Decline but not ready to Fall…

Attaining an age where there is more of my life behind me than in front of me sometimes prompts me to ruminate on what lies ahead.

I don’t feel that this is a morbid activity-more of a philosophical wander through aspects of life, although not its meaning. Speculation over the meaning of life is pointless, since there is no necessity for a meaning. You only have to watch Professor Brian Cox’s brilliant series on the planets to realise that the fact of our existence is happenchance.

But I do an occasional mental stocktake of how my life is. Occasionally this will be dominated by physical difficulties and health problems. There is an inevitable deterioration in the functions of bits of me, such as the joints or the digestive system-and these bits demand to be treated with more care than in earlier years.

More complex is the changing of mindset. I begin to understand some of the oddities and anomalies that became commonplace when communicating with my parents. I notice that I have become more fearful about some activities, less concerned about others. I must, for instance discipline myself to be a relaxed passenger in a car, otherwise I am aware I could become un-transportable! On the other hand I take a perfectly unconcerned view of ceasing to exist-providing this does not happen too soon!

I have become ultra-observant, some would say nosy; I understand the stereotypical, curtain-twitching old lady persona. I note and appreciate feelings like ‘comfort’, which has risen to near the top of my cravings, my must-have for a happy life. A good night’s sleep is not to be taken for granted; a pain-free long walk or a cycle ride is a blessing.

I become absorbed by current affairs and make [admittedly] feeble attempts to throw myself behind causes. I like to spend long hours in our garden, pottering, tinkering, looking and tending. I am patient with my small grandchildren.

I’ve become fond of art. I love the discussions my Book Club has, which take all kinds of directions and are lively and absorbing. I love my dance exercise class for we old ladies [and gents-if they came along]-optimistically called ‘easy aero’].

I dislike some aspects of modern technology, such as the effects of social media on social gatherings. But I remember my parents railing against [in no particular order]: automatic washing machines [‘they don’t get things clean’], video recorders [‘why would we want one of those?’], telephone answer machines [‘we are too old to manage those things’]. Later on, in his nineties, my father learned to use a PC and write and send emails.

So no, I do not fear the reaper, but I do fear memory loss, loss of independence, incapacity, loneliness.

Oh-and by the way, Facebook-I really am not interested in ads for pre-paid funerals. When the time comes they can do what they like with me-as long as they have a cracking good party while they laugh about my eccentricities…

 

 

 

Imagine…

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On a recent walk we came across a community garden.

The latter stages of the route, near to the shopping centre took us through a housing estate which, in the past, had a reputation for being somewhat ‘rough’, resulting in school numbers dropping and so on. The housing is mixed-blocks of flats, terraced homes, semis and detached, much ex-council and now presumably housing association. The estate is not pretty but neither is it hideous since there is a great deal of green space, trees, open areas. And in the midst of one, large, open space was an enclosure laid out with raised beds, a neat row of compost bins and a shed.

A father and small daughter were working in one of the raised beds, planting and tidying. It was all shared, the dad explained and the produce from one bed could be harvested by anyone for their needs. Fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables!

To work in a garden is one of life’s pleasures. You are outside in the air, serenaded by birdsong, creating, nurturing, coaxing, often accompanied by a cheeky robin and some industrious bumble bees. It can be frustrating when plants refuse to thrive or are consumed by pests but this is more than offset by the satisfaction of seeing flowers or vegetables flourish from your ministrations. Gardening also exercises a lot of muscles you didn’t know you had!

Walking along past the community garden I allowed my mind to wander. One day I may not be able to tend my own garden. But there are long waiting lists for allotments and in our squidgy, little country space is becoming squeezed by the need for housing-new homes’ gardens becoming smaller.

What if elderly and disabled people who wanted to stay in their own homes but were unable to garden were paired with those who wanted allotments but perhaps couldn’t afford one or didn’t want the long wait? There would be a shed-full of tools. The results of the labours could be shared-as could the expertise of the person who used to tend the garden.

The garden owner would get visits-perhaps even someone to keep an eye on their wellbeing. The gardener may get a cup of tea!

I read of a scheme in the Netherlands [where ideas to help the elderly and disabled seem to abound] where a student could receive accommodation free in the home of an elderly person who might need a little help with housework etc. Of course I can think of many students who it wouldn’t suit at all-and many elderly would be horrified at the thought of a stranger in their house-but still there must be a lot more who’d be happy to share if it meant they could stay at home.

For now, though it’s back to mulching for me-backache or not…

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Graceless Ageing

At the beginning of a New Year I’m taking stock. I’ve documented my feelings about ‘resolutions’ before but there is never any harm in reining in consumption after the monumental over-indulgence of Christmas. A new year is also a time to do a little stock-taking on the health front and to consider any goals and plans as winter dwindles.

For those of us in older age, this article: ‘Age Against the Machine’ 

provides an excellent checklist for anyone wondering how to cope with ageing.

But it does pre-suppose that you have no health issues and are financially secure. I agree with almost all the suggestions for coping with older life except that for me, continuing work would have been the death of me.

Offspring 2, who’s been staying for a few days over the festive period asks me if I’d ever want to live with either of my progeny in [even] later life. I tell her an emphatic no, although this conviction comes from the standpoint of happiness and [relatively] good health. At this moment I am independent, not alone and [arguably] still of some use as childcare etc. I tell her I want them to remember me with a degree of fondness and not with the irritation that can arise from continuing close contact with one who has become forgetful, pathetic and dependent. It must be left to professionals in an efficient, non-smelly care home where physical and mental abuse is out of the question.

Until then I have my own, personal checklist of ways to live out retirement, which goes like this:

  • VALUE IT. You’ve worked hard and long. The job may have been stressful [it was]. Value this wonderful freedom by carrying through on long-held ambitions and desires wherever possible. Don’t fritter away the time wondering what to do and waste it by not following through on ideas.
  • Keep as healthy as possible without stressing about it. For me it means undertaking such exercise as I enjoy [dance exercise and walking] as well as eating sensible, home-cooked, vegetable-laden meals. Keeping the brain exercised is also important. I like to read and write.
  • Plan long/medium/short term activities that can be looked forward to; a holiday, a meal with friends or the next dance class at the gym.
  • Be interested in world events and prepared to learn. Learning is great at any age.
  • Try ‘out of comfort zone’ things sometimes. Eat something new and different [within healthy limits]. Go somewhere new. Listen to some new music. Read a book you wouldn’t normally choose [my book club helps with this].
  • Take in some culture. For me it’s theatre, film and music [although not together!]. While we live outside of London we are not too impoverished here. I like to take advantage of our local, volunteer-run theatre when possible and consider that we are lucky to have it [as well as a wonderful library!].
  • Let it Be. I wrote an entire post about leaving behind negative ‘friendships’ and giving up pointless contacts. I keep up with those who put the same amount of effort in as I do and forget the rest.

There is a lot more-using public transport [again we are fortunate to have bus passes and we make great use of them], cycling, travel, groups, gardening, wildlife. I could go on-but of course I don’t have time…

 

 

Lower Your Expectations!

A wonderful lady I worked with years ago sometimes used to say ‘Lower your expectations’. She would use this phrase whenever we felt jaded or that events were taking a downward turn. It was intended to be droll-and it was, because it always brought a smile to our faces.

But the idea of lowering expectations is not without advantage. If I consider a worst case scenario in life then the outcome will either be a] as I expected or b] not as bad as I expected, both of which are better than a disappointment.

I can apply this approach to all aspects of life. We have just embarked on a new expedition into Europe, intending to travel in directions hitherto unexplored [by us]. The preparations for this odyssey seem endless and difficult, partly due to it’s being the first major road trip of the year and partly because my brain is losing its propensity to be sharp. I appear to spend a great deal of time writing lists and forgetting to add items, or writing lists that prompt further lists. I begin a task and become distracted by another. I forget what I do, forget how to prepare.

Eventually, however we seem to be ready. We get away on time. We arrive at the ferry port on time. The crossing is uneventful-pleasant, even. We breakfast, we slump, we snooze in the recliner seats of the quiet lounge [both of us having had a fitful and short night’s sleep]. The weather is warm and sunny. This is a bonus, since cold, wet weather was expected for a few days at least. See what I mean? Expect the worst, lower your expectations.

It is easy to see why many prefer the simple process of buying ready-made holidays. Everything is done; everything laid on. You are transported somewhere, you are ferried to sights and brought back [as on cruise ships]. You follow an itinerary someone else has prepared. You look, perhaps take snaps, perhaps buy a souvenir. You are taken home.

The road trip requires planning and preparation. We [mostly Husband] plot each day’s route, we search out possible destinations, we fuel up, shop, service the van [water, waste]. We make decisions, try to agree. We problem-solve. Sometimes we are successful. In the two days since we began we’ve had to overcome irritants like lights that will not switch off, devices that bleep in the middle of the night, van alarm going off [also in the night] and no internet access. Above all we have to adjust back into camper-van life, remembering where we store stuff, routine when we park up, routine when we leave each day.

But we know we must make our brains and bodies work for us if we want to get into healthy old age and I imagine that it’s one of the reasons there are so many ancient motor-homers out here in Europe, just like us. Oh-and there’s the freedom of course. Who wants to be told what to do and where to go? Now what on earth has happened to all my ‘Word’ documents???

 

The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?

A Life of Christmases

The nature of Christmas changes as you go through life but the Christmases of your first memories stick with you into your dotage.
I can still remember the fever of excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve having left one of my father’s woolly socks at the end of the bed and of waking with the heavy, crackly weight of a stuffed sock on my feet. I remember how mercilessly I was teased by my brothers because I’d christened my new doll ‘Dereline’. Derelict Dereline became their chant for the next few weeks until they tired of my wails.
Then there was the year that my longed-for book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was there, an oblong wedge along the ribbed sock, above the toe which contained a satsuma and a sixpence wrapped in newspaper as well as a walnut.
There were always family gatherings, when more gifts were bestowed [Fuzzy Felt was a new innovation in toy technology then] and we’d be coerced into writing a list in preparation for thank -you letters.
Once we were teenagers the obligation to spend the day with our parents jostled with the desire to be with our friends, others’ homes often seeming to be more fun, more welcoming or more riotous than our own. We no longer wanted to sit around watching the Queen’s speech or playing pencil and paper games with my parents, preferring the anarchic hilarity of drinking games in darkened rooms and puerile jokes and tricks.
Later, as a student I’d often need to work over the Christmas period, a requirement that would set me free from family obligations. Later still marriage and parenthood provided new difficulties as the emotional tugs of two sets of parents clashed.
Parenthood allows you to relive your own childhood festivities for a time as you work to create the magic you experienced yourself. You stay up late wrapping up small gifts and tiptoeing into bedrooms to leave a stocking or a sack. You remember to eat the mince pie, down the sherry and bite into the carrot that was all left as an offering before falling into your own bed for what will be a ludicrously short sleep. You are rudely woken in the small hours by electrified tots jumping all over you…
Having assumed you will never get enough sleep again the tots morph into teenagers, rarely making an appearance before midday and no longer excited by Christmas stockings. They resume their solitary commune with screens and games while you jostle the pans to make a gargantuan dinner they may or may not want. It is clear that mince pies and Christmas puddings will die a death, as subsequent generations reject traditional fare for chocolate concoctions and ice cream.
Then they are gone. They make their own lives [you hope] and in what seems like a blink, have their own children. Your role as a grandparent is an attempt at non-judgmental support. You provide when requested. You step back when not.
In an extraordinary twist and for the first time in twenty-one years, this year we are not playing host on the day. We’ll be celebrating with a late start, brunch, a good walk and dinner in a local hostelry. Magic!

How do you Watch?

My maternal grandmother measured around four foot six inches in height and looked about the same distance in width. She was a complex character, at once merry and childlike but also prone to emotional outbursts. As a young child I adored her and loved nothing more than to snuggle up in her bed [once my austere, child-hating grandfather was up] listening to her nonsense rhymes and the funny stories that caused her to laugh with an infectious guffaw.

She ate an appalling diet of cream cakes, sweets and puddings, never moved unless she had to and lived to a ripe old age of ninety-eight.

She was also addicted to television, watching it for as many hours as it aired, which in those days was not twenty-four/seven but test card to close-down, when the screen would diminish into a tiny dot and disappear. She loved to sit on the sofa munching her way through a bag of sweets and watch whatever was on, distracted only by the sound of an approaching ice-cream van tinkling its jolly, summoning tune, at which she’d reach for her bag, withdraw a note and send one of us out to get a round in.

Spending time with my grandparents became trickier as I got older. The nonsense rhymes lost their appeal along with the long sessions of lolling on the sofa watching endless TV. One of her favourite programmes was ‘Peyton Place’, an American soap opera of the sixties which kick-started the careers of such actors as Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow. We children were not allowed to touch the TV buttons, on pain of the wrath of my grandfather, who also considered that the court drama ‘Perry Mason’ was too ‘deep’ for us.

During stays longer than a couple of days I’d feel an urgent need to get out and away from the endless hours of television, although the soulless estate the claustrophobic bungalow occupied was not over-conducive to walking. I’d wander the identical streets and stare into the windows of the shops in a small row called ‘The Cut’. At last, in an area of wasteland near to the estate I discovered a diversion that would take me as near to heaven as a pony-mad child could be: a riding stables. Thereafter I spent all my pocket money riding and any other time cleaning tack, mucking out and volunteering my services.

Grandma would be astonished to see how many channels there are on TV now and even more amazed at the ways we can view; recorded, I-player, Netflix and the rest. But what astonishes me is that despite the plethora of footage of one sort or another, how little there is that is worth devoting any time to. Since we returned from travel we’ve watched a so-so detective serial, some historical drama and the news. We almost never watch anything on commercial channels except for the channel 4 news.

The future of TV is even more uncertain as the young turn away in favour of alternative screens, gaming and interactive viewing. So It’s unlikely I’ll follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, few as they were!