Time-hingeing and the end of summer


We are having a bad day, the cat and I.  There are several reasons for this: the state of the world – Syrian children and the lunacy of politics (me); foxes in the garden (him); the blight on the runner beans and the infuriating speed of pigeons. Also, we’re both coming down off steroids. That may be a thing.

Today’s one of those time-hinge days. Summer’s at the wane.  Sunflowers nod to a listless breeze of dust and memory. In the bathroom, I’m humming that Joni Mitchell song. I do not like the slide into winter – the rain, the dark, the colds and asthma. They are not the worst things in the world to suffer but somehow a time-hinge day like today -fleeting sun, bronze light and shadows – fills me with dread and longing. To have summer over again, just this once.

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Yesterday I read about the world’s oldest man who lives in Indonesia and is 145. 145!! Apparently he just wants to die. All of his children are dead as well as his 10 siblings and he now has great-great grandchildren. He’s had his own grave ready since he was a spring chicken,  of 121. Imagine having gone to all that effort and to still be here 24 years later. You could have travelled the world, studied for a degree or two, read the complete works of William Shakespeare and still have a few years left to put your feet up and do the crossword. (Note to self: Do not waste money on a grave until you know you’re dead.) He attributed his long life to one thing alone – patience. Imagine seeing 145 winters, 145 Christmasses, 145 New Year’s sales – you’d need patience…

We went to the coast to squeeze the juice out of the last day of summer.

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The beach was half empty. The sun was steady, the water glistened. We sat above a tide mark of salt-crust seaweed, determined to store up gold for winter. Lying down, we literally sucked sunshine from the sky until we were plump and gasping. Then we had a cup of tea.

What is it about ‘the big, blue wet thing’? Why are we compelled to sit by it, stare at it, bathe in it, walk by it for hours on end? Watching the people around me, sleepy in that late afternoon echo-beach way, I decide it’s because it satisfies all of our senses. We love its colour, its texture, its smell and the curious rhythm of the waves. Of course we don’t taste it, but there’s a range of man-made add-ons here – chips, cups of tea, ice cream. wp-1472575870436.jpg

But there’s something else, something infinitely appealing about standing on the edge of an island looking out. Behind is land,  safety. Ahead is water, then a new place. When you get to the end of the land, you’ve come as far as you can without being somewhere else. And you can’t just drift into that. You have to get on a boat, or a plane or a train through a tunnel. You have to move.  I look out across the strip of water and I remember the old excitement I used to feel in my teens, hitching round Europe – the scent of adventure, the pull of the new. I hope I still have that when I’m 145.

Joni Mitchell is still singing*. The cat and I ignore her. We give one last sigh at the state of the world, and look down the moment at our lives. We say a polite goodbye to summer. Because when you get to the end, you’ve come as far as you can without being somewhere else.

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*And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

 

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How do you age?


I know this sounds a bit  barmy but I think ageing has little to do with age. When you look in the mirror, who are you expecting to see? A child, a teenager, a young person making your way in the world? In other words, how old are you on the inside? I know children who are older than me. I once said to an eight year old, “Do you think trees can talk?” He regarded me with disdain , and replied, “I don’t think that’s a sensible question, do you Mrs Jenkins?” My lips twitched. Eight on the outside, fifty-eight inside. Actually I was reading an article recently,  documenting some research from Canada which shows that trees do communicate. So there you go, now-not-so-young William Double-Barrelled-Surname! Hope you are reading this…

I am finding the whole process of ageing faintly terrifying but also interesting. Some people give you the impression of eternal youth, not by the way they look, but by the way they laugh or hug trees or twinkle at you. Others are earth-wise and sceptical at the age of six. Is age a personality-thing as well as a years-thing? How to embrace the inside-age when it’s at odds with the outside one? Is ‘growing old gracefully’ even worth doing?

When I look in the mirror, I obviously don’t expect to see this: –wp-1469377186241.jpg

Or this: –wp-1471625046490.jpg

Or this: –wp-1469377242783.jpg

But I do expect to see something like this: –wp-1469377261705.jpg

What I actually see is this: –wp-1469392036387.jpg

And that’s on a good day. It’s usually more like this :-

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Who is this version of me? She has my mother’s eyes, my father’s smile and hands like my grandmother. She uses an electric toothbrush, and wears sensible shoes. She no longer has much interest in partying  or shopping. She says to herself, like a character in a Barbara Pym novel, “The old blue velvet will have to do.” Except for old blue velvet, read ‘print frock with red wine on hem’. A Friday night treat is a book and a glass of Chardonnay. She reads obituaries. And yet…and yet. She spends all day with children. Many of her friends are younger than her. She still laughs at pooh and wee jokes.  People who take themselves too seriously bore her. She sniffs books. No, she inhales them…this explains why her nostrils are so large.
When I’m in someone else’s classroom and the teacher roars, “SIT DOWN!” to this day, I’m scrambling for a chair before a last-minute recovery and a self-conscious , “Ahem…yes! Sit down!” to the children in the room. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years but Miss Ainscoe with her mean little eyes and roary voice “Deborah! SIT DOWN!” is forever etched on my eight year old inside self. While my fifty-something outside self tries to remember that the things I say and the atmosphere I create in my classroom can, for some children, last a lifetime.

Does life, or our response to it, age us? I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I know people who have lived through unimaginable tragedy or cruelty at the hands of others and still have a hopeful, trusting view of things. They have not soured, they do not hate. They are ageing well. wp-1469387964249.jpg

Hopefully you and I will be a bit like our garden gate – a bit battered, a bit lurching but still standing, still hopeful we can offer something unique to the world.  And in our own way, perhaps, still beautiful (on a good day).

Forgive me if this post is a bit odd. It’s just that I want to explore the ageing thing, but no one will talk about it! (Is this the new taboo?) My mates say, ‘Stop it! You’ve nothing to moan about.’ Older friends say ‘Oh for goodness sake – just you wait!’ As for the young ones, they mumble things like, ‘You still  look great!’ while glancing with thinly disguised horror at my bat – wing arms. But this all misses the point. It’s not how others see you. It’s how you see yourself. And how you come to terms with the growing chasm between your inside and outside self.

So please tell me, how do you age?

Postscript – There are some insightful comments from readers below.  Please do read, and add your own thoughts if you wish. And thank you 🙂