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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thoughts on guests and mortality

WHAT DO GUESTS DO WITH ALL THE BOG ROLL? ( Granny's recent lot used even more of it than they ate of her food; which is saying something.) She remembers too this comment from another owner of a bed and breakfast outfit: 'It's what they leave in their bedside drawers that's interesting. Recently I found headache pills on one side of the bed, condoms on the other. My question was: which won?'

Granny and Beloved's guests were too old probably for such things. (Or too canny to leave them.) But remark by one of them has sat on in Granny's head. A guest looked up from the paper she was reading and said in a melancholy voice. 'Dave Allan has died. He was only 68. I'm 68, and I don't feel anywhere near death yet.'

Granny has by no means reached 68 herself - but she is near enough to have had similar thoughts; some of her own friends have died, others are more fragile than before, others very much impaired. She knows she can no longer think with any degree of comfort - where will I be in 20 years time? Or even 10? Granny's old dad was totally hale and hearty at 78, and despite a major operation pretty good at 88 - playing golf and going not only on cruises but holidays which demanded a degree of stamina. On the other hand, he would say, sadly: 'I'm the only one just about. All my friends are dead or totally decrepit.' And so they were. Of his wives one - Granny's mother - died aged 53; the second, 12 years younger than him, whom he'd hoped would see him out, statistics being statistics, died after an operation on her aorta at - wait for it - 68. (But then she was a heavy smoker. A factor Dad hadn't taken into account; his generation didn't.)

So there he was in his 90's not an exile in place as Granny is - he lived in one or other Home County almost all his adult life, having migrated there from West London - but definitely an exile in time. Granny's both Beloved and Beautiful Daughter, after reading some of her posts about him, said. 'While he was alive he seemed an anomaly. But now he's dead you can see he was really just a man of his time.' Yes. Indeed.

LP Hartley's statement which opened 'The Go-Between' may be a cliche now, but still noone has said it better. 'The past is another country. They do things differently there.' Granny viewing her own past these days, let alone her dad's, begins to know too well the truth of that. Yet she wonders if a sense of exile is inevitable for many- or whether some can live in these other lands, of present and future, and still feel at home, not exiled -even when everyone they know dies off. Hard then, she supposes, not to feel out of time somewhat.

Clearly some people move in time more easily than others. She thinks she does - her own sense of exile is not that great. Her dad, though, on the whole, was not one of them; he seemed baffled by the world which surrounded him in his later years. He didn't move easily in space either - unless driven by grief; (in which case he did so precipitantly- two months after Granny's mother's death, he moved from the village where Granny and her siblings grew up - something she's always regretted; she understands why he felt he had to, but it took so much else away, along with her mother.)

Her dad of course, youngest son of a woman aged 50 when he was born, of a man aged 60, might have had particular problems with the presents and futures of his older age. Not only were his parents more Victorians than Edwardians - Granny's Grandmother never in her adult life wore a skirt more than an inch above her ankles - he himself was put into the clothes worn by his brothers in the 1890's and given their books to read. He also lived through a century full of death and grief. Aged 7, he lost his brothers, in the first world war, through his 30's he lost many of his friends, in the second. He also married a wife from a family that carried the breast cancer gene BRCA1- with all the deaths and griefs that led to - the loss of a wife and a daughter the worst. Does such acquaintance with grief mean you are bound to live more in the past - or at least is it harder not to? Granny doesn't know.

At his funeral she suggested they read 'Fear no more the heat of the sun' - a poem which might be another cliche but never mind - it remains irreplacable. 'Golden lads and girls all must/ as chimney sweepers come to dust...' And yet, suddenly, in that time of surprising grief - everyone was glad for him that he was out of it, at last - the golden lad reasserted himself over the old old man. (And the chimney sweeper.)

The family went hunting through ancient photograph albums. And there he and Granny's mother were on the Norfolk Broads in the late 20's, early 30's; the young men in baggy shorts and v-necked cricket sweaters, pipes clutched in mouths, hair blowing in the wind. The young women with arms round each other's necks, also in baggy shorts, aertex shirts, old sweaters, hair tied up in bandeaus. It was all very correct of course; young women sleeping on one boat, young men on another, anything else unthinkable. Yet what worlds this was from the chaperoned lives of their parents; in whose youth it would have been as unthinkable to go away alone in a mixed group, as it was in Granny's parents' youth to go away a deux with a boyfriend or girlfriend the way Granny's children did without thinking. (As she did; but illictly. A story for another time.)

One of Granny's much older cousin's told her once how glamorous her father and mother seemed when they blew in, clad in shorts and youthfulness, on staid family holidays organised by his and Granny's grandmother. Glamorous? Granny glad of that word, still finds it hard to imagine. Yet so it was. The very last time Granny saw him, her father looked out across Sussex towards Chanctonbury Ring and said: 'I climbed that twice in a day once. I went up after breakfast, during a houseparty and came down to find the prettiest girl in the party had overslept. So I went up again with her.' He ended regretfully: 'It didn't do me any good. I never heard from her.'

Ah... golden youth has its pains too. But Granny clings gratefully to that glimpse of his other country, before the humiliations and grief of his final years. Glamour, yes. Youth is glamorous alright. The only problem is that when you're in the middle of it you only feel its miseries...looking in the mirror you see yourself a monster. (HA.. Let them wait. The inevitability of ageing is, of course, the revenge of the already aged on the young.)

5 Old comments:

Blogger Deirdre said...

Beautiful post, Grannyp, maybe your finest yet.

12:22 pm  
Blogger Rachie said...

Beautiful and very moving. I'm awash with nostalgia for a time long gone.

10:28 pm  
Anonymous Omykiss said...

I know what you are saying. What's a little scary is that now when I look at photographs of my mother when she was my age I remember how at that time I thought of her as being old! Now, at the same age, I don't think of myself as being old. Kind of weird!

5:04 am  
Blogger granny p said...

Thanks friends. It's odd this shifting sense of ageing. I still look at 80 year olds and think 'old'. I look in the mirror and think 'Oh God, I'm getting old maybe: BUT NOT YET.' What will we feel when we see our 80 year old selves then? (My dad aged 81 in a convalescent home with a a group of aged civil servants, of both genders, most of them younger than himself, said, indignantly: 'I never expected to find myself among a lot of old biddies like this!' )

12:56 pm  
Blogger Deirdre said...

There's a lot about ageing which is not related to age, I think. My 92-year-old grandmother is physically very well (mentally completely insane, but only because I disagree with most things she believes in... :) ). She used to go to a morning tea held for senior citizens - they'd eat and dance, apparently. And she described it as "wheeling the old folk around" in their wheelchairs. One of the "old folk" was in her 60's.

Hopefully ageing isn't always the same as getting "old".

5:33 am  

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