THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN

Old age is a horrible thing. It’s dehumanizing. I went to see granny in the hospital and of course she is in the geriatric ward. Rows upon rows of little white heads on shrivelled little bird like bodies, barely raising the surface of the hospital blankets. It’s as though they are all slowly disappearing, dissolving into nothingness. I had genuine trouble recognizing which one of the tiny, wizened creatures was my mother in law. I found her eventually, in a nice bed by the window, with a spectacular view across Surrey towards Heathrow.  I commented that she had the best view in the ward and she agreed that she was very lucky. She could watch planes taking off instead of looking at the walls.

She seemed perky enough and when I asked her if she was in pain she said no. I can’t understand it, she has broken her hip and I couldn’t see any evidence of a morphine pump.  (Believe me I know about morphine pumps.) Maybe when you get to 100 you don’t feel pain any more. Or perhaps it’s because she comes from stoical stock dating back to World War 1.

She is very confused, reality is a fluid thing for her and time seems to have elipsed into a continuous ribbon that slides back and forth across her consciousness. Like;

Granny:  I left my glasses in my room. Can you go and get them for me?

Me: This is your room granny. 

Granny: No my room’s round the corner – you turn left and it’s three doors down.

Me: No this is your room. You’re not at the home in Kew. You’re in Kingston hospital. This is your bed and you’re in it. But I think you’re going back to the home soon.

It took some time convincing her but in the end she bought it, and at least didn’t claim that she was going back to her own home. 

Then came the filling in of the meal card for the next day. She insisted that there were two pieces of paper there, and tried to pull apart the menu sheet. ‘You won’t convince me!’ she declared. Then finally she accepted that it was indeed one piece of card.

When it came to filling in the pudding section she got arsey.

‘I want ice cream!’

‘It’s not on the list granny.’

‘But they’ll bring it to me if I ask them.’

‘I don’t think so. You can have Lemon Sponge pudding, fruit jelly or cheese and biscuits.’

‘But I want ice cream.’

‘It’s not on the list granny.’

‘But they’ll bring it to me. I want ice cream.’

Eventually I asked a passing nurse, who confirmed that yes, she could only have what was on the list. Well that kept us busy for a few minutes.

I became aware of a strange sound. At first I thought there was a child in the room. But it was a woman at the end, making this awful whining noise that sounded just like a 3 year old. Her poor be-knighted daughter, who was no Spring chicken herself, was trying to wheedle some sense into her.

Shakespeare was so right with his Seven Ages of Man. I hope you don’t mind me pasting it in here.

All the world’s a stage,


And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and entrances,


And one man in his time plays many parts,


His acts being seven ages.

At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.


Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad


Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation


Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then the justice

In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,


With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,


Full of wise saws, and modern instances,


And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,


With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,


His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes


And whistles in his sound.

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,


Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I’m wondering what age I’m in. Have I reached the slippered pantaloons stage yet? I do wear comfy jogging bottoms with elasticated waists in the evening and I do wear slippers. I can’t see a thing without my specs and waste many hours looking for them.  

There are some funny moments with an elderly person though. When we went to celebrate her 100th birthday with her, she opened her first card.

‘Who’s Loo?’

A puzzled silence, then we realized that she was reading the big 100 figure on the card as Loo. We spent the next ten minutes on the floor, helpless. The telegram from the Queen was anxiously awaited, and did not arrive. So we took her out to lunch, with 100 year old balloons flailing around in the breeze from her wheelchair. We paraded her around Kew Gardens. It was like being with a celebrity. People kept rushing up and shaking her hand and taking pictures. She was papped wherever she went. It was quite moving.

When we returned to the home, someone had pinned a big notice on the door, wishing her a happy birthday. A stranger from the street who had heard the news. The sacred telegram was discovered stuffed down the side of her chair. The postman had delivered it to her by hand and she had promptly forgotten what it was. It was ooohed and ahhed over, our Beloved Monarch. Then came the special tea, with a spectacular cake baked by the home kitchen. The woman next door to her on the table kept trying to nick her wine.  She got really stroppy. We decided to take our leave and went home after a day like no other.

It’s quite extraordinary to think I personally know someone who has lived through two world wars and profound changes in the world.  She is stubborn and fiercely independent and you have to admire her spirit. When she goes it will be the end of an era. 

Posted 272 weeks ago

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