Many people think that growing old sucks the life and fun out of a body. Just the opposite with me. That’s why I decided to write this book. It’s not a long book but it will show you some simple activities you can get up to that will bring some sunshine into your life. I hope it works.
I’ve also reminisced quite a bit. That’s what you do when you are on your own. You are on your own quite a lot as you get older. It’s not because you smell or anything it’s just that all the people you used to know have passed on. When you retire, always keep one dark suit and one white shirt and a tie. Something that looks equally at home at a funeral, marriage or christening.
I sincerely hope you enjoy my ramblings and it brings an occasional smile to your face. If it does succeed in doing that, please let me know and I’ll publish the rest.
Hi, my name is Jeremy Hatrick. You can call me Jerry. I accidentally caught sight of myself in the mirror the other day. It wasn’t pleasant. A geriatric idiot looked back. If I could detach myself for a moment, I’ll tell you what I saw.
The image staring back at me had something wrong with its hair. It was as if some magnetic force was pulling it upwards. Maybe it was signalling all those poor sods who have lost theirs. Here I am, look at me, look at me. Trouble is, it wasn’t just attracted upwards but sideways as well. I assured it that I had brushed it only minutes before – well, it seemed like only minutes. It made no difference.
At the entrance to each nostril there was a small copse of facial hair. This of course shouldn’t have been there and if the silly old bugger had managed to shave properly it would have been cut off at ground level. It was also a different colour to the hair on his head, which although it made a nice contrast, was not a good look. Made the whole of his face look untidy. I looked at him for a while and all I got back was a vacant look of horror.
His mouth was open. You know just like in the old days when the doctor made you say “Ah” while he pressed a spatula on the top of your tongue to look down your throat. Maybe he was going to say something. It seems that between the message from the brain, the words forming and the ultimate speech, something happened to make him forget. It just adds to the idiot look though, and he should make more of an effort to correct this.
I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital since I’ve matured. On one visit recently I was put next to a guy who had forgotten to bring his teeth in with him. As you might guess he ordered a lamb chop for his dinner and I can tell you the sound of gums on a lamb chop bone is not appetising. I think he eventually discovered that the best way was to suck the meat off. Of course the pressure required in the suck was quite considerable and when he developed a leak in the seal his mouth made on the chop, you can imagine the outburst of it and bits of chop flying all over the place.
He had more luck with the veggies and I prayed he’d ordered jelly for dessert. The silly old bugger had ordered cheese and biscuits. Cheese and biscuits is innocent enough. Not without teeth it isn’t. He soon found out that he had to crack a bit of biscuit off first, then cut a small bit of cheese, put the two together and pop it in his mouth. Problem solved? No, not really.
Once in the mouth a battle started as to which was the stronger. The cheese biscuit combo or the enzymes in his saliva. They were put on overtime rates and developed in such abundance that the cavity called his mouth could not contain all of them and they decided to escape, using the corners of his mouth, in the hope of not being detected.
They were, of course, and he endeavoured to scoop them back up and put them where they belonged. This meant opening his mouth and that was a mistake because all sorts of bits and pieces escaped then. He made a right mess of the front of his pyjamas which no amount of looking down at it was going to make it disappear.
His daughter came in the next day and brought his teeth. I thought it made a change from flowers or grapes. She asked him if he thought he had forgotten something when he came in. He looked blankly at her so she asked him again. I was thankful she didn’t shout. A lot of people shout at the aged assuming they’re all deaf. He wasn’t deaf, just not with us all the time. Anyway he couldn’t think of anything he had forgotten so she got them out of her handbag and showed him.
She must have really loved him to carry them in her bag. They were wrapped up in a tissue and she kindly unwrapped them for him. I couldn’t resist taking a peek and noticed that they must have been a bit sticky when she wrapped them initially because bits of tissue were stuck all over them. I thought that she couldn’t give them to him in that state. As he had no idea that he’d forgotten them in the first place, it didn’t seem to matter.
She handed them over and he put them in – thankfully not upside down – and then he started to find the bits of tissue. As he found each piece he played with it sucking at it and rolling it around his mouth. The sounds coming from him were disgusting. I consoled myself with the fact that at least meal times would be better – or so I thought at the time. I was discharged shortly after. I’ll never forget him.
I had a friend in a nursing home that I used to visit fairly often. I say fairly often to give you the sense that I know what’s going on. In truth I have no idea how often I went. I’m not sure if he was a friend even. You know how it is. You need habits to convince all around you that you know what you’re doing. Once established a habit can’t be broken because it only leads to bewilderment and confusion. Bewilderment on your part and confusion on everyone else’s.
This nursing home was like a university. They kept having tests. I remember I was there once when it was the person-I-was-visiting’s turn. A guy in a white coat came over, I think he must have been a doctor even though he didn’t have a set of those earphones you get on aeroplanes round his neck. So he could have been anyone.
He started the quiz. “Who’s the Prime Minister of Australia?”
I don’t think the person-I-was-visiting heard him because he just kept looking at him waiting for the first question. To his credit the person-who-might-be-a-doctor didn’t shout it or even ask it again. He moved on, which I thought was kind because it was a particularly difficult question.
It went on like this, difficult questions that were met with a blank stare. Eventually we seemed to get one through.
“What day is it?” The person-I-was-visiting visibly perked up, then sank again.
“That’s a hard one,” he said.
Well, it was. If you don’t have habits and routine, you forget what day it is because they are all the same. I knew it was Thursday because that’s when I visit the person-I-was-visiting. The person-who-might-be-a-doctor showed his true mettle when he didn’t shout a repeat of the question and he moved on graciously through month, year and season. All met with the same response: “That’s a hard one”.
His final attempt to get one right was to ask what century it was. I saw him looking hopefully at his patient. After a few minutes he gave up and wrote something on his clipboard. I hope it wasn’t a score because if it was I don’t think the person-I-was-visiting passed.
I was given one of these teats myself by my GP. Because of my age I have to have a medical each year before they’ll renew my driving licence.
“I have to give you a memory test,” she said, handing me a piece of paper and a pen.
“Draw a clock showing ten past ten.”
I did, with the minute hand and hour hand pointing to the ten. She looked at me wondering if I was having a bit of fun with her. I stared blankly back.
“Ten PAST ten,” she repeated, giving me another sheet of paper.
Just goes to show how a bit of pressure can throw you. Maybe that’s what was wrong with the person-I-was-visiting. He was under pressure and folded.
She does have a sense of humour, my GP. When I went last year she said she wouldn’t be able to pass me the next year if I didn’t do something about my glasses. She recommended I go and get my eyes tested. I thought there was no rush, I had twelve months to get new glasses so I left it.
When I did eventually go they told me I had cataracts and they couldn’t do anything unless I had them removed. I went back to the doctor for a referral.
The specialist said he was going to put new lenses in my eyes and could correct either my short sightedness or my long sightedness. Which one did I want?
“What do most people opt for?” I asked.
“They have their short sightedness corrected.”
“I’ll do that then.”
It was all completed successfully and I went back to the docs for my medical. Sailed though the eyesight test and I told her what the specialist had said that I could choose between having long sight or short sight corrected.
“Some people have one of each she said with a straight face.”
“You mean one eye for reading and one eye for driving?”
The I saw the smile creeping across her face. She had me that time.
I actually don’t like people that much. Although I particularly don’t like children, people in general annoy me. When I was younger I was refurbishing a pub in Devon in England and there was a guy next door we all called the Colonel. He may have been a real live colonel once I don’t know. He was a grand old gentleman who drank Guinness Stout. He lived in a pretty pink cottage with a thatched roof, the sort you used to see on chocolate boxes or in Midsomer Murders.
We were talking about people and I mentioned I didn’t like crowds. He said he didn’t like people full stop. It’s only now that I understand what he meant. He was a widower. He told me that when his wife was alive she used to take him shopping in big stores, which were usually crowded. He had a poem that he used to recite out loud as he was walking around. He wrote it down for me but I’ve forgotten where I put it for safekeeping. I do remember the first two lines though:
“I hate the bloody human race
I hate its stupid smiling face.”
We had a lot of fun with that. I think he’s passed over now. In his memory I sometimes recite those two lines when my wife takes me shopping.
She asked me not to. When that didn’t work she started to walk a few paces in front of me. It was after she’d lost me a few times that she realised that strategy wasn’t working, so we walked side by side after that. I had to give her credit. It’s not easy to walk side-by-side with someone, whilst at the same time trying to give the impression they’re not with you. I thought I would be romantic one day and reached for her hand. It was snatched away faster than I ever knew she could move and all I got for it was a scowl.
I thought the poetry was the reason so I stopped. She seemed to buck up after that. That was until I started to hum whistle. You know if you are feeling tuneful you can either whistle or hum a tune to make yourself happy.
I thought if I could learn to do both at the same time I would be doubly happy and people would marvel at my new skill and ask me to perform at dinner parties or lunches or even high teas. It took a lot of practice to get it right. Once perfected, it had the same effect when implemented in public that the poetry had. I don’t think my wife wants me to be creative so I gave up the hum-whistling combo and concentrated on just whistling.
Now, any old fool can whistle a tune so I tried to think of something different. Just whistling along was a bit boring so I tried to do it as loud as I could. That’s just lips mind, none of this fingers business. I was doing alright with that so then I modified it further by going up an octave. Wow, you should have heard it.
“That’s a bit shrill,” my wife told me, just as I was learning. I took that as a compliment and, encouraged by this remark, I doubled my efforts in practice to get it right. I didn’t want to spoil it for her, so I practised in private until I had it perfected. I practised in front of the mirror once and was amazed by how red my face went. I thought it added a visual impression to the rate of difficulty.
When I eventually demonstrated this to my wife she covered her ears and shouted at me something about how I was trying to make her deaf. I have to confess I never tried this out in public.
I thought singing would be in order. Bored by the words of known standards I decided to put my own words to them. Do you know the song “Try to Remember”? Well, if not, skip this next bit. If you do, sing these words to it. You might have to practise to get them all in but persevere and you will feel the joy.
“I tried to remember, my name but I couldn’t.
They asked who are you?
I replied, I don’t have a clue.
Try to remember, we have a situation,
You can’t spend the rest of your days in our police station.
Try to remember, please try to remember,
I’ve got a lot more like that and I’ll tell you about them if I think of them. I also thought that a humming accompaniment to the singing might go down well but I haven’t started that yet.
I have a daughter and she gets just as embarrassed as my wife. She has no problem walking several paces in front of me and even if I concentrate hard I can’t keep up. I think my wife may have warned her. Anyway, I told my daughter once that if she carried on at that speed she might lose me.
You know how young people say “Sooooo?” going up at the end with that look in their eyes that implies: “What difference do you think that’s going to make?” Well, that’s all I got, so now I try to keep up with her. It sort of discourages me from going with her. My wife says it’s quality time and I should persist. I asked her how it could possibly be quality time when half the time we’re not even on the same floor?
She ignored me.
I’ve found that with women. When they know they’re beaten they ignore you. I’ve another reason for keeping on the right side of my daughter. She does my Christmas shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I go with her and I pay, although I don’t have to choose anything. When I normally go shopping with either of them I’ve given up actually going in to a shop. For Christmas shopping I do make the effort. Of course, “What do you think of this?” is completely wasted on me.
This all started because one year my wife took back everything I had bought and changed it. I thought at the time it might be beginner’s bad luck so another year I tried again. My daughter was in France so I didn’t have much choice. I thought I would buy her a nice, simple chain with a pearl on the end. I saw just the thing in a jeweller’s shop. I didn’t think they were open at first because the door was locked even though there were people inside. Anyway, a nice lady noticed my dilemma and she let me in.
“It’s a bugger when your locks let you down isn’t it?” I said. “You might have lost a customer if you hadn’t spotted me.” I was answered with blank looks as if I had just jumped down from another planet.
She asked pleasantly, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said, “I want a gold chain with a pearl on the end for my wife for Christmas. Just like the one in the window. There’s no price on it. Can you tell me how much it is? Shall I show you which one I mean?” I started to head for the door.
“I know which one you mean,” she said with authority.
I was impressed. She had memorised the whole window display. She went on to tell me all about the chain and the pearl and made a lot of the fact it was a South Pacific pearl or something. I wondered if that meant it had been used on the set of a famous show or even in the film. Anyway, I showed interest while she explained everything to me.
“How much is it?” I crassly asked.
“Five thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars,” she replied.
“I was looking for something for around a hundred and fifty dollars,” I said tamely.
She didn’t even say goodbye.