I awoke this morning ruminating upon the vicissitudes of growing old. Partly this was the result of spending another six hours of fun out upon the water yesterday, watching keel boats racing in a regatta, at times having to ‘manage’ my own mobility issues caused by an arthritic hip.
As my three fellow crew members were all aged 75 or older, my position in the world order was that of cabin boy-cum-deckhand. I was happy to play it, albeit that at times – e.g. when climbing out of the cockpit to go forward to the ‘bonnet’ of the motor cruiser to secure it to a pontoon, which each time required negotiating a twelve-foot strip of decking not much wider than a shoe (a bit like the running board that used to adorn motor vehicles in the 1930s) – I began to appreciate that I was not quite the Tarzan of my youth, when reaching the summit of a twenty foot tree took but a couple of minutes.
Furthermore, maybe I slept in an awkward position, but this morning I am suffering from the recurrence of a deep, sharp discomfort in my right shoulder blade.
Going back in history, there was a period when I had a bad back for about six months.
Getting in and out of bed became a huge effort. Which manoeuvre might I be able to make without excruciating pain? Could I swing my legs out of bed and haul myself sideways to an upright sitting position? How long would it take me to throw a sock over each big toe and struggle to pull it up over my ankle? Could I manage to get under the roof and into the driving seat of my car? After a drive somewhere, would I then be able to get out of the driving seat again and into an upright position without then having to walk like ‘young’ Mr Grace, the geriatric owner of the department store in Are You Being Served?
Another time – for a period of nearly three months – I had this significant and debilitating pain in my right shoulder blade. It meant I could only sleep in one position without discomfort. Sitting at a table, or reaching for something in the kitchen – without any warning – I’d sometimes be hit by a sharp pain, as if someone behind me had stabbed me with a knife. That’s what I’m suffering again from this morning.
My father loves socialising and meeting people, even if these days he can barely remember their name.
For a while last year he became something of a recluse because he was so embarrassed about his lack of mobility. His knees are bad and he had begun walking very slowly, and with a stick. His attendant balancing issues meant that he could not stand (e.g. at a party or function) for very long.
After a while, however, he began not to be embarrassed about these issues any longer. He now struggles to get anywhere but, once he has, he takes up a position in a chair and holds court. Mentally, his love of conversation and enquiring attitude about the world take over and – on a good day – he can probably pass for someone in his seventies.
“What was your most memorable moment of the landing?” he asked.
“Don’t laugh – it was actually the very fact we got there at all …” replied the other.
“We had an idiot of an American skippering our ship [off which the landing craft were launched as they got closer to the Normandy coast]. He was found looking at the Channel navigation charts upside-down. We were just damned lucky on the day that we didn’t get landed at Beachy Head!”
It’s the kind of anecdote that can raise a smile.
My father enjoyed telling it to me. Yesterday, at the sailing club before setting off, he must fallen into conversation with a dozen people who either knew him of old, or alternatively – mostly those younger – had met him before and simply came over to pay their respects. In at least half of these individual chats, the same story was deployed. I guess that if you’ve got a new story to tell – and one which amuses you – you tend to tell it a lot.
I know I do.