As further confirmation of my inevitable slide towards the slab, a bowel cancer screening test kit dropped on the mat – part of the national programme to regularly screen everyone over 55. It was back in 2016 that I endured the pain in the arse procedure at our local hospital. Five years on and the quacks are back for a second poke around. This time, though, it doesn’t involve a rear view camera, just a stick and a bottle.
As we all know, the NHS is under unbelievable pressure right now due to the pandemic knocking it for six. But it’s not quite ‘all out’ yet. I, for one, remain eternally grateful that my own health is in such capable, dedicated hands. Thank you!
Edinburgh, Scotland’s elegant capital, was on the agenda for my sixtieth birthday. Alas, with the latest lockdown it wasn’t to be. That particular jolly has been postponed until 2021 – a bit like life really. But Liam wasn’t going to let the most important celebration since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pass without marking the occasion. Oh no. A veritable festival of delights came a-knocking.
A concert production of Hair, The Musical in a big tent in the grounds of the University of East Anglia featuring an ensemble of rising West End stars. Great show but no nudity. Just as well really. The COVID-secure tent was open to the elements so any dangly bits would have shrivelled up in the cold anyway. Not a good look.
Afternoon tea in the garden of Rosy Lee’s, Loddon’s famous bijou café. Or at least that was the plan. Mother Nature had other ideas so our hosts packed the goodies into takeaway boxes and we scoffed the lot at home instead.
A trip to the local leisure centre to sign me up for a fitness programme to work off Act One. There wasn’t a bar so I took a rain check on that one and headed into town where there was a bar.
The actual day was a deliciously indulgent whirlwind – so many messages, cards, calls, gifts and flowers from family and friends, including a portrait courtesy of our niece. I also received enough wine to sink the Queen Mary. The day continued with posh nosh in Norwich and a mini-tour of our favourite city watering holes. I laughed, I cried, I drank, I took calls. My head spun. I felt rather humbled, not something I experience every day.
Lunch at our local to receive the warmest of welcomes on a cold autumnal day. Hearty fare was topped off with cake, candles, a rousing rendition of that song and the scariest face mask ever. I even got a hanging basket of pansies. Now there’s a first.
I was exhausted with all the excitement but what a gig. Now I’ve come up for air, it’s a huge thank you to all those who made it so memorable. You know who you are. Extra special thanks have to go to Liam. Who knew he could be so devious?
Finally, I got to pick up my first free prescription, making my status as a senior citizen – and grumpy old fart – official.
I’m now officially old and young people in shops call me sir. I’d like to say 60 is the new 40 but who am I trying to kid? Gravity is taking its toll, my bald patch is getting bigger and my pubes are turning grey. Looking on the bright side I now get free prescriptions and free eye tests, potentially saving me a queen’s ransom as, health-wise, it’s only downhill from here. I also get 25% knocked off fruit and veg every Tuesday at the local farm shop.
To paraphrase an old saying to bawdy effect…
You’re only as old as the man you feel.
Well, I’m feeling a 59 year old so that really doesn’t help.
I was born on a Sunday 60 years ago in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury and according to the nursery rhyme…
…the child who is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, merry and gay.
I guess that makes me a handsome, carefree, drunken old poof. Well, if the cap fits…
So there it is, my card was well and truly marked from birth. No wonder I developed a liking for anything dashing in a uniform. Now I’m official past my use by date, I’ve decided to become a grumpy old git and shout loudly at the telly whenever someone says something stupid. That’ll keep me busy.
Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.