One aspect of growing old is that you don’t have quite the energy stores of yesteryear.
Yesterday I had a moderately busy time of it – something of a novelty in itself – the schedule for which involved going for a catch-up morning coffee with my daughter in a town just north of Oxford and then attending a secular funeral service in west London at 2.00pm.
By the time I had found a suitable garage at which to fill up with fuel, the weight of morning traffic in west London had prompted me to decide to drive up to the Hangar Lane roundabout in order to link with the M40 – rather than go down the M4 and around the M25 – and the route to Oxford. This was a mistake. The traffic crawled all the way up to Hangar Lane and I strongly suspect that my ‘wheeze’ intended to save time made my outward journey longer than it might have been.
My daughter has just been made redundant from her job, a bitter-sweet development as she had been seeking to leave it for about three months anyway – sadly, although she has been going for interviews, she was unable to achieve the perfect timing of being offered a new job simultaneously with receiving her redundancy package. Asked about her prospects, she told me what I sense is probably inevitable, i.e. that companies tend not to recruit in November or December, but instead wait until the new year to begin their ‘new starts’.
It normally takes me an hour to get back home after seeing my daughter and I had allowed myself two to get to the funeral, partly because I was not certain of its location and partly because I like to arrive about 30 minutes early for this sort of function in any event.
All went well driving south-east down the M40 until I reached some four miles from the M25 junction, at which point the over-the-carriageway message boards began flashing and demanding a speed reduction to 40mph. Suddenly I had joined a queue, or rather a grid-lock. Ominously, traffic coming the other way in the opposite carriageway soon also dried up. I could see, about half a mile ahead, the front of my queue … with empty carriageway stretching invitingly into the distance beyond.
I sat there, without moving, for 25 minutes – perhaps 28 actually. There was no escape and nothing to do but sit, listen to the radio and wait. Eventually, not long after we had ever-so-slowly begun moving again, the radio road traffic announcer reported there has been a ‘police incident’ on the M40 (whatever that means). There was certainly no multiple vehicle pile-up, air crash or fleet of ambulances involved.
I pressed on … and – eventually and ironically – arrived at the crematorium almost exactly the time I had originally intended.
One of the rugby fan regular drinkers at a local hostelry had lost his wife last week. She had been terminally ill and, as it happened, she died on the very day she entered the hospice they had chosen.
I was/am not a close friend – more a passing acquaintance – of the couple and it was a situation where one actively wished to show one’s respect to the partner left behind in the hope that, by the simple act of turning up, one would contribute a small slice of comfort. They’d have been expecting their close mates to be there if possible. Maybe someone like me pitching up, whom they didn’t know quite so well, would be appreciated precisely (as Tony Blair would say) because it would have been slightly less expected.
Given the numbers, it was inevitable that some would have to stand at the back. Since I knew well only about six or eight present – as opposed to the additional dozen I recognised but could not name – I decided to be one of them.
My first comment upon the service is that, generally-speaking, I am not the greatest fan of pop songs played at funerals. Yesterday’s featured the inevitable Eva Cassidy version of Sting’s ditty Field Of Gold, Rod Stewart’s You’re In My Heart and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. I could have done without two of these – I’d let you chose which.
Yesterday’s was a secular service, presided over by a lady from the British Humanist Society. My first impression was that she – and the four others chosen to speak eulogies about the deceased – were particularly softly spoken, or that the room’s amplification system wasn’t working properly.
Either that, or at my age my hearing is going.
I say that because, from where I was standing I caught little of any of the tributes paid to the departed. My ‘sense’ of this was reinforced by the fact that – about halfway through the 65 minute service – I became aware of people around me tittering at the intended jokes or quips being made by the speaker at the lectern … when I personally couldn’t catch any of what they were saying (well, beyond a general mumble).
The other (age-related) aspect worthy of note was the effect of standing for an hour plus in a crowd.
Never mind the minor general arthritis discomfort to which I am prey in my right hip – exacerbated by standing in any event – I also became aware of issues with my left foot, which has not only retained a bolt pinning a metatarsal for forty years (I never bothered to have it removed, as was an option) but is missing two central nerves as a result of an operation to remove them about ten years ago in dealing with a pair of Morton’s neuromas that I’d developed in the region through road running. As a result, I began developing pins and needles in my lower left leg from about forty minutes in.
Accordingly, for your author, standing still for an hour – without being able to hear any of the service and whilst developing fatigue discomfort in both legs – gradually became something of an ordeal.
Afterwards, instead of joining the throng in the local pub – as invited – I simply walked to the car park, jumped into my car and drove home. Once I’d changed into my play clothes and relaxed for quarter of an hour, I then retired to the sanctuary of my bedroom and had an afternoon nap.