Kaput’s in court, at risk, getting tested, tested, tested. In a fight and off the roof. Out walking, talking, dating… and planning his next move
There was a man who grew so addicted to his phone that occasionally he took extreme action. Staging his own intervention, he packed the device in an envelope and sent it to himself (second class post).
At the office team meeting he switches his phone to airplane.
At lunch, at Tate, the attendant grabs his phone without asking – removes it from his hand to pair with the gallery’s barcode reader. He finds it hard having his phone handled harshly.
The following day, in the clinic, his device is turned to airplane, buried in his bag and left behind as he heads into the operating theatre.
He is digitally deprived for a long ninety minutes as they insert a stress wire inside the artery in his wrist. The wire is pushed all the way to his heart, followed by contrast dye, and then a balloon – to self inflate and widen the artery for the main event, which is the installation of a support duct. (The procedure feels like a large adult sat heavily on his chest. And doesn’t work.)
The early months of the year was a blur with meanings in flux. It was also a time for getting out of sync with his phone. At the crown court, performing his civic duty, the device is surrendered to the court usher, who stows it in a box-file along with the other jurors’ devices – less twelve angry men, more twelve sorry phones.
The gadgets remain in the box, out of signal, out of sight, for six long hours of debate as the dozen jurors deliberate – and deliberate, and deliberate – locked away in a beige room with a view of a cold, choppy Thames – the massed grey sky reflected in the rolling ever-repeating water.
The confinement occurs two days running. Handing over his smartphone he feels the cold turkey and self-disgust you’d expect. Locked up in jury purdah – He says this; She says that; She says, But what about; and Another says, Yeah but – is a long day in the land of civic justice. The alleged offence is serious and the trial more like a legal TV drama than he’d expected. There is evidence to sift though, hearsay, and speculation. A man’s liberty truly hangs in the balance as the jurors can’t agree on a verdict and the conversation circles in rounds of ‘details’ versus ‘broad assertions’, and the hours slow to a crawl. The quiet guy, the youngest juror, who’s been sleeping inside his baseball hat while slumped back in his plastic chair, wakes momentarily and declaims ‘Not Guilty!’ Then shuts his eyes and drifts off again. The talking continues.
He stands up and stretches his back. He gazes up at the stained ceiling tiles and thinks, won’t it be nice to get my phone back. Not too long now.
Getting your phone back means having your life back. The jury system takes your freedom away while you decide whether the defendant should lose theirs. It’s more responsibility than you want. But it’s not pure freedom at stake, is it? Not really. He doesn’t – and neither do you – own all of his life. Chunks are rented, or borrowed; there are pieces of your life contingent on one thing or another, if you take a closer look.
On the morning of day one of jury service, getting ready to leave, his new book arrived in the post, The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Georges Perec. Did the presentiment register – a warning from Amazon to send shivers down your back? Not especially. Later that day he got a call from work. It was his boss informing him his role was at risk. She read from a legal script. He stood outside the big train station and listened to her speech. Light snow was falling from a granite sky suspended like a heavy lid. He took his gloves off to hold the phone and his fingers grew numb and cold as the script she read from was detailed and long. It was a relief when she finished reciting his fate and hung up. He knew life was about to get more awkward, but at least in the short term he could put his gloves back on.
He expected to sleep badly that night but had no trouble at all. Being in the dark felt a warm place to be. The quiet slumber marked the end of a series of absurd nocturnal events. One night, he jumped out of bed like a diver going backwards, landing with his bottom and a crack. Another night disturbance peaked with him reversing off the mattress onto his head. A few days later he butted his sleeping partner, nutted the back of her skull as she lay there, resting sweetly on the pillow next to his. The following night, Arsene Wenger tried to kill him.
The ex-Arsenal manager was his country neighbour. He lived in a pretty house in Oxfordshire where Wenger launched an unprovoked feud, culminating in the retired coach invading the roof of his house, climbing onto the tiles to deliver the killer blow. The victim was crouched down innocently fixing the TV aerial, when Wenger jumped him from behind. He lurched forward, then agent-rolled down the pitched roof, falling off the side of the house. He came crashing down through an azalea bush to the gravel borders below – taking the snapped TV aerial with him.
The sleeper woke sprawled across the bedroom carpet. His inner cinematographer pictures a raised camera angle – a birds eye view of him hugging the two-prong floor lamp and no pyjama bottoms.
|REM sleep disorder|
‘Don’t tell your dreams,’ wrote Polish poet SJ Lec during the time of communism. ‘What if the Freudians come to power?’ But he simply had to share the recent nocturnal madness, deciding that the young woman at the memory clinic should be the one to hear all about it. She was light-chatting with him making preparations for his brain scan and was therefore in no position to escape. He said ordinarily he didn’t think of Wenger as the kind of man to kill. She said as an Arsenal fan she agreed. They laughed at the thought. Her eyes were the colour of overcast sky.
She asks him to turn off his phone and remove his hearing devices. To give over his watch and his ring. Once again his digital lifeline is unplugged for several hours. Was he’s losing control of something fundamental, or is that just stupid thinking? He decides he’ll have plenty of time to think on it inside the MRI. But he forgets. (The issue with forgetting is one of the reasons he is here.)
The scan lasts sixty minutes. She says that after there will be three hours of tests as she walks him into the basement room with the MRI machine. The consultant, who looks like a newsreader, is waiting with his suit jacket off and smiling even though the room is frozen. He says to lie back on the moulded stretcher protruding from the scanner like a giant tongue. He rests quietly as they jointly swaddle his head in foam wrapping. He now has a fat head that they steer inside an articulated, adjustable casing to refix around his ears like a vice. It’s to keep his head immobile, they tell him, to get the best data, as they place a hard transparent visor over his face.
The surprise visor is an unwelcome addition. It feels suffocating and too much. He wants to scratch his nose, but he can’t do so without wriggling and he’s supposed to be dead still. The neuroimaging machine starts to hum and throb and then his stretcher slides into the tube slowly, sucking him all the way up inside.
It’s pitch dark up there at the deep end. He feels enclosed in black space. They talk to him over a dim loudspeaker. They say close you eyes for a few minutes. The blackness with his eyes shut is immense. He feels trapped in a confined but endless space. How bad would it be at this late stage to ask them to let him out? He could scream and cancel the scan. He estimates he’s possibly thirty seconds from what could even be a panic attack. Such an event would no doubt be scary but also, much worse, embarrassing. As such, it won’t happen.
He needs to find something worth thinking about, absorbing enough to keep him calm enough to survive these difficult few moments. Just get through the beginning minutes and you’ll be fine. This is when your busy scattered brain is your ally. He can list so many things to take his mind off being hemmed in. Boxing. Cricket. Football. Not sex though. No, don’t think about that. He thinks about his cat. That’s better.
His psyche locates the ‘still, silent spot’ to quell the panic. A brighter man of greater sensibility – and less humility – might portray this creative response to the claustrophobia as quietly heroic. The renaissance man turning a moment of confined solitude into a creative opportunity. But that’s a bit lofty, he decides, let’s just say the cat helped.*
Feeling revived, he flouts the rules and forces his fingers up inside the visor to satisfy his itchy nose. A white light comes on inside the tube. The consultant says please try to keep still. Above him a small screen starts to show an episode of Planet Earth. The calm voice of national treasure David Attenborough narrates another life or death moment in nature. On the Arctic plains it’s summer. A thousand cute goslings skitter around in the stiff breeze. Imagine how exciting a thousand goslings must sound to fans of Ryan? He thinks of Ryan as he watches an arctic fox trying to gobble up a nest of cute new borns.
The show continues. The Planet Earth show. The greatest show on earth – many splendoured, but nearly always the same narrative, where dog doesn’t eat dog, dog eats weaker species. Dog, jackal, leopard, wolf, lion, fox chases down its cute vulnerable prey and drags the ripped, bloody carcass away for an afternoon feed. Nature is fundamentally harsh, says Planet Earth.
But surely nature is also repetitive? How about for a change: a squirrel eats an acorn – just pops one in its mouth? And then another acorn. Swallows a series of acorns as the pale sun lights the tall, slender branches of the temperate woodlands. Where is the ratings in that nature story though? There would be solace in dull repetition perhaps. Suggesting that nature’s brutal and it hurts is a tough, comfortless knowledge. You might bleed to death from realising how grinding. ‘Sorrow is Knowledge…. They who know the most/must mourn the deepest…’ *
He thinks of Lord Byron and all the butter the poet would eat for lunch. He ate it like cheese. He thinks of a large plate of the stuff, of Byron’s arteries clogged with butter, as he starts to slip away, falling asleep enclosed in his MRI tube. And soon he is gone.
The next he knows, the scan is almost done and his hour of suffocation is finished. Last thing he farts inside the tube just as they press the button to slide him back out and into their presence. He should’ve known better. If they’d told him he was coming out he could’ve held back on the gases from below. Is this it, lying on your back, farting up a MRI – is this how we get older?
|out the tube|
He’s taken through to an office where they provide a plastic cup of coffee from a machine (but no biscuits) and start in with a new round of tests. He already did a whole afternoon at the start of the week, but there’s plenty more to go – memory challenges and cognitive, then reflex and mood. The cognitive tasks are taxing and the memory games longwinded and tire you out. First, they do numbers, and numbers reversed, and flash cards and pictures and quick fire questions.
She holds out of sheet of words and ask him to repeat them back. The words are typed in different colours. The word Red is written in blue. Orange is printed purple. Green is yellow… They blatantly want to mess with you. The challenge is to say as many words as possible in sixty seconds. He has to pause over each one and first remove the tint from his brain, slowing his recitation to a crawl.
The woman drops her test folder as he finishes the task. Maybe out of boredom. There’s a delay as she shuffles the papers into line. He stares at the watercolours on the wall. He wonders who chose the art of wishy-washy London sunsets. What was their thinking? Did a patient’s gaze once linger upon the sunsets, to find their mood altered by the wan colours, was their day positively inflected by the diffuse brushstrokes?
The language tests resume with a quick fire word round – a minute of him spouting words beginning with F. He likes this challenge. He rattles through like he swallowed the dictionary. Only to freeze at fallopian, which he feels awkward saying. He’s stuck. He can’t get around fallopian. The woman stares at him through those overcast eyes, waiting for the word flow to resume. But he’s suddenly stumped for F words. Fuck! And with the hiatus his high-achieving start is squandered. He feels disappointed because this was his strongest round potentially, unlike the numbers and digit tests, in which his performance had been mediocre.
After he’s finishes up with the words, it’s time for flipcards. Flipcards of silhouettes, of animals, of household objects and iconic buildings; and a story about a woman who was mending her curtains upstairs in the bedroom but ended up chasing a villain with a scar on his cheek who stole her handbag. She chases him through the park but he squeezes through a kink in the iron railings and gets away.
He recites all of this story back in as much detail as he can manage. And then it is time for drawing. The thought of this makes him edgy. His art work on the previous afternoon had been shoddy and also featured a glaring error. Instructed to draw a clock face showing quarter to two, he blithely dashed off a sketch and handed it back. But as he passed the paper across the table, he saw he’d drawn quarter to one. He was surprised and confused and ashamed to fail like this in front of a tester so much younger. He felt faulty and superannuated.
Is this how we get older? (In this era of self-evaluation it seems careless not to wonder.)
The first drawing test for this afternoon is dot to dot. She presents him with an A4 sheet with letters and numbers. The task is too easy surely, just join A to 1, but without lifting the pen from the paper. Then B connects to 2, to C, which joins to 3…
He goes at it without glitches. And the same with similar prentice efforts. She takes the sheets back in a small heap. She has little fingers. His fingers are much longer but the back of his hands are pale. He notices how pale while drawing a rocket ship. He copies it from a print out. The rocket ship is geometrical, comprised of several rectangles, and squares, and triangles. Housed inside the outerframe of the structure there are various features and details – like a pitchfork, and a circle inside a circle, a diamond, a ladder, and a smiley face. He copies all of these and warms to the quality of his work. He’s achieved a good likeness. He’s certain he’s done a good sketch.
This Rey-Osterrieth-Complex-Figure is not the rocket ship he sketched, but similar.
He almost beams as he hands her the drawing. He hopes she’ll return the smile, but she keeps a straight face. Directly she switches him over to the laptop for a series of rapid keystroke tasks. He also has several questionnaires to plough through – with multiple sheets of questions covering mood and dexterity.
And then she takes all this away and asks does he remember the rocket?
Well, of course he remembers the rocket.
Can you draw me another?
She provides an empty sheet of A4 and the same pen from earlier. He waits for the print out to copy from, but there isn’t one.
Draw from memory, she says.
This time you should draw what you remember.
His heart sinks. But…?
His inner monologue darkens. Draw what you remember? Which memory would that be? He can’t quite believe she’s asking this so late in the afternoon. What kind of facsimile of a rocket ship does she think he’s got stashed away in this tired empty brain? All those shapes and lines that joined together to create the impression of a rocket are supposed to be just hovering in his RAM, ready to reload?
Suspecting a manipulation, feeling bugged up inside, he furrows his brow like a red-faced infant and focuses on the stupid rocket. But little of pictorial use lights up in his mind’s eye. He starts drawing, hoping useful slivers will slide down his arm onto the page.
He can hardly muster a viable line though. Just a few marks is all he manages. Until he remembers the smiley face and the pointer and the pitchfork; and maybe there was a diamond for a cone and maybe there was a rail track, wasn’t there a rail track? A lozenge too? Or perhaps not. He presses hard on the page and notices his straight lines have gone wobbly and that the rectangles and squares are subsident and askew. His confidence has shrivelled. Deep in the basement he’s feeling low. He puts a pyramid under the vehicle, but knows it doesn’t belong there. And then his brain goes dark. He cannot think of anything else to draw. He looks at the invigilator, who is staring back at him in silence. He sighs and hands over his feeble sketch of very little. Is this how we get older?
If so, what are we to do? Sudoko for breakfast? Run up escalators? Eat whole grains?
|the good shit|
The memory tests finally wrapped and stashed, the consultant gets his video cam out. He films his gait walking up and down the basement corridor.
After his walkies, the consultant positions him standing straight and grabs him by the shoulders, pulling him from behind, tugging hard to see how his feet land. It’s like Wenger’s come after him again.
Last thing, the woman and the consultant strap two motion sensors to his wrists – like Fitbits buddies. He is asked to wear these night and day for a week, to record his every movement, testing for deep-layer traces of decay.
They run well over time configuring the sensors and he’s held up for his date. He rushes from the clinic and takes the wrong turning and winds up walking the long way round to the bar. He’s miffed again, another basic error when he needed to be nimble.
They meet at a bar but don’t stay for a drink. They walk instead, covering a distance, crossing Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, heading for an Italian place south of Old Street.
He already researched the best route from bar to Italian. He carefully wrote it out at work upon a large oblong Post-It – a string of street names with spearhead pointers. The Post-It summary is folded in his pocket. Head for Guilford Street and go all the way down. Turn right into Gough Street before proceeding the length of Mount Pleasant. Take Roseberry Avenue. Follow Exmouth Market to the end; then skirt Spa Fields Park, merging with Percival Street, before taking a right into Central Street, and you’re journey is ended.
Their walk across Midtown is an accumulation of moments not directly related to any development in the plot. But without this interlude the story is deprived of the cinematic dead time that provides a narrative balance.
Their walk could be described as long but also short. Long because nothing really happens. (Would their ratings suffer due to the empty spaces? Would the show get a second season with all this walking and talking?) These longeurs – or ‘duree’ – may feel unsettling for some viewers as the formal expression of existential uncertainty. Paradoxically, however, the walk was also quite short, because they were having much fun, chatting, flirting, laughing, lamplight filtering through the lindens – taking in the city and yet barely noticing the significant distance covered.
This trick London does. This ancient city of tightly-packed neighbourhoods, a jumbled series of quarters, each leading the walker onwards, their limbs and minds not realising – as they continue – that their effort is gathering digits on the pedometer, becoming in small lengths and increments almost a trek. (One in the knee for hypokinesia.)
Along side streets with empty pavements and barely a car – the evening traffic’s sapphire ruby and tungsten glimpsed largely from a distance – the route felt cleared for their benefit. In La La Land, Gosling and Stone would have turned the quiet city into a duet, a song-and-dance tribute to the metropolis as backdrop, a private playground obligingly laid out for their delight for one night only.
He sits there writing on his laptop, reviewing the last sentence, and in the distance a power drill, an airplane crossing south London, a motorbike accelerates loudly up the hill. The washing machine spin-cycles two rooms away. The baritone barp of a WhatsApp notification arrives first on his phone, then pings for his laptop. He resists the temptation to check, and writes instead that he also prepared a Post-It for the best route to use after dinner, taking them onwards from the restaurant – a series of streets and pointers leading south of Old Street, round the back of the Barbican, and down the corridor of uncertainty at Finsbury Square’s eastern approach to Liverpool Street.
Preparing walking lists is a recent departure. He accepts they could be viewed as eccentric and arguably he might’ve held back from mentioning the route notes – he could have been furtive instead – but confessed in the spirit of full disclosure. The directions illustrate where he’s arrived in his life. He has reached the point where at times he’s determined not to be lost. He still embraces in abstract the pleasure of finding yourself adrift in the city – as being expansive, curious and open minded. But to be clueless out on a date is too drifty. Too risky. They don’t have the time; but he also doesn’t wish to provoke doubt. Could it be viewed as a weakness not to know exactly where he was at any given moment?
The anxiety made little sense on examination. London is always already a huge city. Did he previously in his life possess the Knowledge of a taxi driver? Had his feet memorised every street, alley and snicket of this monster conurbation? Not at all. Walking through London, this convoluted complex environment assembled piecemeal over centuries, bullying himself to thinking he should always know the way, embarrassed to reach for his phone to check his location, hoping to wing it as a human A-Z, and on and on… this was simply mindless. Why was it necessary to be seen in the eyes of another as quite certain, when he wasn’t certain, and didn’t believe in certainty anyway?
How terrible is it not to know? Is this how we get older?
The Italian restaurant is situated at the base of a modern office block and comes highly recommended. It has two levels plus a mezzanine and sports a retro inside-outside interior. Step through the revolving doors and it’s the 1970s and Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano have just finished the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Or it is 1986 and Rodgers has done it again for London’s Lloyd’s building. Strapped to the upper reaches of the restaurant’s burnished concrete walls is a threadwork of pipes and plumbing, trunking and ducts, inverting the infrastructure into outerstructure, painted in bright yellow, red and blue gloss.
Having asked ahead for a quiet table this is what they are given. A library spot is imperative if they are to have any of hope of a meaningful conversation. The waiter has a hard-to-place accent, passing them menus and a high cost wine list. He immediately sends the wine list across the table to his date and checks his side of the blonde table is clean. He doesn’t want olive oil on his sleeves. He rolls the sleeves anyway before bringing his elbows to rest.
She looks up from the wine list and points to the motion sensors, doing something with her eyes to indicate question. He explains. He tells her the sensors will be coming off for any kind of hanky panky. They’re not getting that for their data set, he says, and she laughs and suggests Pinot Grigio.
This is how we grow older perhaps: the amusing energetic lover confident from years of experience.
Or not. Will it be in the role of the man counting out his pills before bedtime perhaps? Dropping the small fiddly caplet and watching it roll out of view, crouching to search in the half light under the chair.
Is this how we get older? What should we do?
The antidote is to make time count – keep experimenting, keep opening doors, says Carl Honoré, with a book to sell on skirting senescence. Be the person you always wanted to be, says Honoré; don’t lie about your age [of course not, never]; keep having sex, he urges; don’t ever act old; and try to hang out with young people.
Being inter-generational is a common word of advice for midlife and upwards. Spend time with olders and youngers, he mutters to himself running his eyes across the promising menu of regional Italian dishes. In the morning, he emails his parents with dates to meet soon. He also texts the Annoying Son, suggesting a film. (The Annoying Son is asleep.) At a wedding, he talks to a gang of five year olds waiting for cake. But the sugar craving makes it hard to extract any sense. On Thursdays he volunteers at a homeless charity, where nearly all the staff are in their twenties and they never have any money and they eat lots of biscuits.
He worries the charity workers only have biscuits because his generation ate all the pie. Some say Generation X not only scarfed the party treats – while the planet burned – but they seriously overstayed, they didn’t go home to bed at 4am, causing the young’uns’ lives to get backed-up.
He believes life is a struggle over limited resources. To publicly speak about such matters though seldom proves the smart move. Hush now, be still your heart, take a seat, is what you get for asking difficult questions. Was it true though, were his cohort guilty of stealing youth, taking the Millennials’ drugs, their TV and trainers; even co-opting the buzzwords and YouTube channels rightfully owned by Generation Z?
|Dave would like his trainers back|
In truth, any crimes of cultural appropriation vexed him far less than the Optics and Practicals.
The Optics are multiple. The Optics is the Triangle of Sadness – a term coined by the beauty & Botox business for the wrinkles between our eyes. (As if a masterpiece doesn’t have craquelure.) The Optics are a gristly fifty-plus French writer refusing to date women his age, who only perceives beauty in youth.
The Optics is a long list and there’s better things to do. The Practicals is wondering how cavorting like a fledgling – some vessel of eternal youth – prepares you for getting on? What kind of planning is drinking till dawn, acting virile as a twenty-year-old, when of course you’re not? Is this how we get in the mood for the care home?
The restaurant’s inside-outside decor suggests the building’s unconscious wiring exposed, and in this way leads him on – with his tongue, not his brain, now doing the talking. Returning after an extended walk to and from the bathroom, a long march up and down the stromal basement corridor, plus two flights of concrete steps, he exploits a lull in the conversation, as well as the good light of late evening and several glasses of white wine, to confess he doesn’t understand all the fuss over care homes.
A puzzled look crosses her face. What do you mean?
It’s something I’ll probably regret saying. (He could stop at that.) Three square meals a day. No dusting, no cleaning, no vacuuming. (He deploys his fingers to tick them off – digits less pale now, flushed with the wine.) Card games, board games, film night – What’s not to like? A holiday home, surely.
Her puzzled expression expands outwards, becoming darker and closer to alarmed. She looks into her wine as she tells him the residents of care homes are waiting to die.
While playing Chase the Queen…
I don’t think you should be rushing for the care home option, she states in that calm voice.
I’ve cooked enough meals. I’m tired of grocery shopping.
I think that what a lot of this is about is getting your timing right, knowing how to hold on to youth for the correct length of time.
Of not going to slippers and beige too early?
But not hanging on too long – the oldest swinger on the dancefloor as the lights come on?
She nods again.
Slippers. He tells her he saw his podiatrist in the week – and the podiatrist went out of her way to specifically warn him not to wear slippers.
No! (And she means ‘!’ But how exactly?)
Slippers are wicked. Well, slippers are bad. A health hazard with stairs, obviously, but also damaging to the bones and muscle, with everything getting bunched together.
When apart, there are many fascinating things he thinks of discussing. These things can elude him face to face. And so he talks of slippers. Precisely how dull is this? He stills himself as suddenly she takes in a big gulp of air as prelude to her next remark. He tilts his good ear forwards and prepares to listen.
In her experience, she says, as a general rule, there’s more flex in younger men.
He shifts in his chair. I see.
Older men are at a greater risk of becoming calcified. Also, they often rant.
How little does he like the word rant. He dwells on ‘flex’ instead. He wonders if he has enough of this property, this elixir, this suppleness – enough ‘flex’ to see him through. Is he still a man with bend? He rolls the thought around a bit and then simply asks. She smiles. The waiter arrives to their table and they settle the bill.
|one day I’ll read, or learn to drive a car|
Ranting is never a good look. And yet, passion says what passion feels. If we dodge our passport age, it’s probably getting rerouted anyway, just in another direction – sort of like the restaurant’s infrastructure, but less obviously. The next morning the film-maker Adam Curtis is in the paper raving on, spitting oaths at the hidden cultural meaning of climate change; ranting like a man pushing a broken shopping trolley filled with old newspapers up the side of a motorway slip road, railing against ‘catastrophe politics as a midlife death wish.’*** Curtis knifes a generation for mistaking the personal for political. ‘…global warming is not presented as an opportunity to change the planet in an extraordinary and better way, is it? It’s a dark force that we’re being sucked into… The politicians and the thinktankers, say: “Oh my God! It’s all going to die.” …. they’re late baby boomers projecting their own fear of mortality on to the planet. They’re trapping us in the depressed mind of a dying hippy.’
Trapped inside the depressed mind of a dying hippy. This is not how to grow older.
What will his future self be? And your future self?
In 1950, global average life expectancy at birth was only forty six. By 2015, it was seventy one. The figures are widely reported. ‘… people just live so much longer,’ says the writer Tessa Hadley, wondering how we adapt to longevity. If one in three of us is going to survive to one hundred, it’s no surprise we’ve extended our youth; with a feisty, prolonged mid-life to follow – the years stretching well into the distance.
What could possibly go badly with going longer? Across the globe we pour concrete and tame nature. Thick slabs are emplaced as protection from the elements. If the concrete’s not laid right, the floodplain suffers. Even then, no matter how well poured, weeds break through the paving. Thistles and buddleia cause havoc and won’t stop sprouting. A youthful mindset can’t keep a kaput body from creaking up on you.
The mindset will need a regular supply of her much-vaunted flex. Hadley chooses to draw on fairytales as a way to make sense of the changes we go through across the lifespan, describing a long-range lover’s evolving entities as ‘fairy, dragon, or a lion.’
After puberty, what palpable undisputed physical markers of development are there for a bloke – the manopause? No, this elusive affliction is away with the fairies, the unicorns, the dragons; while being leonine, though appealing, also recedes at a stretch.
Nonetheless, the thought of a range of identities down the years resonates. Placing folktales to one side, he rewinds the decades, reaching all the way down to him as an Indy Teen last seen trudging under a nuclear sky. The College Waster with almost a quiff. The Hobbety-Hoy stranded between boyhood and manhood, questioning if the hair on his navel will ever grow bushy. South London Dole Boy. Centre Back. Cold Fish. Porn Legend. Child Wrangler. House Manager. Cat Butler. Accidental Tutor.**** Looking back, you’ve changed. We are always becoming. One day he will wake up the Silver Surfer, Sourdough Man, Old Devil – or Old Scratch as some dialects have it – waiting his turn to ‘go west’
This process of metamorphosis, the series of identities across a lifespan, is conterminous with a sense of his body bearing the inevitability of change within – the chemistry of compost. Assume form, change form. Think differently, says writer and therapist Marie Pipher, declaring that the co-ordinates have changed – as we tack away from chronological age to health and loss. Dodge pain and loss for as long as possible, suggests Pipher, but know that the weeds will break through. Be ready to accept them as they do.
After the Italian restaurant, after the walk to the station, after he saw her to the platform gate for her suburban train service and they had said their long goodbye, he ran up the stairs, returning to street level, then taking a bus going south of the river.
It started spitting crossing Tower Bridge. By the time they got to Walworth, rain streaked the bus windows, the Italian football bar going by on his left. The bar was closed. The streets were quiet. He looked around to find he was the only human animal left sitting on the top deck as the windows started to fog. One last time, what will his future self look like? Not too cranky, and not much tweaking, nor punding, and not repetitively ruminating on the state of his tomatoes. Can he not feel twitchy, at least not all of the time, but be walking in a straight line?
* He calms down in the MRI scan by finding what psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott calls the psyche’s ‘still, silent spot’
** Our poet Byron also mused on drinking from skulls; and how we all might all find a second life, thinned out and serving as receptacles for the pleasure of future generations.
*** Two Adams. Film-maker Adam Curtis confessed to Adam Buxton he enjoyed being described in a YouTube comment as a man ranting at the world, pushing a broken shopping cart stuffed with old newspapers along a motorway slip road. So, the similie is not mean-spirited.
**** ‘Don’t give yourself over to the habits of your life’ (Nietzsche) We change. We are always becoming. Does the late 90s movie need retitling as Becoming John Malkovich? The tennis book, Becoming John McEnroe?