I’ve just been interviewed about my book Where’s Sailor Jack by The Wireless, Age UK’s radio channel. It’s now available here. Being asked made me realise how old I’d got. I tuned in before going along to see what the channel was about, expecting to hear Bing Crosby and Al Jolson records. The first song I heard was Sandie Shaw singing ‘Long live love’, introduced by Diddy David Hamilton. They’re right. I’m ancient. I go back much further than that.
It’s quite commonplace for someone of my age (nearly seventy) to say that they feel just the same as they did when they were a teenager. I frequently do it myself. The statement doesn’t stand up to close internal examination. Hormones aren’t rushing anywhere. Nowadays, it can be more a memory of what they should feel like than the real thing. The spirit’s willing but the flesh weak. The only similarity is that procreation isn’t the primary driver at either age. Although surprises can happen in both age groups, they are rather more common at the younger end.
Funnily enough, I think both age groups are more likely to take the idea of God more seriously than those years in between. The young are asking what does it all mean, the old what has it meant. What is it about is playing against what was it for. In old age, there still is a bit more life to be lived. Statistically, I can hope for another decade or a bit more, while having to reckon with the thought that I could keel over or be diagnosed with something awful at any moment.
The young usually don’t fall prey to these thoughts, as for them they have only small probabilities attaching. For the old, there is the stream of funerals to be attended (the only necktie I ever wear nowadays is black) and the most dismal of all, visiting those even more elderly in the nursing home, with the consequent feeling that maybe death isn’t such a bad thing. Yet I have the comfort of a good home with wife and family.
When I meet someone I know in the street, my eyes can still light up at the prospect of something new, a short conversation with maybe a bit of banter. And what has life meant? It feels like everything that has happened, the good, the bad, the exciting, the desperately sad, they all had to be. There is an old Rabbi joke that life begins when the kids have left home and the dog’s died. That suggests a late paradise for my wife and me, as we go on smart cruise holidays and share relaxed evenings, her drinking a glass of prosecco and me fine claret. We certainly hope for a bit of that. But there’s far more pleasure for both of us in seeing our kids as adults, and hoping that when they’re old they’ll look back on life saying it had to be like this.
I do still walk the old family dog across the fields as he too considers with me what it’s all meant. It’s not a lot different from when as a teenager I’d walk a previous old family dog round the park when I got home from school. I still mourn that guy’s passing as much as I will do shortly when this fellow reaches his time.
I’ll hope that when it’s my turn to knock at the door, there’ll be two joyful barks and St Peter will feel he’s no choice but to let me in. And one day all the family I’ve known, from grandparents to grandchildren I’ve never seen, will meet again on God’s golden shore. Old friends will be there too, nobody missed out.
That’s what this old man dreams for. Sadly it ain’t necessarily so.
John Uttley, 69, was born in Lancashire although he now lives just outside London. Where’s Sailor Jack is his first novel. Not fancying a memoir, or his family’s story, John instead recorded his Lancastrian sense of humour as well as documenting a tumultuous, exciting period of British history. History John just happened to live through.
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