for myself by travelling, which is what I had planned for the next few years.
Now I think that is sad … don’t you.