To (badly) quote the glorious Victoria Wood, you know you’re getting old when you walk past a shop window displaying a pair of Scholl sandals and think to yourself Ooh, they look comfy. I had a similar revelation when I was thumbing through an Independent on Sunday glossy supplement and came across an advert for flatulence filtering underwear called Shreddies. And there was me thinking breakfast cereal made from wholegrain wheat. But then too much bran can brew a lusty whiff, so perhaps that’s the association. And while we’re on the subject of our grey days, why are the models advertising a product obviously targeted at the winking-sphincter brigade, young and lithe with rings of steel?
Norwich is a retiring kind of town, the perfect place to hang up your boots. The micro-loft is the ideal roost, a lift just wide enough for a mobility scooter (I fancy a tiffany blue number with a harlequin shopping basket in fuchsia), tiny bills that won’t break the piggy bank and a small enough footprint to make light work of domestic drudgery. We’re spitting distance from the local quack for all those inconvenient ailments that get us all in the end. The medical centre comes with a handy on-site Boots for the pills and potions that will keep us going beyond our three score and ten (fingers crossed). And, when one of us does drop off the perch, the Co-operative funeral parlour is right next door (I hear they do a lovely spread, or is that spread you out lovely?) with the Samaritans opposite for the grieving widower. Should either of us try to hedge our bets by finding Jesus at the last minute, we’ve got a church on the corner. Amen to that.
Every so often, Liam whips out his abacus for a fiscal review. Nothing gets Liam’s juices flowing quite like a multi-coloured spreadsheet and a rub of his crystal ball. As we edge ever closer to our incontinence years, Liam has decided that this year’s theme should be death and the hereafter, to make sure all our ducks are lined up in a neat row should the unspeakable happen. I’ve parked a reasonable pension courtesy of my long career as a municipal bean counter and I plan to draw it at 60. The beer-bottle budget isn’t quite enough to support our Champagne tastes but it should prevent the need to turn a few tricks for the living dead down the day centre. But what would happen if I dropped off my perch in the meantime? Well, here’s the thing. Through a bureaucratic fluke, Liam would come into a small fortune. When I caught him fingering the chicken wire at B&Q, I knew he wasn’t contemplating Eggs Benedict. I could hear him thinking ‘I wonder how I could string this across the top of the stairs?’
Aside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage? The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.
Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?
I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.
Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but generally, that’s it. When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.
The sequel to Perking the Pansies to tie up the fraying loose ends and bring our Anatolian journey to its crashing conclusion is coming along very nicely. Expect a few surprises. I have a working title of ‘The Sisterhood,’ so this may give a little clue about the main theme. In the meantime, a gentle plug for the books already on the virtual and actual shelves. Hey, a boy’s got to sell his soul to bring home the bacon.
The books are widely available in multiple formats. And if you buy direct from me, I get to keep the lion’s share of the take. For more information, check my website.
I wanted to see ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ when it was released in 2012. It’s my kind of film but not the kind that got a screening at the plush cinema in Bodrum which tended to focus on Hollywood blockbusters, more’s the pity. We could have lifted a dodgy download from the enterprising Low Countries couple who did a roaring trade in counterfeit DVDs for the emigreys but I’m rather anti the whole it’s-not-really-stealing thing. Actually, it is. So, I was resigned to stalking the bargain bucket to acquire a proper copy at a knock-down rather than a knock-off price. My patience was rewarded and we picked up the film for a song at our local Norwich HMV store.
We uncorked the wine, turned off the lights and put our feet up. It was well worth the long wait. The tall tale is about a disparate group of cash-strapped Brits who up sticks, drop off their excess baggage at check-in and travel to the sun to eke out a low-cost dotage in an emigrey enclave (in this case, a run-down retirement hotel in India). Sounds strangely familiar and not so tall after all. The funny and tender script, heaving with sharp one-liners and set against the glorious chaos of the sub-continent, is delivered with expert thespian timing by the outstanding cast (including that pair of incomparable old Dames – Judi and Maggie). I didn’t want it to end
Let Dame Judi tell it as it is:
“There’s no past that we can bring back by longing for it, only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”
Did the old wrinklies heed the advice and find redemption and contentment? Do any of us? Now, that would be telling.
It’s curious how extended families, so close in childhood days, can grow slowly apart as children age and move on. I guess it’s related to our modern existence of social mobility, dispersal and transience. My own family is a case in point. When I was growing up, my mother and her siblings were very chummy and we spent much of our time squatting in each other’s houses even when we lived in different parts of the country. An effort was made, the bond was important. But, imperceptibly, the bond gradually eroded, finally snapping when nobody was looking. These days, only funerals bring the clan together (weddings and christenings are as rare as ginger nuns in my largely heathen tribe).
Last week I attended the funeral of my Uncle James. He was 87. The Grim Reaper called at night and Jim died quietly in his sleep. The funeral service was nose to nipple (clearly, dying young isn’t the only way to get a healthy crowd in for a send-off). Late-comers were forced to stand at the back.
There were many things I knew about my uncle. I knew that after his wife (and my favourite aunt), Ruth died and, following a minor stroke, Jim found physical and emotional recovery through fitness and jogging. I also knew that he first completed the London Marathon when he was 73. I didn’t know that Jim went on to complete 8 marathons in all and raise £16,000 for a local cancer charity in the process. I didn’t know that he was given a Local Hero Award, an MBE and selected to carry the 2012 Olympic Torch when it went on national tour last year. Uncle Jim enjoyed a star-spangled dotage. This is a grand lesson to us all.
I also didn’t know how to knot my black tie. After a five year absence from the wicked world of the waged, I’d simply forgotten. This doesn’t auger well for my own dotage.