As months go, September went. And October came – momentously. Two things, two life-altering things, have happened in October.
Firstly, and quite devastatingly, I finally lost sight of my feet. Let me explain this. When you become older in a comfortably furnished sort of way as have I, you can no longer actually reach your feet, so observing their presence becomes important. You need to know they are still there, for a start, and knowing, be able to place them accurately. You don’t want to be forced into reactive mode, as for example, in falling down stairs, reflecting whilst flying towards an inevitably bumpy landing that you must have missed the tread.
The bathroom scales surrendered long since: instead of recording my weight they offer a short letter of resignation, yet I still use them as a matter of ceremony, and after many reassuring years throughout which, by perching on them and leaning my head forward, I could always see my toes peeking cheekily out at me from beyond the hill, last week they (my toes) finally vanished. The tip of my big toe has set behind the mountain. And now darkness comes.
It is not weight gain that is the problem, my kind friend tells me, but rather an absence of weight loss. With the burden of advancing years the foothills have become one with the central massif and the whole range has moved south. It is the same principle as that by which Mount Everest gains in height by as much as a meter a year – though on a reduced, more personal scale, of course.
In practical terms there are advantages: after a quarter of a century of constant trouser-hoisting my pants now stay up. My waistline is moving north, to a point where it will eventually meet my neck. This, my friend says, is nature’s way of helping by putting things in easier reach. In future years I may look forward to using my trouser pockets as panniers for my daily batch of pills, for example; or to disguise a necessary search for an irritating bit of navel fluff. Not that I need attach any importance to my mode of dress these days.
Not now that I have retired.
Oh yes, that was the second thing, wasn’t it? I forgot to mention it. I’ve retired. No more teaching sessions, no recalcitrant teenagers or over-anxious parents cluttering the horizon. The horizon, in fact, is conspicuously bare.
That’s it! I have finally, definitively, given up the day job. I am a full-time pensioner with nothing to do but write. When I look in my diary I see acres of white space, when I look at my doctor’s expression I see acres of quiet resignation: nothing can surprise him now. There is no symptom I can offer which does not attract the one diagnosis.
“How old are you?”
“My elbow hurts.”
“Tennis elbow. It’s very common among men your age.”
“My finger’s falling off.”
“You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
I am getting wishes, I am even getting cards! Happy retirement! What does that mean?
My well-wishers deliver their sentiment with sad eyes and a sort of fond, distant expression reminiscent of mothers and friends on the quayside, waving wistful goodbyes to their nearest and dearest as they sail off towards a distant, final destination; calm seas lapping at the bow, a golden sunset, a skyline littered with icebergs.
Overnight I have transformed brutally from a sentient, perhaps, dare I say, sagacious elder counselor to an obstinate, obviously incapacitated old fart. My default setting is now officially ‘incapable’. I have to be ‘cared for’. I find myself referred to in the third person:
“Is he alright?”
“Does he need a chair?”
I am also inescapably ‘there’. My wife is being extremely democratic. Every time she trips over me she accepts the blame:
“I’m so sorry!” (Look of intense concern) “Did I hurt your foot?”
“My foot? Oh, so that’s where I left it…”
Her eyes are filled with sympathy as she recalls the years when I bought shoes with laces and climbed hills without assistance, when she still bought underwear for me without the word ‘surgical’ on the packet. Those two years of advantage she has over me in terms of age have become vital in her calculations to the first wheelchair and the last box.
I’m going to be buried under a tree, by the way; I am quite decided upon that, and I have told my wife exactly what I want done. She asked if she has to wait until I am dead.