ENTRY 01: Thoughts of Growing Old
I worked for just over a year in Jermyn Street, St James’, selling hats to some of the most interesting and eccentric of London’s older generation.
My favourite customer, by a long shot, was an older man from Germany; a man who would stroll the area in a mildly dishevelled but always meticulously styled suit. A waft of cigar smoke signalling his imminent arrival. He would drop by most weekends, buy outrageously coloured hats of all description and begin his acts of hilarity.
This man knew how to tell a joke. I found myself in awe every day he arrived. Not once did I ever wait impatiently for the punchline, often taking in excess of half an hour to arrive. He would weave, meander and enact enthralling narratives of times long gone and characters only now imaginable on stage. His delivery was always lyrical; impossible not to love. The soaring theatrics steadily constructed for the penultimate act to form the joke – always just in reach – but savoured until the spellbinding moment of comedy genius.
He arrived one day, sporting a pink suit and lopsided hat, brimming with something I could sense was going to descend into anarchy and stomach wrenching comedic delight. The story began with having just lost a family member. Not quite what I expected. I was enlightened to the entire history of said family member and made aware of a significant, in fact a monumental, collection of vintage sports cars left to the old man to inherit. Mumbles of a few confiscated cars for tax reasons left his mouth before he fell silent.
I started fidgeting. Waves of incapability to console an old man – lost in what I assumed was grief – pinned me to the spot. I decided to ask, ‘So, what will you do with, you know, the other cars?’ A smile of childish cheekiness erupted and he roared, thick German accent coating it all, ‘Well what the fuck am I supposed to do! The bastard left me dozens of cars knowing full well I can’t fucking drive!’ All feelings of distress dissolved instantaneously. He knew I’d be worried, he knew I’d panic.
He constructed that moment of emotionality so I could experience this joke – passed on from beyond the grave – in just the same way he had. Comedy obviously runs in this family. A few more anecdotes later he left the store, new hats acquired, and disappeared, from my life, forever.
I got to wondering about the stories tucked away in every sauntering pensioner roaming the city: the stories accumulated and never told, never acknowledged and sometimes sadly lost to encroaching forgetfulness.
I spoke to a close friend about wanting to find the time to hear more stories from what I assumed, somewhat naively, to be the goldmine of old souls. He agreed it’s easy in our young age to live insular, away from the old, forgetting their place around us. He also reminded me to remain realistic, remain aware of the reality that not all is gold just because they have lived longer than us. Very true; other experiences I’ve had, listening to an elderly storyteller, have diverged into discomfort and despair.
I do stand by my curiosity however. I think about a family member of mine, deep in the throes of dementia. That horrid, immobilising affliction of the mind. An affliction always seemingly stuck in the equidistant lapse between getting better and getting worse. The ebb and flow of knowledge learned and wisdom earned, robbed over years of dereliction.
It’s not that accumulated time in life is inherently linked to wisdom, but sometimes, just sometimes, through the mist and haze everyone has something to say. For instance, when my entire life felt like it was falling to pieces, this person whispered, ‘Well, you know, it will all work out for you, I know it will’. Those words said with acuity, their punctuality piercing though a gaze slowly returning back to the fog, forgetting what had just been said.
Those words stayed with me a long time. They came from some place in the mind unaffected and just cognitive enough to say something that made life feel mountable, worth persevering with.
I’ve been thinking about growing old after considering what older people have given me. It once seemed such an unreasonable quest to stay around for. Maybe I’m becoming more realistic, losing resistance about what’s to come. Maybe I’m just now seeing old age as something that will be a treat, a small pocket of time to perfect my stories. Hopefully I will have lived enough to inspire another young soul like myself; lost and lamenting the life dawning ahead.