Category Archives: Ageing

Leaving it all behind

I never thought I’d do it, but here I am, writing my first blog from Devon.

Leaving London after living there for more than 50 years was a wrench.

Having said that, I don’t miss the dirt, the crowds or the noise (all of which have increased over the years). Of course, I miss having galleries on my doorstep (or being able to go to one on a whim) and being able to go to the cinema without making it a planned activity based on bus timetables and what’s on. I miss living at the centre of national and international politics and debate. Big BenAnd I miss being able to shop for anything I’ve forgotten when I feel like it. I also miss some of the individuals I got to know (although many of them live, or lived, far from the centre of the action).

But, much more than generally speaking, life down here in Devon is far better than life up there in London. For one thing, the air is cleaner and it’s a great deal better to be woken by the squawk of seagulls – even though they still look bad-tempered and sound as if they’re laughing at me – or by the trilling of other birds than it is by the wail of sirens. I could do without the sound of the sea washing the pebbles clean each time it rushes out, instead of the swoosh of tyres on one of London’s wet main roads. But I can’t say I’d swap one for the other.

If I were many years younger, I would no doubt think differently. I would want  something going on all the time; clubs or discos to go to nearby, more young people my age around and willing to do much the same things. But, as an older person, the quieter life down here is just what I want. Goodness me, I can even shop in peace and buy The Guardian!

Doing what they said

Of course, I’m not the only one leaving things behind.

Donald Trump promised much in his campaign, pedalling a brand of patriotic rhetoric that got him elected to the highest office in the so-called free world. But he’s dealing in international pragmatism nowadays. Hell (as they say over there), he’s even stopped talking about building a wall.

Theresa May sat so firmly on the fence during 2016’s European referendum debate, refusing to say which side she was on, she must’ve hurt herself. It must be the reason why, today, she wears an expression of permanent pain whenever she extols what’s become known as ‘a hard Brexit’. She even has to peddle the same line as those she was supposedly against.

No, I don’t miss any of what I left behind. I can pick and choose what I want to pay attention to. I can even follow the fortunes of my favourite top-of-the-pile football club! And I will, eventually, be able to live the life I want to, once all the material things to do with moving have been sorted out.

It was a good move. Maybe even one I should’ve made some time ago. But, ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men’.

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Right on the money

As they pulled into the parking lot the sign over reception said it all. The Weary Traveller Motel. It wasn’t promising.
Getting out of the car, Tom said: “Is this what you’re trying to get us into?”
“Aw c’mon, soldier. It’s a brilliant opportunity. Forty-four room motel just off I-19. Been closed for a while. Going cheap. Spend some money on it and we’ll clean up.”Pictures Love Words FG7
“It sure needs a clean up. I’ve seen better in Kabul.”
“Yeah, yeah. But this is Arizona, man, not Afghanistan. Fifty miles south of Tucson. Perfect for people needing a break. C’mon, let’s take a look at one or two of the rooms. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
There never was an end to Joe’s enthusiasm.
They got to room thirty-nine before the handle turned and the door opened onto a dark, gloomy space smelling of stale tobacco smoke and cheap perfume.
“This is terrible”, Tom said. “If they’re all like this …”
“I’m gonna check the last five. See if any of them are open.”
A moment later, Joe returned.
“Rest of them all locked, just like the others.”
“So why is this the only one open?”
“Dunno. Let’s take a closer look.”
Just enough light
With the door wide open, there was just enough light to make out a large bed, a TV, a picture of the Rockies on one wall and a nondescript prairie scene on another, an easy chair, a simple closet and a chest of drawers.
Stepping into the bathroom, Tom opened the cupboard under the washbowl.
“Whoa”, he whispered. “What’ve we got here?”
Pulling out a battered holdall, he took it into the room where Joe was going through the chest of drawers.
Dumping the holdall on the bed, he opened the zip.
Turning, Joe let out a low whistle. “Jesus Christ! Will ya take a look at that?”
As they up-ended the bag, wads of dollar bills cascaded onto the chenille coverlet.
They stood there staring at the pile of cash until Tom said: “Must be a hundred thousand. Maybe more.”
Joe could hardly speak. “What the hell’s it doin’ here?”, he whispered.
“I don’t know”, said Tom. “All I know is, possession is nine tenths of the law and finders keepers. And I think we should put it back in the bag and get out of here, fast.”
Leaving the room just as they’d found it, they made their way back to the car. There was no one about. No one had seen them.
As Joe gunned the engine, Tom said: “Not a word to anyone, right? Not even Becky. I’ll keep my mouth shut. You do the same, OK?”
Joe nodded.
Drug-related
A couple of days later, Tom spotted an item in the local paper. The Weary Traveller had been trashed. The police suspected it might be a drug-related act of revenge. Someone hadn’t found what they were looking for. But he and Joe had.
Sitting in their favourite bar a week or so later, Tom said: “You know what we should do with the money?”
“Nope. You tell me.”
“Open a parking lot on the edge of town. Charge by the hour and the day. Clean up big time.”
“Hey”, said Joe. “No sheets to launder!”
“And I reckon we should call it … The Last Chance Parking Lot.”
“Soldier, you always were right on the money!”

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The boy who grew too big

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He was always at the centre of things. He always had more hair, his parents owned the biggest yard. He always rode the smartest bike.
Hell, he even had the best girls. He knew how to catch them.
But that wasn’t always the way.
When he was small he was scrawny. Like a little chick hatched out without any feathers.
In those days, the older boys used to run a little wild in the street and he’d want to run with them. But they just left him behind.
It didn’t take him long to fill out, get taller, learn how to run faster.
Then came trouble. Just little things to begin with. Stealing candy bars. Smoking cigarettes, then taking dope.
There was one time he stole a car, just to go joy-riding.
Before long, he had a reputation. Most of the rest of us learned to steer clear of him.
He got in with a bad crowd. People the rest of us didn’t know. People we didn’t even want to know.
Sad to think of it now, but the last I heard he was doing time. Caught in a net of petty crime and drug dealing, he’d been busted by the NYPD and found guilty.
Such an innocent child, just like the rest of us. But grown too fast, too wild and – the law thought – too big for his boots.
He never did let me borrow his fishing net.

One of a series of very short stories you’ll find at Pictures Love Words on the Creative Ampersand website: http://www.creativeampersand.co.uk

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Art and the age of invention

In the London art world at least, 2014 may well be remembered as the year of the old men.

Three of Europe’s most influential artists – Henri Matisse, JMW Turner and Rembrandt van Rijn – have all been honoured with major exhibitions at the capital’s Tate Modern and Tate Britain galleries, and the National Gallery.

Whether by coincidence or collusion, these three shows have focused on work produced in the artists’ later years.

But that’s not the only thread that draws them together.

For me, the most astonishing thing about all these exhibitions has been the sheer invention on display.

Cutting edge

Matisse was old and infirm when he began to create images using scissors and paper.
Matisse-The-Parakeet-and-the-Mermaid-1952

Yet his mind was quick and his hands as strong and deft as ever.

Working at an incredible speed – and often far into the night – he produced images that, in many ways, have come to define his life’s work.

His version of The Snail, which hangs in Tate Britain, is probably one of his best-known works; famous for often evoking the retort: “My five-year-old could’ve done that!”

But Matisse wasn’t five. He was a very old man, confined to bed, or at best his wheelchair, unable to see the real world around him, yet driven to create and – critically – to experiment with new techniques.

And determined, too, to fill his world with images of joyful life and playful fun, as The Parakeet and the Mermaid so aptly demonstrate.

A man gone mad

Turner was another who, in his later years, broke free from anything resembling the chains of convention – which he always railed against – and, in his sixties and seventies, produced some of the most remarkable images of his entire life.
Joseph-Mallord-William-Turner-Paintings-Whalers-Boiling-Blubber-Entangled-in-Flaw-Ice-1846
So extreme were his ideas about light, and so seemingly perverse his use of oils and watercolours, many contemporary art lovers believed he had not so much lost the plot but suffered a complete disconnect from his senses.

Today, of course, when we see a painting like Whalers (Boiling Blubber) Entangled in Flaw Ice, Endeavouring to Extricate Themselves, which Turner produced when he was 71, we know we are looking at the work of a man who, far from being mad, was still trying to push his medium to its limit; still wanting to show us the sensations of the world rather than its mere surface.

The Dutch master

Born 169 years before Turner, and dead exactly 100 years before Matisse was even born, Rembrandt van Rijn never stopped experimenting.

How much he influenced the other two is open to question.

But, if nothing else is certain, he should have been a role model of determination and invention.

rembrandt.1661Here, in this late self-portrait, he is experimenting with the effects of light and paint on a flat surface, working with the very stuff of oil and pigment to create an image that says: “I may be old, bankrupt and out of fashion, but I’m not finished yet. See, I can still draw circles!”

If we are to take anything from these three remarkable exhibitions – and there is much to enjoy and savour in reflection – it is this: that age never diminishes the creative spirit and infirmity cannot destroy the will to communicate ideas.

Matisse, Turner and Rembrandt have not only been role models for the thousands of painters who have followed them, but also for us all.

At the end of this, the year of the old men, we should remember that vigour and imagination, skill and dexterity, truth and vision are attributes and virtues to be valued and striven for, right to the end.

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What happens after work?

Years ago, when I last worked full-time as a copywriter in an advertising agency, what happened after work was simple.

I either went for a drink in a pub with a work-mate or two, or I went home.

In 1989, when I left the agency world to go freelance, the framework of my life changed.

I no longer got on my bike and cycled the five miles from Earls Court to Fleet Street, did a day’s work (and a little drinking) and cycled home.

I started working at home.

Change on every front

The first thing I noticed was that I had nowhere to ride my bike to.

Pedalling up and down the corridor in my flat seemed a pretty fruitless exercise. Given the confines, there was no way I could rack up ten miles a day.

The second thing I noticed was the way my work changed.

Instead of being asked to beaver away on projects for clients brought into the agency by the account handlers, I had to find some work myself.

For a while – and to my surprise – I felt like a man set free.

It was almost liberating to discover I no longer had to do what someone else had elected I should do, but could choose my own projects.

I felt a bit like a man released from prison who could decide what to have for lunch instead of having to eat what was put in front of him.

Of course, I soon discovered there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

Nevertheless, as the years went by, I did find my freelance diet was frequently more nourishing than any dish I’d been expected to sup from at the agency’s table.

Aside from anything else, I started working as a part-time photographer for Chelsea Football Club.

I was even stationed pitch-side when the club won the FA Cup for the first time in 26 years and the English league title for the first time in 50 years.

They weren’t just lunch breaks. They were cigar days.

More recently, as the economic conditions have faltered and the demand for copywriting skills like mine has diminished, I’ve found myself at the fag-end of my working life.

And I’ve discovered it’s a curious place to be.

On the one hand, I believe I still have all the skills I used to have.

On the other, I have to recognise that I may not be quite so adept at deploying them. What used to take a little while now sometimes takes a little while longer.

I think it’s what they call “slowing down”.

As a result, like so many other people my age, I’m having to find new things to do after work; new ways of staying connected with the warp and weft of daily life that will preserve the fabric of my own being as a working man.

This – as many will know – isn’t easy.

An idiotic suggestion

It certainly isn’t as easy as suggested by David Willetts, Britain’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, who recently floated the idea that people over the age of 60 should return to college to re-train for the world of work.

As so many others have said: the man’s an idiot.

First off, he doesn’t seem to have taken into account the cost of college courses in the UK.

They’re not cheap. And especially not cheap if you’re on a fixed income, with no prospect of it increasing.

Second, he seems to think the world of work is a place where there’s an endless supply of interesting jobs for people who – by the time they’ve finished whatever course they might have chosen – will probably be 65 or thereabouts.

He’s like a wide-eyed child who thinks the tuck shop will be forever full of sweets.

In truth, with Britain’s high streets struggling to survive the worst economic downturn in living memory, almost every tuck shop in the land is fearful for its very existence.

The bitter pill is, the jobs don’t exist.

Third, he seems to have based his thinking on what he’s described as getting retrained and upskilled.

If, by this, he’s referring to readying oneself for the world of computers and twenty-first century technologies, he’s possibly even more idiotic than I thought.

How can anyone over the age of 60 – no matter what they may have learned about computers and modern communications platforms – compete with young people who’ve been playing with keyboards and mice since they could crawl towards a screen?

It’s simply not possible.

Another approach needed

Nevertheless, for all his lunacy, Willetts is in tune with a real need.

Many of the older members of our society – and there are more and more of us as the years slip by – do need to feel as if we’re still able to make a contribution.

And some of us, for economic reasons, still have to work. For money.

But re-education is not necessarily the answer.

Perhaps a better solution would be to abandon the notion of retirement; to develop a collective mind-set that pays no heed to age only to ability; that allows anyone to work for as long as they want – whether it be until they’re 45 or until the day they slip off the dish.

With a fresh approach in this new employment utopia, the question of what happens after work need never arise.

Instead, work would be a continuum defined only by desire.

Do you want to work or not?

Of course, many will say that such a society simply encourages the feckless.

Is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn’t it be better if the feckless were allowed to feck their way through life without any guilt?

And what of those who want to work, perhaps throughout their lives?

Surely it would be for the best if they could do that, knowing that the feckless didn’t want their work, their jobs or their livelihoods?

In this fanciful new world there’d be no insecurity, only the certainty that those who enjoy work could have their fill of it and those who prefer to do nothing could revel in the barren emptiness of their alternative.

There would be no question marks over work and – by extension – none over what happens after it.

I guess we’d all just go to the pub for a drink.

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