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.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

The Future

I didn’t dream last night. In fact, I slept soundly, from midnight until 7 am. The colder nights help of course, as that cosy feeling of being warm in bed is conducive to sleep. But when I was dropping off, I was contemplating my future, and woke up remembering that today. Not The Future, but my personal future, which is very different to the possible future of most other people, and the planet as a whole.

You get to an age when you begin to realise that the future has a sell-by date. No more childish fantasies of flying cars, or contemplating careers to come, and meeting that person you will share your life with. You might start to say things like “If I am still around”, when people discuss things like special occasions and holidays. You dismiss the prospect of moving house, taking out loans, or planning too far ahead. Well I do, anyway. It occurs to you that this might be the last place you will ever live in, maybe the last car you will ever own. Although I have little need of formal attire, I bought a new suit. I need it to wear when attending funerals, something that has become a regular ‘social event’.

Saving up for anything seems rather pointless, and you are reluctant to incur any debts that you may never pay off. Life has come full circle, and you start to view each day for what it is, much as a child does. People talk about Christmas, a holiday next year, or when their children will finish University. But all this forward planning is no longer part of the way you do things. Attending the wedding of a grandchild in twenty years time cannot be taken for granted. And even if the funds miraculously appeared to enable you to go on that round-the-world trip, you are no longer certain that you would actually be bothered to do it.

The closest I get to arranging something for the future these days, is writing out a shopping list for tomorrow’s trip to the supermarket.

Don’t get me wrong. Before you rush to tell me that I am not that old, and I might have another twenty years of enjoyable life ahead of me, I know. I am not complaining, not lamenting, and certainly not worrying about it.

I am just thinking aloud.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Gardening, and Houses

After tackling that long grass at the back yesterday, I woke up thinking about gardening today. Not just gardening, but houses in general, and the choices we make in life.

Before we moved to Norfolk, the idea of a big house and large garden had lots of appeal. Prices here are some of the lowest in Britain, and we could have bought a much bigger house at the time, had we chose to. This bungalow seemed to offer the right balance though. Small bedrooms, a large living room, and a kitchen-diner with enough space for a good sized table and chairs. The garden was certainly big enough for our needs, and looked easy to care for. We compromised on only one bathroom (something we have later regretted) as this place offered a garage, and driveway parking for three more cars, if that was ever needed.

Some people seem to take naturally to gardening. They potter about as if in a trance, and with what seems to be very little effort, they produce stunning gardens full of delightful blooms and plants. I am not one of those people. Early attempts at planting exposed my lack of knowledge immediately. Suitable soils, ph balance, acidity, and when to plant. I got all that wrong. I suppose I could have studied the subject, devoted my ‘golden years’ to learning a new skill. But I was interested in other things, like writing and photography. There was a dog to walk too. And weeds, they don’t tell you about those. Despite pulling and spraying, they come back with a vengeance every time, new ones arriving as if on weed coach trips. And that nice patio seating area. The cracks get full of weeds, and moss grows all over the slabs. The guttering around the house fills with leaves and moss too. But as there are no upper floors, I can at least use a short ladder to get up and clear those by hand.

The shade provided by the old oak trees is desirable, until you realise that the fall of leaves will have you slaving like a labourer for weeks on end, just to get rid of the soggy mess that appears in Autumn. So I soon settled for not being a ‘real’ gardener, and just trying to cope with what the previous owner had left behind. Some shrubs that need little attention, a decent-sized lawn area that must be cut, and the leaves from the oak trees that get everywhere, even inside the house, and into both our cars. And that huge expanse of leylandii hedge that provides us with privacy from the near-neighbours has become a fast-growing menace that almost kills me off when I have to attempt to cut it back.

And I got older of course. Less strong physically, and tired more easily too. We don’t think about that when we are excited to buy a new house, do we?

In the space of six years, jobs that were once relatively easy have now become what feels like a marathon task, a chore to be disliked and avoided. And we didn’t end up sitting out in the garden as much as we had imagined, oh no. Some years, what passes for Summer weather has been hard to find. And with months of rain not uncommon, our use of the outside space has been far less that we ever anticipated. And we never budgeted for employing someone else to do jobs. No spare cash for hiring a gardener to do the heavy or unpleasant jobs, or someone to clean the windows and clear the guttering. All of this is still manageable at the moment, but what of the years to come?

Based on my experience, I am going to offer some advice. A list of things to consider, before you rush off to buy that new house in the suburbs, or retire to peace and quiet in the countryside.

1) Think hard about how many stairs the house has. You won’t want to be walking up and down them all the time when you are 70, believe me. Don’t end up trapped in a downstairs room later in life.
2) Remember that a big garden takes a lot of work. Much more than you might imagine, I assure you.
3) Think about your ability to climb ladders, as you get older.
4) Keep money back, and invest it to be available to pay people to do things, like cleaning those top floor windows you can no longer cope with.
5) Really think about how much you will use that outside space once you are old. A small patio or courtyard might end up being all you will ever need, and easier to manage too.
6) Gravel driveways are a weed nightmare. Use some money up front to get them block-paved, or covered over properly. You may not have that money around later.
7) Get a home with a second bathroom, or a second toilet at the very least. People will visit, and problems will arise.
8) Be aware that things feel much heavier when you get older. They really do.
9) And also be aware that you won’t be able to work on jobs all day, like you once could.
10) Don’t buy a bigger house than you will ever need. You will never need it, I assure you.

If you are well-off financially, or anticipate an inheritance or windfall, then all of the above is meaningless. You will just pay for services, and sit back and admire the results. If you are considering downsizing later to a smaller and more manageable property, then my advice probably won’t concern you that much either. But a word of caution. Things rarely turn out like you imagine they will.
And if you are just an everyday person like me, with a fixed retirement income, and some small savings you are guarding, make sure to plan ahead carefully.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Youth

This week, I published a post about toys. I followed that with a re-post about a particular time in my childhood. No surprise then to find that I woke up today thinking about life when I was young. Not just the things I had, where I lived, or what I did, but what I was thinking about at the time.

My overriding memory is of always wanting to be older.

Before I started school, the older kids used to talk about it. They discussed their friends, their teachers, and how much fun they had at playtime. But I had a shock when I finally got there myself. Confusing corridors, so many other children of all ages around, and having to behave well, sit up straight, and learn my lessons. They forgot to tell me that most of my day would be regimented, and that many of my teachers would be a lot older than my parents, and not so kind either.

By the time I was out of that first school, aged 11, I still wanted to be older. I was in the first year of my ‘big school’, and more confused than ever. Over 1,200 other kids, some of them almost 18 years old. Everyone in the second year and above knew their way around, and having to find different classrooms for various lessons, getting used to a variety of teachers, that all seemed too much to handle at the time. I became convinced that being 15 would be much better, and I couldn’t wait to grow older.

By 16, I was much more confident. The teachers no longer treated us like children, and were encouraging and supportive. I was part of the furniture at the school, with an established group of friends, and full of confidence. But I still wanted to be older, if only by one year. That was because I had to be 17, to have a driving licence, and get a car. At the time, being able to drive became an obsession, and I was convinced that life would all be so very much better, once I could drive.

But even leaving school and getting that car didn’t really ease my desire to be older. I looked ahead to more maturity, my 21st birthday, and being really a man, at least as far as society was concerned. Funny thing was, even when I had my 21st party, and got those ‘key of the door’ cards, and all that grown-up stuff, I still felt like that 11 year-old boy inside. Confused, and wondering about those corridors, which had now become a metaphor for my paths in life.

Even now, when I look back on my youth with a nostalgic glow, often hankering to return to days that seemed to be trouble free, I can still wake up with that 11 year-old mind, and realise that so very little has changed after all.

Little Old Man

It was relatively warm, and quite sunny here today.

I took Ollie out for his usual walk, just before 2 pm. I could have got away with wearing shorts, but the mud is still heavy, so I had on trousers, and wellington boots. I felt quite lifted in spirit, during this first day of what could not only pass as Spring, but also perhaps an early Summer.

After the usual couple of circuits of Beetley Meadows, I considered heading into the small woodland area, just for a change. Ollie enjoys it in there, if the mud is not too deep. As I approached the gate, I noticed a family group approaching, with a Labrador dog. Ollie noticed them too, and rushed up to inspect the unfamiliar beige dog. I couldn’t keep up with him, so left him to it. There were no issues, as Ollie jumped around the small dog.

As I got closer, one of the children asked his Mum where the dog had come from. She smiled at the small boy, and answered, “It’s OK, he’s with that little old man”. My first reaction was to turn around, to see who she was talking about.

Then I realised she meant me.