Thinking Aloud on Easter Sunday

Movements, and sounds.

Regular readers will know that I am not religious. I actually forgot that last Friday was Good Friday, and I was surprised that the supermarket is closed today. For those of you that celebrate this season in that way, I wish you a Happy Easter, and a peaceful weekend.

But this morning I woke up hearing a noise. It took a while for me to realise that I had made that noise, something resembling a strangled cry, as I turned over in bed. My body was telling me that I had been in one position too long, and that it also didn’t like the amount of effort required to change direction.

I can’t really remember the first time I started to make noises associated with the simple process of moving around. But I do remember my Mum having to make some sort of ‘grunt’ to assist her to get out of an armchair. And when she sat back down in one, she would let out a sound something like a long “Oooff”, as she rested back against the cushion. At the time, I used to find this amusing. Little did I know that those sounds would soon be coming from my own mouth.

It seems that I can no longer rise from the sofa, or sit back on one, without associating the movement with an audible groan or strange cry. I have actually tried to stop it happening, but with no success. And it is not restricted to sitting and standing. Scratching a particularly itchy insect bite last year, I was shocked to hear myself letting out some kind of high-pitched wail as I did so. At first, I didn’t even realise it was me making the noise.

Settling down in bed unleashes a repertoire of sighs that could well be set to music. Stretching out under the duvet has to be attempted carefully, in case of attracting a bout of muscle cramp in one leg. If that happens, it will be accompanied by cries of pain that are something like those heard on a Maternity Labour Ward. If I escape that, then cat-like purs of contentment issue from my lips, followed by expulsions of breath that can rustle the pages of a magazine, inflating my cheeks until I resemble the jazz trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie.

Getting into my low corner bath is easy enough, but climbing back out after bathing is another matter entirely. I have to adopt the tried and tested ‘extrication’ method. Hands grasp the sides, legs and feet drawn up to get purchase on the bottom of the bath, then up in a single movement, accompanied by my personal bath grunt, sounding something like ‘Aaargh’. Without that grunt, I am convinced I would never emerge from the bath water.

Outside the home, I cannot avoid my new ‘language’. Climbing into the driving seat of my car doesn’t appear to require much effort, but it is always accompanied by a distinct ‘Oooff’, which makes me remember my Mum, every time I set off to drive somewhere. After a drive of less than thirty minutes, getting out of that same seat usually necessitates a few ‘Ows’, before I am on solid ground.

When you reach the age that you begin to hear unfamiliar and unnecessary sounds coming from you, try to remember this post.

Read it again, and realise that it is all just part of getting old.

The disappearing year

Hard to believe it is already the 6th of April. It won’t be long before some bloggers are counting down the days to Christmas, and I still have unused presents from the last one.

It must be an age thing, but this year seems to be flying past faster than any I have ever known. March felt like it only lasted a week, and before I know it, it will be May. I am haunted by the words of my late Mum, who talked often of how her life seemed to slip away, toward the end. When she remarked that she had hardly noticed a year pass by, in 2010, I thought she was exaggerating at the time.

Now I know exactly what she was talking about.

Maybe it is because I don’t have to work, and rarely leave the cosy confines of Beetley and central Norfolk. My days no longer drag waiting for work to finish, or dreading the shift to come the following day. I have an easier life, and a relatively contented one.

But a much quicker one, undoubtedly. 🙂

Too many candles

Today is my birthday. Regular readers will know that I always make a big deal about that. Previous birthdays have seen frequent trips to the seaside, or places of interest. I fear the weather is not going to cooperate today, so it will be a quieter celebration. I will restrict myself to opening my cards, and the few gifts I will receive.

Ollie thinks it is just another day of course. So his long walk will go ahead as usual, and he might be interested to sniff at my cards and parcels, hoping they contain unexpected treats for him.

We will go to the nearby Thai restaurant later. But it will just be a nice meal, nothing too celebratory.

And there will be no birthday cake.
I think that 67 candles is too many, for one cake.

A Common Name

My surname is the tenth most common name in Britain, according to available information. Johnson is a simple enough name, but I have spent my life having to spell it to people. Because there are other spellings, such as Jonson, or Johnston and Johnstone, both very popular in Scotland, I always have to say “No ‘T’, no ‘E’ “. But my first name, Peter, is now actually quite rare. It is very much of its time, and to anyone who knows about such things, gives a good indication of when I was born. You would be hard-pressed to find many boys called Peter these days. I suspect most of us with that name are at least fifty, or much older. Times have changed, and now the most popular names for boys are Oliver, Jacob, Freddie, Henry, Leo, and Muhammad.
So at least my dog has the number one name.

When I was at school, one of my best friends was also called Peter. Many of the teachers, all around ten years older than us then, also had that name. Years later, I started working at a small ambulance station that had only fourteen staff. Five of us were called Peter. But despite eventually meeting a huge number of colleagues over the years, I only met one other Johnson. A long time after that, I received a letter in the post. It was on headed notepaper, from The Peter Johnson Gallery, with an address in fashionable Sloane Street, London. It was an invitation to attend a ‘Peter Johnson Party’, arranged to promote the launch of this new art gallery and sale room. I was in the phone book at the time, so easily found. My first reaction was that it was a joke. Perhaps a carefully-contrived prank by some friends, to lure me into something that would embarrass me.

I decided to phone the number anyway, and play along. A serious young lady assured me that it was genuine. They had come up with the promotional idea to launch both the gallery, and the new collection it was featuring. Newspapers and local TV stations had been informed, and the guest list only contained men named Peter Johnson, (plus one partner) which was also the genuine name of the gallery owner. There would be some light food served, and drinks, all free. We could peruse the art on display, without any need to feel pressured into buying anything. She was adamant that this was all for the benefit of publicity, and added that it might be very interesting for me to meet many other men with the same name. It was quirky enough to attract me, so we went on the evening shown on the invitation. On arrival, a young lady asked our occupations, then drew a design on a large white sticker we had to wear. As I was an EMT, she drew a big red cross, and stuck it to my jacket. With everyone having exactly the same name, we would have no need of introductions. It was a pleasant enough couple of hours, but we all learned that just having the same name doesn’t mean you have anything else in common. And it didn’t make the TV news.

When I was diagnosed with Glaucoma, I had to attend the eye clinic at the huge University College Hospital, in London. As this was only a short walk from where I lived in Camden Town, I was on time for the afternoon appointment. The waiting room was huge, and full to the brim, with no free seats. When an elderly lady was called in, I slipped in to her vacant seat, and waited. After a wait of almost thirty minutes, a nurse appeared in a doorway, holding a file. In a loud voice, she called out, “Peter Johnson please. Peter Johnson”. I stood up, and was surprised to see that three other men had stood up too. We looked at each other. All around the same age, and all white men. The nurse checked the file again. “OK, born in 1952 please”. We all remained standing. By now, a couple of us were smiling too. She looked again, her expression one of exasperation. “March 1952 please”. Only one man sat down. Shaking her head, she looked at us as if we were teasing her. “Just the one born on the 16th of March then”. She turned back into the room as she said that. But only one other man had sat down. Moments later, she came back out, her arms folded. “Do either of you have any middle names?” We both shook our heads. She pointed at the taller man to my left, and said, “OK then, you first”.

In that one clinic, on one afternoon, I encountered four men with the same name. They were the same age exactly, having been born in the same year. And one of them was born on the same day.

Ever since, I have been very careful to make sure they are talking to the right person.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.

Ollie: A dog getting older

Ollie will be seven years old soon. Given that his breed rarely lives beyond the age of ten, we have to accept that he is now past middle age, and becoming old, relatively speaking.

There are times when he still remembers what it was like to play. He rushes around with a soft toy in his mouth, or gets excited when anyone calls at the house. But he doesn’t play with other dogs anymore when we are out, and his free-spirited joyous solo running has slowed down to a perky trot.

The shorter two-hour walks of winter seem to suit him well enough too. He is usually ready to go home before 4 pm now, and sometimes heads for one of the exits of his own accord, even when I am still happily trudging around.

There are some grey hairs visible around his jowls now, and he seems to want more to eat, having taken to begging when we have something, which he never did before. When he doesn’t get a morsel, he will return to his food bowl and finish up any remaining dry food. And he is always ready to flop onto his bed at night, as soon as either of us shows any intention of getting ready for bed. In the mornings, he is reluctant to stir, and sometimes has to be told to go out into the garden, especially when it is very cold, or raining.

But the biggest change in him is seen by his constant search for affection, and visible jealousy when I am giving that attention to anyone else. He seeks lots of cuddles now, and will push himself against my legs when I am reading, typing on the blog, or watching TV. He has always followed me around slavishly, but now he gets even closer, and can’t seem to tolerate me being out of sight.

Perhaps he is feeling those changes inside, the differences in energy, and that need for reassurance. It could be that he has noticed that I am also seven years older, and have slowed down too. He may just be following my example, who knows?

But he can be sure that he will continue to be looked after, loved and cared for, no matter how old he gets.

Accelerated Decrepitude: A Re-Post

I came across this old post, from 2013. I appear to have been in a bit of a state at the time, and now I am five years older!

I seem to be developing a condition shared by J.F. Sebastian, and the Replicants, in the film ‘Blade Runner’; namely, accelerated decrepitude. The rapid advancement of the symptoms of old age continues to rampage through my physical person, exaggerating the slightest conditions into ones that are immediately debilitating. I had hoped that this move to the countryside would endow me with increased abilities, and banish many of my previous maladies. It seems that the reverse is true, and country living is only highlighting my limitations, and driving me down to new lows.

I have recently mentioned the sudden onset of eczema. What started as an itchy chest, now looks set to consume my entire skin surface. Currently, only my face is spared; though the sight of the rash appearing around the base of my neck makes me feel that it won’t be too long before assimilation is complete. The chemicals prescribed by my doctor do not seem to be helping much. I have turned instead to organic remedies; in particular, a balm made from various herbs, including St John’s Wort, encased in a paste of beeswax. If it doesn’t cure the rash, it may make me more attractive to honey bees.

I was woken by a severe cramp in my right leg recently, more painful than any I had previously experienced. I realised immediately that I had to get out of bed, and get that leg straightened. I jumped out, and assumed the characteristic pose of the flamingo, perched on one leg, with the other thrashing back and forth, like a rugby player attempting numerous shots at goal. (Perhaps I should not compare this to a flamingo at all, on reflection. That elegant and sedate bird is unlikely to be flattered by being likened to a flabby 60-odd year old man, cavorting naked around a bedroom in a Norfolk village.) These strange antics achieved mixed results. I did manage to reduce the cramp, and diminish the pain. But in doing so, I also happened to pull the calf muscle in my right leg, which has now hurt me all week.

I have previously mentioned my increasing dependency on reading glasses. This has now become an obsession. I always have to know where they are, and have them to hand at any time. This became ridiculous earlier this week, when I wanted to look at some post that had just arrived. I went into the living room to fetch my glasses, and could not find them. I began a systematic search of all the rooms, even though I was fully aware that I had not been into at least three of them. After a search that would have graced a crime scene investigation, I became annoyed, and resolved to get the spare pair, from my car in the driveway outside. I found the keys and walked over to the car, immediately dropping them, as I went to point the ‘beeper’ at the lock. Bending down to retrieve them, I noticed something else fall nearby. It was the lost glasses; they had been on my head all the time. I felt as if I was in a scene from an unfunny sitcom, and decided that I had finally become a cross between Mr Magoo, and Terry Scott.

Plagued by the itchy rash at night, I have been unable to sleep properly, resulting in my staying up even later than usual, and trying to doze on the sofa. I have avoided the bedroom, as my constant unconscious scratching does little to help, and only serves to keep poor Julie awake, before she has a long day at work. This strange half-waking existence has meant that I spend most of the day in a haze, get little or nothing done, and become even more forgetful, with life going in a constant, downward spiral.

I confess that I am always wondering what will happen next. What exacerbation of ailment, or arrival of new illness can I expect to greet tomorrow? I can only repeat my previous exhortation to all of you lucky enough to still be under forty years of age. Do it all now. Whatever it is, get it done while you are still capable of doing it. Before you know it, you will be a member of an unfortunate club. One that I appear to have joined, along with J.F.Sebastian and the Nexus-6 variants.