A lifetime seems a pretty roomy place when you’re a kid: plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely childhood, followed by years and years of learning and practising how to do stuff, before Mum cuts off the pocket money and you need to get a job and worry about all the things that grown-ups worry about
And then one day you find yourself at a party discussing your acute or chronic health issues with a group of friends who look awfully like … well … old people. They've got wrinkles and graying hair and so have you. That’s when you realise that a lifetime isn't quite as long as you had once supposed.
It’s bad enough observing the physical decline of your body and the bodies of your friends, but fear of mental disintegration is even more worrisome. My memory has never been particularly good but it’s much worse than it was. On a bad day I launch confidently into a sentence only to founder as soon as I need to summon up a name, or a multisyllabic noun. On a really bad day the verbs go AWOL as well. All that’s left of my sentence is an unintelligible string of whosits, thingamajigs and whatchamacallits. At this point you begin to worry. At what point does a life-long tendency to non sequiturs and absent mindedness segue into the pathology of Alzheimer's or dementia? Will you know when it’s happening? Or will a compassionate friend have to break the news to you?
I so distrust my memory now, that I jot down any ideas which float into my mind before they have a chance to drift out again. I put all my Notes to Self into a folder marked IDEAS (just in case I forget what’s in there) on the theory that I am creating a repository of clever thoughts which I can refer to when the next writing deadline looms.
That’s the theory. The actuality is that most of my Notes to Self, detached from the context which prompted them, are bafflingly cryptic. Here, for example, is a note scrawled on a page torn from a Briscoe’s catalogue. It reads “Power to the poodle … the whiff of burning bras” Huh??? What am I to make of the note which reads “The domestic chuckle of chooks”? Or the one that says “Grassy knoll”? Or this one, which states with some confidence that “You don’t really need your ovaries”?
But wait … here’s a Note to Self which I do understand. “Legs like a gazelle” it says. I know what that one’s about. I’ve always wanted gazelle legs - long, tawny, slender legs. However, the legs I was issued with are distressingly sturdy. The best that can be said of them is that they reach all the way to the ground. When I was a kid, I had a friend called Linda. Her older sister was a marching girl and on Saturday she strutted around in a snug-fitting velvet jacket with gold epaulets and a pleated tartan skirt. It was more of a pelmet than a skirt actually. The outfit was covetable enough, but it was the legs that had me pining. They were long and lean and she painted them a preternatural shade of brown so they contrasted exotically with the stark white of her calf-length boots. I am 61 next month and have decided, in honour of the New Year, to formally resign myself to the fact that I will never have legs like a gazelle - or like Linda’s big sister.
So this is where my thoughts about the New Year have lead me: resignation. If only I could be more New Age, and less Old Age in my thinking. At this very moment I could be driving through Paris (with the warm wind in my hair) if only I could believe that “I attract great things into my life just by thinking about them”. Or I could be making your life a lot more thrilling too, by believing that “My Positive Thoughts invigorate me and others! My Radiantly Positive Thoughts impart Hope, Joy and Courage!”
Alas, the only appeal to the beneficence of the universe that makes sense to me is found in the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / The courage to change the things I can / And wisdom to know the difference.”