Sunday, 27 January 2013

Older than Methuselah


I sat in the cafe this morning next to a couple of old ladies who seemed to be older than Methuselah himself. They struggled through the door, spent ages trying to read, and interpret the menu, and ended up sharing a soup because they thought the portion sizes might prove to be too big for them. They were like tiny little dignified sparrows.  Frankly, I was just thrilled that they were still going out for lunch together. My biggest fear in life is being separated from friends because of old age. The idea of being sent to a retirement home and not having kids to ferry me to other homes to see my friends is horrific. The fact that these two women could barely walk but still had the desire to go out for lunch gave me a great deal of hope. They were fascinating women as well. I assume one of them was an Austrian Jewess who’d come to Britain to escape persecution, because she talked about studying in Vienna before the war. She was also a vegetarian, which made her all the more interesting.

Meanwhile, a silly woman sitting opposite was complaining that her coffee was too cold, and then that there weren’t enough nuts in her porridge. “I’m not paying for this”, she said, her lips taking on the shape of lemons, “I could make this for 20p at home.” Yes, love, you probably could, but you’re not experiencing the wonderful ambience of a cafe when you’re at home are you? A cafe has to pay for its overheads, to support writers like me when we sit in there for hours with just one cup of tea. I think she irritated me mostly because she’d as good as finished her porridge before complaining. For all I know, she'd already eaten all of the nuts.  I’m aware that she also irritated me because she reminded me a little of myself. I can be a stroppy complaining bastard sometimes and I think it’s one of my least attractive traits. When someone holds a mirror up like that it can be quite difficult viewing.
From our window, during the winter months when the trees are bare, we can see all the way to Alexandra Palace. The sunset was extraordinary this evening, and the yellow bricks of the building were glowing like gold. I popped to the shops a few minutes later, and the sky was electric blue. Perhaps because we've had a rise in temperature today, quite a number of birds were chirping. The air felt fresh and somehow optimistic. I often get a sense of optimism at this time of year. I can't really explain why because the winter is obviously far from over.
I came home and watched Songs of Praise, and instantly felt incredibly angry. It struck me that we always think it's hugely amusing when people appear on the telly to talk about angels or ghost-hunting and yet no-one seems to think it's odd in the least when people cram themselves into a church to talk and sing about something which there's just as little proof for! It's absolutely insane.

350 years ago Pepys was still searching for a wife for his unfortunate brother, Tom. There was another setback when the latest girl on the list claimed she couldn’t  fancy him due to his speech impediment, which feels quite hard line, and gives us an indication as to why poor Tom ended up hanging out with servants and using prostitutes. Pepys was sad but philosophical; “there the business must die, and we must look out for another.”

Pepys’ other brother, John, was at university in Cambridge, and the news wasn’t looking good on that front either; “I have news this day from Cambridge that my brother hath had his bachelor's cap put on; but that which troubles me is, that he hath the pain of the stone, and makes bloody water with great pain, it beginning just as mine did. I pray God help him.” Pepys survived an operation for the removal of a bladder stone in the late 1650s. The odds were stacked right against John, and Pepys knew it.

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