Category Archives: Unpublished Articles

On Becoming an Oldie

(For those of you getting on in years – read on. I wrote this piece for The Oldie magazine. They said it was delightful, but didn’t use it. Anyway, here it is for the delectation of my blog readers…

It’s started. I’ve enquired about my first over-55s reward card. I was dining out with my wife – at the Ship Inn in Leighton Buzzard – when my attention was drawn to the offer to join the Emerald Club – “Where Experience Is Rewarded.” That works for me: I’d probably be coming back for another meal sometime, and I could claim 15% off the food bill. Before I’d even touched my pint of Doombar I asked the young waitress to rush over an application form. The application form arrived on a card, showing the smiling faces of two late-middle aged couples holding aloft glasses of white wine, evidently subsidised by their 15% saving. One bloke looked suspiciously like Jeremy Corbin.

Doubt set in when  the small-print on the application informed me I’d only get a discount between 11am and 7pm Monday to Friday (so this is why older people eat early?). More importantly, I started to worry what people now thought of me. When I asked for the application form I did it in a slightly jokey way. The waitress smiled without batting an eyelid. I secretly hoped she’d jokingly punch my shoulder and flirtingly exclaim “you’re never over fifty-five!” If she demanded proof of identity I already had my driving licence poised ready for inspection.

As the waitress went about her business with a quiet efficiency, I thought I detected a slight smirk on her face. I grinned weakly in return, imagining we were sharing some kind of private joke. I wanted to ask if the pub had a dedicated parking area for mobility scooters, just to show that my sense of humour hadn’t whittled away with old age. Regrettably, I was in the loo when she made her final visit to our table (the frequency of toilet breaks has been an issue since my thirties, along with occasional bouts of gout).

I wished I’d never started this sorry business. Only minutes ago, I’d breezed past the pub’s staff in my brown leather trousers and brown linen jacket, full of health and vitality. I was a young-for-my-age fifty-seven year-old metrosexual. I had decades of productivity left in me. I’d been contemplating starting a new career, for God’s sake. I’d now, rashly, self-identified as being over the hill. Tired of living? I’m still waiting to start, mate.

When I picked up that card I instantly become an Oldie. I felt differently about myself. Maybe my behaviour would change involuntary? Maybe I’d take on the habits of old people who I’d observed: blokes jingling the change in their pockets, or whistling indiscernible tunes in supermarket aisles. Perhaps I’d feel the urge to potter about in garden centres, or take bracing walks along the prom in Eastbourne? (I’d already started the latter, so maybe the process was already quite progressed). There would inevitably be decisions to be made in the future about bus passes and such like. I fancied that my eyes hovered a bit too long on the ads for stairlifts in the Oldie. Maybe we’d need to move to a bungalow in anticipation of my sad decline?

I’d already floated the idea of buying an “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt, but my idea was vetoed by my 52 year-old wife. Watching Coronation Street, I’d often tell her she could shoot me should I ever start dressing like Roy Cropper. Maybe my jokes hid a secret desire to buy a grey cardigan or an anorak? I laughed about it with my wife, taunting her that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of the Emerald Club for another four years. I’d be out with my new friends, enjoying discount meals and toasting each other with the finest wines known to man.

The event made me examine my own views of myself, and of ageing generally. I owned up to being middle aged in my late-thirties, and had happily accepted the manopause. I put on the leather jeans and played bass in a rock band in my forties, but in other aspects I became “set in my ways”. I was quite aware of this though. I would often challenge myself on my Oldie status, and try to keep things at bay.

You don’t have to behave like Keith Richards, but you don’t have to give in to the concept of age. You shouldn’t accept limitations unless forced to. It’s a number thing really. Age is only a number, and I’m no good with numbers. I am a free man, not a prisoner of age. No sir, I shall avoid pigeonholes. I’ll try new things, think in different ways, and continue to learn and explore. I shall always make sure I eat pub dinners after 7pm, despite the offer of discounts.

I was now noticing over-55s offers everywhere. A few weeks’ later I noticed an over-55s deal at my local fish and chip restaurant. Tempting, but ultimately I didn’t feel ready to accept discounts in return for pigeon-holing. I wasn’t going to define myself by a number. I never filled in the application. I’ll review things again at sixty.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, you have my sympathy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment/Opinion, Unpublished Articles

Sick as a Parrot

Green Parrots, Yellow Diversion signs…

One of the main tasks of our job is to keep focussed and try to ignore the myriad of distractions assailing us from every angle.  We have to deal with other vehicles, pedestrians, cycles and motorcycles coming up both side; and there are all those yellow signs informing us of diversions and closures that we feel compelled to read every time we pass one.  I recently had another distraction as I made my way into the West End to start my working day.  I came down Avenue Road and made my way on to the Outer Circle.  Just as I turned right I saw a flash of green.  I looked up and saw a large green bird fluttering in the trees of Regent’s Park.  It was bigger than a budgie but smaller than a parrot.

Was I seeing things?  Did I imagine it?  I checked out exotic birds on the internet when I got home.  Apparently, there are lots of parakeets living wild in the UK.  They get as far north as Manchester, but seem to prefer the slightly warmer, dryer, climate of the south.  Parakeets favour the leafy areas around Richmond, Kingston, and Twickenham.  So long as the weather doesn’t become excessively cold, parakeets can live quite happily here.

Many years’ ago I considered getting a parrot, but I wasn’t sure what the cat would think – and I still wonder who would win in a fight.  I don’t have a lot of close-up experience with exotic birds, but I had a brief encounter when visiting a pet shop some months’ ago.  While the wife went over to ask about rabbit food a cockatiel started pecking my sleeve.  It then pecked my hand when I went to stroke it.  It also spoke a few rudimentary words to me.

I don’t think London is home to the exotic animals said to be found in other areas of the country:  wallabies, panthers, &c., but we boast a good range of birds.  I saw a kingfisher one Christmas Day in Northampton.  Driving up and down the M1 I often see birds of prey, and I’ve seen a red kite in Oxfordshire.  Apparently, London landmarks such as the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station are good places to observe the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon.  This large bird of prey has no natural predators so can pretty much do what it wants.  They now inhabit a range of urban areas around Britain.

I’m sure most of us have seen foxes out and about.  I’ve certainly seen more foxes in London than in other towns; or in the countryside, where they’re meant to live.  I’ve seen them in Southwark Street, New Bond Street, and St James’s Square.   I once saw three in a Blackheath street in broad daylight, and I’ve seen one sitting on a wall at Paddington Station.

I don’t talk about it much, but I’ve actually spent a few years of my life living south of the river.  One time I lived in Holmesdale Road, right by Crystal Palace football ground.  One sunny afternoon I looked out on the garden to see a fox curled up at one end and a cat curled up at the other end.  Sadly, my rented flat also became infested with rats.  The bloke from the council said rats had become a big problem after they dug up the roads for the Croydon tram lines. I don’t know whether a cat might have sorted the rats out.  My current house tiger likes his food prepared and cooked to strict specifications and wouldn’t lower himself to chasing rodents.

Yellow warning signs also thrive best in the urban environment.  During the writing of this article I noticed signs at the top of Regent Street warning of a closure to facilitate the Christmas lights install, on October 17th.  I kept re-reading the signs thinking there might be some mistake:  maybe they meant to say November 17th?  However old the signs are, we still feel compelled to read them, and we always feel disappointed:  we don’t need to know about closures that happened in June and July, and we all know Torrington Place has been closed since November 9th, 2015 – there’s no need to keep reminding us of that black day.  I look at those signs every time I drive around Russel Square just in case anything’s changed and Camden Council have changed their minds.  The council haven’t changed their minds, so when in Bloomsbury all I can do is hope for a glimpse of the sheep and goats at Coram Fields to cheer me up.

Well, I now have exotic birds to look out for.  I find it more rewarding looking for a flash of colour in the trees, than reading yellow warning signs.  Those yellow diversion signs make me as sick as a parrot.  Could the parakeets be taught to shout things out at Uber drivers driving down one-way streets the wrong way?

Leave a comment

Filed under Unpublished Articles