life, ageing and dying

Brain started morbidly riffing after the last post, so I’m carrying straight on…

Ageing in a certain way is utterly terrifying.  While the physical act of ageing can’t really be prevented and shouldn’t be massively worrying, the unpredictable loss of faculties is a horrible prospect.  Age imposes itself so arbitrarily, presuming you’re fortunate enough to make it to a stage one might reasonably call ‘old’.  When is that anyway? 

You see relatively sprightly 60, 70, even 80-somethings, both in mind and body, who never seem to have too much wrong with them, at least mentally.  Then one day, perhaps following a brief illness, they simply die. 

Then there are those who die in a sickening, long, drawn-out fashion, losing faculty after faculty, like pieces of machinery falling off a car. 

And then there are those, who miserably live on for a long time, not enjoying life and who have little to motivate or interest them.  Although they have their faculties and health, their zest for life has dwindled long ago, but basic tedious habit keeps them going, possibly even in the face of a private wish that something would pack up on them.

It’s easy to look fondly at retirement age through a comparatively young person’s lens.  All the things you could do, places you could go, time you would have to read, to think, to listen.  To not have to fret about work.  It’s a brilliantly, compelling tantalising prospect. 

But that’s through younger, less tired eyes.  It seems incomprehensible, but appetite for newness might dip as you grow older.  Not desiring new information – especially now, today, with all the media that saturates our lives – it seems an absurd notion.  How could you not want to know what’s going on? 

(Or WILL that actually change for this current Information Age generation?  Will there be a proliferation of laptops, games consoles and Wiis in the retirement homes of the 2050s?) 

Some, the really long-lived, will probably and understandably tire of life though; the way, after a while, it might just seem to be repeating itself over and over again.  The same basic human flaws exposed both in close family and on the global political scale.

Attitude is always shaped by experience, the people you’ve known and loved, or haven’t, and your basic outlook.  Those lucky enough to be surrounded by people they love at most stages of their lives might be more prone to transmit their affections and enthusiasms through those people. 
They can appear injected with a relentlessly buoyant spirit, which can be wonderfully infectious. 

While those without… if they learn to deal with it, with life and its sadness, loneliness, if it just becomes normal – then perhaps they just get insanely bored by it all.

Hrm.. there’s a cheerful thought…    : D

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“We’ll have to go for a pint..?”

… it’s what newly former colleagues say, and you concur, yes, we should, that’d be cool.  But you don’t really know if they mean it or if it’s one of those things you just say. 

Much like “keep in touch,” when both parties know they have little intention of doing so.

Yet there are a couple who might surprise you.  Who send an email or a text saying, “how about that pint then.”  And of course, they’re usually the ones you had a better relationship with, and wouldn’t mind spending a couple of hours and a few pints with.

My second meeting was with a top chap, albeit one who I wasn’t hugely professionally or personally close with.  As he worked on the opposite technical side of the office, amidst the legions of developers, we could often go weeks without having a conversation of any sort.  Yet when we did it always felt less throwaway than the usual kitchen platitudes.

And so it was when we met for pints.  From office gossip and conspiracy theories, my own unpleasant departure – which I’ve rather tired of regailing now (yes, it wasn’t nice, but I’m over it now), to sibling relationships, age, decay and death.  Strange how subject matter switches naturally to basic human things when you know you have few common interests.

He has a “grandmother” who actually isn’t his grandmother but a great aunt: a lady who sacrificed much of her own life to raise his mother.  According to him, she never had a partner or any relationships at all, so heartbreakingly strong was her dedication. 

In turn, he was an only child who spent much of his youth visiting and spending time with her.  She’s grown old, withdrawn, is physically inhibited by a rigid, unmoving, inward turn in her neck, and cares for little. Despite beng 99% mentally present.  For his part, he’s getting married in a couple of weeks to a very long term girlfriend.

Glad we met for the pints.  Parted with a manly handshake and wave of good feeling.

Time echoes in pets

The parents recently bought a puppy which closely resembles one they bought when I was six weeks old.  I grew up with it and was probably excessively wounded when it died.

 

We were roughly 12 and a half and I’d never known a day without him.  It remains my harshest ever experience of grief, for which I suppose I should be grateful.  After all, it was just a dog.


(Even so, just typing that last sentence still smarts: “just a dog”?! *sniffle*)


Seeing recent photographs of Mum with the new puppy couldn’t help but evoke comparison with similar photographs taken roughly my lifetime ago.
 

The puppy itself is impossibly cute right now, eight weeks old, its character and lolloping running style still immature and undefined.

 

Can’t help thinking a touch morbidly though.  Will this be their last dog?  One which will see them into proper old age?  Might I even, one day, be obliged to take custody of it, when it’s fully grown, old itself, creaky, a faculty or two gone?  If not this one, maybe another.  A smaller, downsized, more manageable one.  Where will I be then?


As ever, I can’t even guess where I’ll be in a handful of years.  A decade or so hence still appears as intimidatingly unforeseeable as it did when I was a child.  There’s still no plan.

 

Time seems to resonate more strongly through family pets than through humans, possibly due to their limited lifespan: more manageable chunks of time for the memory. As well as their permanent-seeming embroidery into the fabric of day-to-day family life at the time, and the gaping space they leave when they go.

 

Redressing verbal vomit

I speak too fast in certain professional situations.  At a public forum or event.  In a workgroup.  And I hate it.  I can predict it’s about to happen before it does, and I can hear it while it’s happening too.

Yet still I splurge words forth at an alarming, difficult-to-follow rate.

S-L-O-W

-I tell myself, concentrating on enunciation and pauses which feel like forever to me, like a wide open invitation for somebody to jump in and stop me – but which are actually completely natural, and help to engage an audience better than verbal vomit.

A woman halted me, mid-flow yesterday, during a small working group.  She was snidey and cold and not especially likeable, so it was easy not to be too affected by her snootiness, despite knowing she was right.

“Could you just slow down, and stop using so many acronyms?” she said, patronisingly.

“Could you look like you haven’t just got out of bed?” I didn’t reply.

Why do I find it so hard though?  The truth is weak confidence.  I expect to be interrupted, and soon, as soon as I begin to speak in such an environment.  So I feel compelled to empty my brain of all its stuff as soon as physically possible. Before I’m interrupted.

Given a platform where people do actually listen, afford time and respect, that still surprises me.  As I’m still unconvinced I’m worth listening to.

Where do I turn to lay deep-seated psychological blame?  The antithetical extrovert brother, who has always commanded attention since we were young children, (and now does so from a television screen, to mass audiences)?  My only sibling, two and a half years my elder, who I use too much and too quickly explain my character?

Possibly.

A chap at the same event, not too much older than me, addressed the whole room (of 60 or so) with a quick presentation / summation of group work, almost off the top of his head.  It was quicky, witty, smart.  He’s a self proclaimed nerd with long dark hair and a personal uniform of dark T-shirts and trousers.  But at that moment, how I envied him.

Explanations can be counterproductive anyway.  I may still have to address an audience of 150 or so at an event I’ve largely organised, in two weeks’ time.  So I should concentrate on me.  Try to galvanise from within.  Breed confidence incrementally and try to *believe* that I can control an audience of any size when speaking.  I can take my time.  There’s no rush.

Sounds good in theory…

the enormous bottom of a sunday cyclist

the enormous bottom of a sunday cyclist
ripples atop its plucky saddle
when wheels ride hard bumps
curvy buttock waves shimmer up and away
mesmerising
like a pebble on a lake

Our fragile dreams..

I decided to leave an industry event, convinced it was another futile exercise in self importance / promotion where I was pandering faintly pathetically to much more important people with much more important things to be doing.

I slumped off to random soho pub to find Chelsea disappointingly 1-0 up on Barcelona, but having seen a replay of the goal and despite hating Chelsea, I couldn’t begrudge them the lead.  It was a simply beautiful goal from Michael Essien which gave them their slender advantage.

I pondered my first freelance job, wondering if the contact hadn’t just extended it to me as a kind of favour.  A big favour I welcomed nonetheless.  I wondered if my self employment would be sustainable, how much more I’d have to do.

Didier Drogba dramatically went down under a challenge.  It was difficult to say if his grief was justified.  If he got hit by a lorry and sprawled theatrically across the asphalt, you might still suspect that he’d dived.

I hope I’m not too much of a charity case with competitive rates, and am, as he has said, actually someone he rates.  My nervousness centres around producing the goods, securing them what they want, not screwing up.  Being given your first job feels a little like being given a small baby to cradle for the first time.  Not quite knowing exactly what to do but knowing you should seem firm and assertive, and as if you know what you’re doing really.  Even if you don’t.

I got chatting to a northern fan who wouldn’t initially admit he supported Man United, who the winners of this game would play in the Champions League Final.  “Is it Barnsley?” I asked. He was actually interesting to chat to, for a United fan.  Knowledgeable and interested, favouring Chelsea in the game we were watching because he preferred United to play them in the Final.

The bar was populated with a sprinkling of Spanish fans, not to be unexpected in a central London bar, who cheered on their team with a predictable vigour.  Chelsea seemed to be being declined penalty appeal after penalty appeal.  Even if most are sketchy appeals, if you have about four you’ll usually get one given.

They didn’t.

So many nerves and so much paranoia about starting up alone, while still having an eye out for full-time employment opportunities.  If one of those came along, I was offered and accepted a role, would I feel as if I’d bottled the self employment thing?  Let myself down by not actually trying?  Perhaps.  Cross that bridge if and when it arrives.  Is my reputation and my will to aggressively self-promote strong enough to secure enough work to live off? Who can say?

Still 1-0 to Chelsea, the game almost over.  Barcelona, now with only 10-men, still bravely pressing in West London.  The Manchester fan was an amiable bloke. His companion a rotund, older Leeds fan, who I figured must be a colleague.

Yet more intricate Barcelona passing on the edge of the box, next to no time left to play.  The ball dropped to Andres Iniesta, who picked out a stunning top corner finish, squaring the game and putting Barcelona ahead on the away goal rule.  The catalan guy in front of us exploded into hysterical raptures, leaping around and jolting my pint. I joined him in his celebration, heartily shaking his hand, positive in my hatred of Chelsea. The Manc seemed genuinely disappointed, if mute.

As the tube stops at Fulham Broadway little under half hour later, the packed platform of football fans leers into view.  A girl opposite me baulks, realising the imminent deluge and we share a brief exchange of forboding before the doors ping open and the carriage is flooded in royal blue and white.

I’m still as pleased at their defeat as I was in the bar, even among all the condensed glum faces, many of them suits – those who can afford seats at Chelsea-Barcelona.

Where did my human sense of empathy go?  For a feeling of defeat I should know only too well?  Why do we grow such unhealthy, quite ostensibly despicable antipathy for rival teams?  Was I an extremely unpleasant person to be enjoying their disappointment so much? Enjoying the misfortune of others while I could?  Before my own hope disintegrated?

Only when I saw a younger fan in his early 20s and apparently without company, still shaking his head, did I feel a mild twinge of sympathy. I do hate Chelsea but this must be particularly gauling, a semi-final Champions League defeat, especially after last season’s defeat to Man United in the final.  Perhaps it was because the fan was so lost in himself, alone, desolate in a crowd, uncaring about his appearance in the loss of a dream.

wobbly coffee shop table

My head had been hurting on and off for a while after spending too many hours squinting at this tiny netbook, doing optimistic, potentially work-related things.  So I decided to give it a break and take some fresh air.

The final day of this bank holiday has  been dreary, overcast, gloomy and faintly deathly.  It’s been an ending sort of day.

Took a bucket of coffee at one of the chain outlets which dot my London burb, then found a table.  The first I came to was directly beneath a bland music-pumping speaker and I wanted to listen to my own bland music (Joshua Radin) and read my book (Little Children by Tom Perrotta: my author find of the year), break from potentially work related things entirely, just for a while.

So I moved to the back of the room, near the kitchen door, right in the corner.  I placed my bucket of coffee, its saucer and small pot of milk onto the table, then landed on the chair.

Suddenly there was nowhere for my not insignificantly long legs to go.  They clashed with the underside table rung and rocked the whole apparently unsteady table, causing my mug to wobble and various liquids to slop across the table surface.

Maddeningly furious, I struggled to contain an embarrassingly audible growl and wriggled in my chair.  Literally no space.  Who the fuck thought…  AND this table!…  which teetered as I pushed it, attempting to give my legs some space.

For a brief moment this was symbolic of everything.  My tendency to extend such frustrations and apply them more widely to my woefully unfulfilled life took hold.

Sitting down to a structurally unknown coffee shop table was a bit like deciding to try and be a freelancer.  It might be secure and normal, steady and solid.  Or there could be an unpredictable flaw somewhere which would tilt everything unmanageably.  If you’re able to correct it, cope and manage, it might work.  If it’s unbearable and makes you too nervously uncomfortable to sit it out, you won’t.

But you’ll only find out by sitting down.

I eventually righted the table adequately to maintain my position and enjoyed a most pleasant half hour in the company of Joshua and Tom.  Needless to say, that can’t be extended to mean anything at all.