Monday, February 20, 2006

Growing old

Yesterday I was visiting Michael in hospital. He is 88, and I have known him since I was 19. He has severe heart and lung problems, and suffers from blackouts and falls and sundry other afflictions. He is shrunk and bent with age and very frail, but has been struggling to look after himself living alone. He is courageous and uncomplaining, and stubborn with it. It has been difficult to persuade him to accept help from friends and family. But a crisis occurred which could not be dealt with at home.

I am struggling with the reality of this. I am ten years younger than he is, but I have never been as robust physically as he has been for most of his life. How long before it is me in that hospital bed? How will I deal with it? How will I deal, if I have to, with being incontinent in public, and being too weak and short of breath to get myself to a private place and put myself to rights?

And how do I deal with the pain of seeing this old and valued friend in such a state of disintegration? Maybe I can learn something which will help me if and when it is me who is falling apart? I look at him now and try to see him in my mind as he was all those years ago, the young man walking towards me down the platform of his local railway station, on the occasions when I used to visit him by train: the swing of the shoulders, the jaunty step and the insouciant air, in a rather disreputable mac with a long knitted scarf dangling almost down to his knees. That man must still be there inside this insubstantial one in the bed before me.

Today when I visit I am taking him this photograph of the two of us at a dinner dance when we were young. I hope he will be able to keep it on his locker, so that everyone can see who it really is in that bed, and treat him accordingly. And I think I will start now to put together a collage of my favourite pictures of myself, so that if and when I arrive at the same state, I can look at them and know that I am something more than a geriatric statistic!

Friday, February 03, 2006

One too many ...!

"Judith ... toi qui, aujourd'hui a retrouve la raison ... contemple ton pauvre corps ... lamentablement vaincu par le calvados ... "

I found this cartoon among my papers recently. It was drawn in 1947 by a young French cartoonist called Arsene, when I was staying at the age of 19 with a pen-friend in France. Lucette and I had been invited to tea by friends of hers, and Arsene, her neighbour and friend, was there too.

'Tea' turned out to be a misleading term, as we found ourselves sitting round a table in the garden during a heatwave, eating sweet sticky cakes, but also drinking one type of alcohol after another, mostly liqueurs as I recall. At that time I still had very little experience of alcohol - nice girls didn't start very early in those days - and had no realisation of the impact such a quantity and mix was likely to have on my system. And politeness seemed to require that, as a guest, I try a little of everything offered.

I have a vague memory of going somewhat dizzily into the house to the loo, and then nothing ..... until I woke up flat on my back on the lawn, having passed out! Arsene, (for whom I later developed a romantic but innocent attachment), took advantage of the moment to draw this picture of me, which he captioned: "Judith ... you who today have recovered your reason ... contemplate your poor body ... lamentably overcome by calvados....."

I barely recall being taken back by car to Lucette's house, but have acute memories of the raging thirst which attacked me during the night. Lucette's family had a very small house, and the only tap was in the kitchen. To get a drink I had to make my way through the house in the dark, unlocking every door on the way, as the family was highly security conscious. I made this arduous trip several times during the night. The morning light illumined a lesson learned, and I have never been incapable again!

Seven years later I was living in Geneva and working for the World Health Organisation. We were very well paid and led a pretty rackety lifestyle. My memories of my first hangover must have partly inspired this cartoon which I drew in illustration. The caption, "Si verres sales m'etaient comptes..." translates as: "If dirty glasses were counted against me..."; it is a play on the title of a film of the time: "Si Versailles m'etait conte".