Tuesday, 11 May 2010

There are no seven ages

Back in 1998, after my official retirement, I was retained by my former employer as a consultant. Just three days a week. Quite a nice bit of extra pocket money really. However, after a couple of years I recognised that I valued my complete independence more. I wanted to do a final round up in America before I got too aged and less adventurous, I had got used to turning left on entering the aircraft door and it seemed reasonable to use a fair portion of the pocket money on one last no expense spared expedition ranging around my well loved Arizona.

It was whilst this was in play that I decided I needed some focus. Something to do rather than just potter. I set about writing my recollections of a life I had enjoyed up to that time. To give this structure, I based it upon Shakespeare's idea of the seven ages of man. I researched local papers for events that I vaguely remembered and visited old locations from my junior infants school where I had been crowned King of Cleanliness right through UK venues of my military service and out to the just terminated consultancy.

I was satisfied with my efforts. However, I now recognise that the seven ages format was not the right one. Each decade of my life has had its sorrows and joys. Bewildered baby, struggling schoolboy, troubled teenager, student husband. Then the perils of parenthood, the doubts and miseries that went with middle age through to what I now describe as the sadness of senility.

When young, time was a commodity I had plenty of and it was spent without great thought - impulse reigned. Now I look back at those times and on what I got from those times and it seems I have little from what was a precious hoard. My appetite for life has waned just as my physical deterioration has advanced. My faithful old dog went up to Rainbow Valley some three years ago and there has been no incentive to stay mobile and able to wander about in the high and lonely places. She is irreplaceable and I am too frail and crotchety to start another puppy. I look forward to a rapidly shrinking future; look forward not in pleasant anticipation but as a reality I shall not evade. I seem to spend the majority of my time looking back at the comfort of reliving the past.

Now, even my memory is in a state of mutiny. Memory loss is inevitable and mine is diminishing. As I understand it, this happens to us all and even commences at the age of 40. This might sound quite harmless - even pleasant where there are sad or unpleasant memories and harmless in itself. I do not find it so, It is stressing, annoying and worrying. Whilst I can recall events from the distant past with quite good clarity and detail I find it hard to form new memories. It is as if I am trying to force new folders into an already full filing cabinet. I am told that when I delete a file on this computer, it does not go to document Valhalla and just the first few bits are overwritten and left blank to make way for new data. I can look past the blanks and get a ghost image of the old data; stuff I thought I had deleted years back as immaterial and inconsequential. The first time a girl opened her mouth to me as we kissed, the make of car I hired to visit the Palace for my investiture, the name of the barman in the Sergeants' Mess in Kuala Lumpur - it is all there in its uselessness. But when it comes to stuff I need to retain - bugger, it has gone walk-about. We live close to the town of Kelso. A few weeks back I wanted to suggest to my wife that we go there and have a change of shopping venue. I got to "Shall we go to..to..to" and stuck firm. I knew I wanted the name of a place but it was totally missing. Some ten minutes later - seemingly with no conscious effort - the word Kelso popped into my brain.
It has happened the same way since - I now have to cross-reference Kelso with an auto-correct feature where I think of it as Kosovo. Would that I had some way to de-frag my memory core. I start a sentence with the words all queued up ready and then lose track halfway through my recitation. And I was a man who knew by heart every word of Eskimo Nell and most of Dangerous Dan McGrew.

I suppose I will just have to wait until someone designs an application for my trusty iPhone that will act as a stage prompt. Until then, I make use of the camera to back-up the faulty memory and the voice application to remind me just what I was going to do in the kitchen having walked the 50 or so yards from my study.

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