Life's a gift
As a young man, I assumed old age would provide gentle wisdom and tolerable health, imaginative projects and a warm community. How much better this imagined existence than Hokusai’s life. Such a good man, loved, admired, yet his superb social position and wealth were ruined in old age by having to repay his gambling grandson’s enormous debts. Selling his house, in abject poverty, in shame, he secretly moved from one hovel to another more than sixty six times in his last fourteen years. He was chased by famine, pestilence, earthquakes, floods and fires. At least, until his ninetieth year, he was healthy, but worked on a cold floor doubled over a small charcoal burner secreted under his blanket-shawl, as he made ends meet by painting until the end.
Talking of fit ancients, we often bump into a 94 year old woman with a similarly positive outlook. She lives down the way and we almost bought her house two years ago but there were legal complications which she still hasn’t resolved. Like Hokusai, she has never had any health problems and being fitter than me, she overtakes me as we shuffle along the pavement, bless her. Her understated parting shot two days ago was, “I’ve told my lazy lawyer time is running out for me.”
As I turned homewards from the vegetable shop, I saw an eighty six year old man struggling to pick up his fallen newspaper. People passed him, a couple watched him, so with my crutch clicking quicker on the pavement, I shouted, “I’ll do that.”
As I handed over his paper he said, “Need new shoulder joints, already had both hips, both knees and one wrist done, so I can’t wait!”
“Lucky it all went smoothly,” I said, still jealous that my knee op in 2014 ruined the damaged health I had worked so hard to improve.
This man so much older than me continued, “At my age, you mustn’t buy green bananas….” And he waited.
“Green bana…?” I began.
“It’s a gamble.” He smiled.
“Will I be around to see them ripen?” he laughed.
Will any of us, I wondered as I puffed the two hundred metres homewards under the grey skies which have been overhead for months, bar the odd burst of sunshine. Old age, hey - the weather becomes quite important. It has made us want to head for the more reliable climate of France, but we must wait until I’m strong enough, however, Camilla began looking at ferries last night.
Exactly five years since Brexit forced us to leave the home we loved in France, the honeymoon is over. Brexit sucks, the rain and the grey skies make us yearn for La Belle land. The damp atmosphere which is now playing havoc with my damaged lungs and was one of the main reasons we went to France in 2002, is a factor - and it worked, my health vastly improved. Being Kenyan, I also miss the space, the mountains and we made good friends over there.
Camilla said, “Brexit means we’ll need private health insurance.”
I’ve never bothered with health insurance, confident I’d be able to make it back to the UK if need be.
“After what’s happened to you recently, we must. If you were to be hospitalised, we’d be bankrupted without insurance."
"OK, let's cost it in," I said reluctantly.
She did her online sums and said, "It’s become impossibly expensive - £1,000 for two weeks!”
I shivered, “Surely some of my stuff can be ignored….”
“If it strikes you out there, we’d have to sell the house to pay French hospital bills.”
“Oh, I’m so, so sorry. Go with S, you’d have a lovely time together.”
“She’d not go without J, and that’d make it wrong.”
“Find somebody else.”
“I don’t want to go without you.”
I hugged her, “A damp camp in Cornwall it is then….” “But our small van’s only good for France’s fine weather…”
“Oh damn, and tent life is now too tough for me…”
“And we can’t afford B&B,” she looked crestfallen.
“So Ilminster it remains….”
“We’d better buy a huge garden umbrella….”
“And a sun lamp.”
Mid February, the day after Valentine’s Day, traditionally one of the lowest mood moments across Europe. Outside, the rain pours and will continually to do so for the week ahead. Inside it is cool as we can’t afford to keep the heat on too high. Inside me though, the ‘heart’ is strong, despite another bad night of pain and health issues, and I’m willing to make the most of another day. If Hokusai could aged 90, OK, bolstered by his Buddhism and fine health, I can too. If that old lady aged 94 can, despite her legal conundrums, then it’s the option for me. Even if I don’t have Hokusai’s faith, unlike the woman I have a life-long companion - Camilla! How grand is that.
And, I must keep reminding myself, after this truly tough year, each day is a gift! That's the secret to a good existence....