Fit at Eighty?

Born in 1933, the old man is only a little more bow-legged than when he fell off a ladder some sixty years ago.  He is a little slower on his feet and refuses to wear his distance glasses – only noticeable when he puts his hand to the door frame and hesitates.  Someone shouts: “put your distance glasses on”  and to date, in time, for he is sure to take a tumble and we all know the potential consequences.  It’s a worry of course and everyone forgets to check.  Why?

To answer the question, we consider that we’ve known him for years and whilst decline has been slow and not such a great decline anyway, there is no real indication that there is anything wrong.  The point is that for many years, he was said to have 20/20 vision.

It was sometime after 25th November, Guy Fawkes and bonfire night when he was walking along a narrow alleyway.  It was early evening but dark – a great open ink-black sky with distant pin spot stars; a crisp clear evening, the like of which comes around year after year.  There are few street lights around the village and none in the alleyway.  He has walked the route hundreds of times but that evening someone let off a firework rocket.  It wasn’t anywhere near but it lit the alleyway brightly for a few seconds and of course let out a loud bang.  The old man stalled, saw stars he said and waited for his sight to adjust to the dark that settled back as the rocket seared through the sky to die out beyond the fields.  He stood fast for a minute before continuing on his way home.

A couple of weeks later, he visited London.  On arrival and with time to spare and in the faintly remembered surrounding of the train station, he sat at an outside table with a glass of rum. He spotted the Optician’s sign and decided to take an eye test.  Sure enough the damage was spotted.  The nice young lady, as he fondly called the young Optician, recommended that he attend an eye clinic promptly.

A talk with the eye Doctor revealed that fluid had built up at the back of the eye and with a little enquiry it was suggested that the sudden flash of light had been the likely cause.  We don’t know for sure and only then did the old man consider that he had noticed a little problem with his sight in that eye since the night of the rocket firework.  Infuriating that he hadn’t mentioned it at the time or at any time since.  This illustrates, not decline but rather robustness to his mind and each individual, whether it was the receptionist, the nurse who administered drops to enlarge the pupil or the specialist who operated the image machine or the Doctor who would recommend zapping the vessel, each received him with some degree of query in their minds.

Was he deaf?  Was he a little slow in understanding?

He had been asked if he had his medication with him.  He had replied but was asked again, a little louder.  Facial expressions of the questioner gave it away; the hand put out to the old man’s shoulder, leaning in and smiling reassuringly got the old man responding with facial expressions of his own – the ones we recognise as agitation.  “Ive said, twice now,” he said.  “I don’t have any pills.”   Someone piped up and told the questioner that he wasn’t deaf.  It’s true he’s not.  There might be a little language issue though.  English isn’t his first language and more pertinently, medical talk is out so he does need some interpretation and wouldn’t understand immediately that someone might think he’s deaf.  He doesn’t use the word: medication; he say’s pills or medicine as in cough medicine but not med’s or medication and doesn’t visit medical establishments.  He rarely takes a headache pill.  We smiled.

We smiled but recognised there might be an issue.  He was uncomfortable in his surroundings and uncomfortable with the evident allowances that seemed to being made on his behalf.  The offer of an arm for example.  He is not offended but unaccustomed and stood hesitant since arm taking is perceived as a personal thing to him rather than an acknowledgement of needing support to walk.  He smiled, stood awkwardly and appeared to not know where to place his hand on the arm of the accommodating assistant.  His companion distracted the old man and chatted as they walked to the waiting room.  Unlike a casual onlooker we saw that explanations may be otherwise.  Was he unsteady on his feet?

His companion thought about the interaction.  He considered that the professionals of London who see numerous people from all walks of life and cultural or ethnic backgrounds, may not have met an octogenarian from deepest darkest countryside over the border and who takes no medication for any ailment, has enjoyed excellent health for most of his life and mostly, does not communicate easily in the language of a new generation and he might be right.  His companion spoke with humour when he answered on the old man’s behalf.  Another question:  “would you like to come through to the so and so room”?  The old man had replied an emphatic : “no”.  Confusion passed over both parties until the old man’s companion re-jiggled the question as a direction and the old man turned to say:  He had been content to stay where he was and revised the position to say: “Why don’t they say so then?”  The old man had always been a little precise in the questions and answers game and he’d never had very much to say anyway.

The outstanding element was considered by the old man’s companion.  The old man had fallen from a ladder and had attended the old Cottage hospital in the nearby town.  The local Doctor, a no non-sense type, had taken a quick look, prodded his knee and sent him to a treatment room.  He hadn’t asked him if he would like to go to the treatment room.  Not only that, the treatment room was up a flight of stairs.  No-one seemed to bother about any of it in those days and his knee was seen to.  The old man cursed the Doctor quietly, but made the stairs.  It was his first and last encounter with a Doctor and although he doesn’t bear grudges he probably retains an expectation that treatment involves direction, with little inquiry and a patch-up.  The other outstanding feature is that the old man had walked to work.  Three miles in and three miles home.  His first job on reaching work in the morning was to make the foreman a mug of tea.  The nine hour day involved him in labouring in building a sea wall.

The old man had laboured on building sites and the like for many years.  His Grandfather had worked as a road-man into his mid seventies. The household had fresh meat and vegetables, little heating and no insulation and an outside water source, layers of blankets and feather mattresses.  They dried coats before an open fire or danced around in underwear in an aura of steam if the rain had soaked in. Walking similar distances, was no big deal and when asked about it, he doesn’t consider it unusual; it was what most young men did in those days.

The issue of walking came to prominence again when his friend, by way of explanation, mentioned it to a new visitor who had heard about the eye complaint.  When she’d done with raising her voice sufficient to make the old man hear the question again, she shook her head and sighed.  He’d tried to answer but she’d posed it another way and leaned in before he could answer.  The old man hollered that he wasn’t deaf and “no” he did not take medication and although he didn’t say it, he hadn’t lost his marbles.

He’d been active most of his life and his friend attributed his present state of health to his enduring habit of walking.  The old man maintains that good health has more to do with staying away from Doctors though his knee gives him gyp in damp weather.  There could of course be another undiscovered cause for concern and questions of self neglect in not seeking medical advice and he really should get new glasses with distinctive frames so that everyone can spot which ones he’s wearing.  The visitor looked at the old man indulgently and smiled at the six mile walk story.  “I don’t think I believe that,” she said.


Emile Zola (J’Accuse)

Most of us know the Dreyfus case but do we all know that one of the finest writers and thinkers in the French language played an important role in its eventual outcome.

1,200 words: Continue reading

SATIRISING and the freedom…


I’ve looked the word up; looked at definition, synonyms and the languages of the world that include the word in its vocabulary and find that I feel a little uncomfortable.

Based on definition, which includes “deride and criticise“, I find something different implied in the use of satire than that which I had envisaged.  As for synonyms, I don’t feel much happier at learning that one of my favourite words (a suggested synonym) “lampoon“, is defined as “publicly criticise (someone or something) by using ridicule, irony or sarcasm”.  Another synonym “travesty” is defined as a “false, absurd or distorted representation of something” when I had thought it involved an horrific representation of someone or something – a long-held misunderstanding of the use of the word that I have held.  There are other suggested alternatives to the word satire.  I hovered over: mock, ridicule and deride and felt a certain sense of discomfort.  I continued, followed further links and discovered the word pasquinade; I liked the sound of it until I learned that it is defined as satire or lampoon and that it involved the display or delivery of such in a public place.  I read on and learned that pasquinade derives from the word pasquino, Italy in the late sixteenth century, pasquino being the name of a Statute of Rome and on which, abusive Latin verses were posted annually and I smiled at the potential.  With another click of the mouse, I find satire is to imply: poke fun at and take off and I started to feel a little happier.  This is the only reference to humour I find on my click travels around satire until I follow the link to cartoon but before looking closer at cartoon, I wanted to learn something of the use and views held in other countries.

I learned that the word satire appears in most if not all languages of the world and that satirising has a place further back in history. Nero and Caligula are still subjected; Adolf Hitler, Political figures, the Church and Dictators have received the attention of the satirist and little has diminished this almost universal mode of communication. I don’t know if definition or effect of the practice of satirising is consistent around the world nor do I know if it has remained so throughout history but we learn that representation by satire does cause offence.

For me the expressions of satire feels all the more uncomfortable when I think of “freedom of speech and expression” and wouldn’t wish to weigh this against the sensibilities of individuals who find certain or even all satirising repugnant.

This is where I arrive at support for freedom of speech and expression as promulgated by the maxim attributed to Voltaire; that is I may say: “I disapprove (as opposed to agree or disagree) of what you say but defend your right to say it”. I reserve the positive right (for I know of no law to the contrary and probably wouldn’t pay more than lip service anyway) to say that I disapprove but do, wholeheartedly, support your right to say it.  This sentiment is not set in stone anywhere, it is not imposed with the fear of sanction or coercive measures, it endures by and with the consent of society that has won freedoms when life might have been as Thomas Hobbes described in his Leviathan on the life of man without society, the paragraph ending: “And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short”.

I am glad to have followed the link to Cartoon and to have a full account of this visual form as an artistic style of caricature described as either simple or exaggerated; non or semi realistic, humorous illustration.  The definition has evolved and presently rests squarely with humour and of course satire; the satire that exaggerates in a non realistic or semi realistic humourous illustration of a subject and to poke fun at.  Perhaps we can all accept that exaggeration, non or semi realistic and humour is our preferred take on our appreciation for the art of satire and when we don’t like an example or even disapprove we may say so.


Writing about Dylan Thomas (see under Notes on the Old and the New) got me thinking about writers moving to new towns. Dylan Thomas had moved several times. By the time he’d settled into the small town of Laugharne he had gathered ample idiosyncratic material to populate his fictional town Llarregub.  With license to exaggerate, caricature and lampoon, Dylan Thomas spun yarns among friends and entertained gatherings with tall tales. There is a funny story told by one of his friends who, on a visit to London wrote to Thomas that he feared he was being followed… by a man in a bowler hat.  It was the 1950’s when most City and Establishment exec’s wore bowler hats and pinstripe and carried black brollies and briefcases.

The el tracks (More thoughts on place and identity.  8023787865_9a1ee52a14-210x300
The El tracks. Bridgette Guerzon Mills and Angie McMonigal

I have long been interested in what impressions a Writer forms at the off…; the landscape, architecture, the sounds and smells they may pull in or filter out before moving onto character for we all look for character?  I find this the more interesting and have asked. Writers it seems, may find, like those who research the perfect murder plot, that the combination of curiosity and observation and research brings a flavour to the experience that can have undesirable consequences. I am thinking here about the response Hilary Mantel had to her short story: “Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” when in an interview she described a scene when the idea for the story came to her and later upon publication, questions were asked suggesting some actual wrongdoing might have occurred. Is this curious blend of observation, curiosity and imagination a problem?


Approx. 2,000 words. Continue reading