In Which Pooh and Piglet go Digital…

Every now and again we ‘olds’ get a signal that we have lived for long enough.

There is a ‘trial’ (appropriate word) happening in Manchester, England which weighs children annually from the age of three, informing parents through a website if their little darlings are ‘obese’.

This fresh invasion of the Fit Police will use nurseries and schools as vehicles for its activities, so evidence of their victims’ frailties can be freely exchanged among classmates and friends.  These zealots happily admit that their desire is to encourage a spirit of competition between parents and the children as to who is fittest, tallest, etc..

I can stand the patronising arrogance of the Nanny State, I can even forgive the enormous amount spent on the wasted education of those who can only find direction by becoming a part of it, but the least I might ask some of these people to do is B****Y WELL THINK!

Every time you reward success in a child you generate a black cloud of despondency amongst the nine-tenths who cannot win – will never win, and for all sorts of reasons.  By creating a god you generate a continuous string of sacrifices.  Worse, you encourage children to hang labels on each other at an even younger age, and children are very free, and very cruel, with labels.  Worst of all, you spark in those children who do not conform to your quasi-Arian image a downward spiral of diminishing self-esteem that will lead to depression, anxiety, anorexia, and social alienation.

And we all know the damage social alienation, labelling, and bullying can do, don’t we?  Especially if it becomes entangled with a knife or a gun?

Too extreme?  No.  Too easy.  Easy to start with an infant on a set of scales and build an adolescent with a grudge.

Resolutions

“Time tae greet the New Year, Freddy!”  My friend raised a glass.  “What’re ye havin’?”4565034003_d465a7a7c8

Now Scotsmen have a reputation for meanness.  As generalizations go it is not without some substance, but a curious contrariety tends to occur around about the sixth whisky.  Thereafter, from whiskies seven to fourteen the generosity curve steepens logarithmically.  After fourteen it is hampered by incoherence.  I judged my friend to be at around nine – just entering the spontaneous hugging stage.

“No thank you.  I’ve given up.”   I cannot doubt the pall my words cast upon the assembled party-goers.  Silence fell.  Someone turned off the music.

“Given up the drink? Ye’ll nivver do it, Hin. Ye must be mad!”

He was right, of course.  He is right.  Ninety percent of New Year’s resolutions barely survive to twelfth night, although abstinence from alcohol has a better chance perhaps than stopping smoking, travelling more, losing weight, ceasing to swear, or watching less television.  Why?  Because as a dutiful Scot (well, I do have some ancestry in that direction) I am honor-bound to forgo sobriety entirely between Christmas and Hogmanay.  I therefore float into the latter in a sufficiently inebriated state to survive a Haggis, if someone deems it necessary to feed me one, or even to fully misunderstand why they’re hitting that damn great bell twelve bloody times.  So I can hit the ground running.  I am able to draw upon my reserve tanks until the 3rd January at least without another drop passing my lips.   Thereafter it gets harder.

I discussed the problem with my Scots friend over a Coca-Cola:  not a subject that seemed to interest him unduly but it helped me to take my mind off the fumes from the room, his glass, and him. It also distracted me from ‘Dead March in Saul’ which some wag had unearthed and put on the sound system.

“Can ye no see this is the time o’ year for drinkin’?”

“Is there a time of year for not drinking?”  But he had a point.   We are delving into deep midwinter, when a sallow sun can scarcely raise strength to crank itself over the horizon for seven hours, and the rain only ceases when the snow begins.  The wind is a wild rider, Odin’s cart is heard to creak between the gallows trees and Thor’s hammer cleaves the sky.

All right, I’m getting a little carried away.  We don’t have gallows anymore and those clashing sounds have nothing to do with battle at Valhalla:  Ragnarok is more likely to occur at a football match these days, isn’t it?  But you get the idea.

We are embarking upon three months of dark boredom interspersed with moments of terror.  The ship of night has to carry us all the way through to March with absolutely no motivation for a stroll on deck and with sporadic cringing fear as we listen to the wind deconstructing our roof or watch the river come through the back door.  Can there be a worse time to stop smoking?  Is there any other season which competes with television for our attention less successfully?  Is travel a temptation, given snowdrifts, high wind at the airport, or the discovery that the rain in Spain falls mainly on you?  And yes, even the Riviera can be cold.

Do we wonder then, why abstinence in such conditions proves so hard to maintain?  Party music is playing, glasses are rattling, food – wondrous, odorous food – is nature’s way of fighting the cold, and it looks so good; it tastes so sweet, it tempts, it flirts outrageously, it beckons…taken early, your resolution might survive the Week of the Leftover Turkey, but thereafter?

Twelfth night, then:  outside, the wind is blowing, the window panes are laced with snow.   Inside, there is laughter:  harsh and defensive maybe, a little fearful possibly, but laughter nonetheless.  Inside there is music to drown out the night.   The smiling golden liquid glistens in the bottle, waiting to pour free.

“Will ye no just have a dram o’ this single malt, Freddy?  It must’ae been a fine year, this!”

“No.   Well, I shouldn’t.  I promised not to, you know.   I said, didn’t I?  But then, I suppose just the one wouldn’t hurt.”

“Would it?”

Into the Sunset

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.  Aged BloggerLet 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.

“I’ve got this ache in my back.”zimmer

“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?”

What?!!

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.