I was taking our large and boisterous dog out for a walk the other day when he decided to greet the old lady who lives across the street. He greets people with tremendous enthusiasm and, since he’s a powerful mutt, such encounters can severely test the strength of his lead and the person holding the non-dog end. Unfortunately, we were on loose, stony ground and he managed to sweep me off my feet with the result that I fell heavily onto the road. To my embarrassment, the old lady whose appearance had occasioned this outpouring of affection from the dog had to help me to my feet so that I could return home to nurse my wounds.
A few days later, a kindly neighbour enquired how I was, saying “I hear you had a fall”. This is a turn of phrase that, in my thinking, is normally reserved for the elderly and frail. I thought I had just fallen over but the unexpected appearance of this description of my mishap made me feel that I had somehow passed into the realm of old age and consequent vulnerability. Deferential newsreaders may say that “the king has had a fall” but surely not me, not yet at least?
How ever did this happen and how come I never noticed the transition? This subtle change of phrasing seemed to be of huge importance in my understanding of myself and how I was to be seen in relation to the world at large. Somehow I had been changed into another category.
So it’s official then – I’m no longer middle aged but have become, at a stroke, elderly, a concept that fills me with dread. However, it’s not without some compensations : changing categories means that now I can indulge in the foibles of the very old – I can dribble and fart to my heart’s content, I can take ages to cross the road, drop dinner down my front, mumble incoherently and generally misbehave: I can be cantankerous and rude, I can grab a priority seat on the bus with a clear conscience.
The poet Jenny Joseph wrote a delightful ode designed to be delivered by women in my situation in which she spoke of wearing clashing colours and generally getting away with all those things that her younger self had eschewed because they were improper or simply inappropriate for a lady. How liberating to be able at last to be able to behave badly and to be indulged, even forgiven, in so doing.
Perhaps it’s not so bad after all….