Probably as a form of defence mechanism, or alternatively an easy stock manner of beginning a conversation, in response to any incoming “How are you?” query on the phone or in person my aged father would habitually reply “I’m alive”.
Elsewhere – e.g. upon meeting or being introduced to someone – he would routinely deploy the lines either “Let me give you a piece of advice – don’t grow old” and/or “Growing old is not for the faint-hearted”.
The latter quips had the welcome effect of making everyone present smile, that is until one day a fellow octogenarian on the receiving end of one of them shot back with “Well, it’s better than the alternative …” which at the time somewhat stopped my father in his tracks, reducing him to silence – no doubt in part because he wasn’t expecting it and/or its point was patently obvious and unanswerable.
In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that any reader of any age would do well to heed this advice.
It helps us to keep a perspective of sorts as the snakes and ladders of outrageous fortune buffet us on our journeys along life’s highway.
Not least that a sense of humour can remind us that some things close to home (e.g. good health and a loving family or friends) are at least as important as success, fame and fortune.
Then again, if you cannot laugh at yourself then you probably cannot laugh at anything. And I find that, as I get older, there are more and more things to laugh about in my own behaviour.
I’ve begun to notice that over the last ten years – when I’m making a cup of coffee, or extracting a piece of toast from the toaster, or simply collecting a plate from a cupboard on which to prepare a cheese sandwich on the work-top – the frequency with which I drop said item, or knock over (and/or spill) something on the way as I move my hand across, has been statistically increasing by a noticeable degree.
As has the time it takes to clear up the broken glass, piping hot liquid or general mess one had thereby distributed about the place.
Plus I just don’t get het up about this anymore, partly because I’ve now built in anticipated periods of occasional frustration at my clumsiness (and/or time spent ‘cleaning up the mess or liquid’ that I’ve spilled upon important notebooks or documents) to my daily schedule.
Over time I’ve found that it’s actually more economical and less stressful to do that than – as one would have done twenty years ago – never allow for such complications (mainly because they so rarely happened in those days) and then get really annoyed with the world and/or oneself when they happen.
Which brings me to yesterday, when I drove out into the countryside to see my accountant whom I first hired about three decades ago and who has become an old friend despite the fact we see each other just once – and correspond or speak on the telephone maybe thrice – per annum.
I always visit him in the second or third week in January, specifically because not long before he has sent me an urgent reminder that he requires my income tax details for the previous April to April tax year pronto in order to avoid me getting some extortionate daily fine from HMRC for late filing when it gets to the 31st of the month.
Funnily enough – since his work for me each income tax year appears to take no more than thirty minutes (my tax affairs are blindingly simple and at a level of finance and activity that would never make any Gestapo register of “suspected dodgy accounts to be monitored carefully”) and most people do their own income tax returns online these days anyway – perhaps I ought to be questioning why I am bothering to pay approximately £500 to £600 per annum to have an accountant to prepare my tax return for me.
I guess half the answer to that is because I’ve always done it – and it’s a weight off my mind – but most of all I actually enjoy the process of going to see him every year and having a chin-wag catching up on each other’s news.
This year my main family news was that my daughter got married in December and – quite by chance – as it happened, she had sent me a link overnight to the first batch of images taken by the official photographer.
I was able to remind my accountant of my visit to see him last year, in which – in our chat – he had complained about recently noticing that – whenever (e.g. at Christmas-time) his family organised staged photographs of all the generations together – some overweight, balding, grey-haired old geezer would suddenly rush in and sit in his place instead of him.
Without exception the composition of the images – and their quality, detail and ‘knack of capturing the moment’ (whatever that might be at any time) – were impressive, way above any record that remain of my own nuptials, for example (but then, of course, those took place nearly forty years ago).
In particular, I went on, what was noticeable was the accuracy of the detail of the looks of the wedding attendees in said photographs. Every man Jack (or female Jill) looked uncannily as I remember them being on the day – and also, incidentally, as I have known them in life itself, before and since, some of them over five decades and more.
Well, all except one individual.
For some reason in every image the Father of the Bride looked exactly like his now late uncle Gerry (as his kids and indeed siblings regularly remind him), i.e. bedecked with a uniformly slightly dazed and confused expression spread across his puffy face … almost completely bald save for a few wispy strands of snow-white hair scraped across his pate … and resembling nothing more than a Central Casting-supplied escapee from a secure retirement home who has somehow found his way onto a bus and travelled downtown to the local Bingo parlour.