Pad Life: The Elephant In The Room
The nights are drawing in. At eight o’clock I’m closing the blinds. Well, I am tonight. Tomorrow the decorators arrive to do the living room, the blinds get removed, and then it’s newspaper curtains until the new ones are put up. I’ve gone for wooden venetian blinds. Don’t start. I’ve had enough of that from the Scion.
‘Yes. They’re cheaper, they go with anything, I don’t have to wash them, just give them the occasional shuftie with the appropriate hoover attachment.’
‘I never saw you as wooden blinds.’
‘I still have the power to astonish.’
Then there were the paint colours.
‘You want to live inside an egg yolk?’
‘More a Teletubby sun.’
I’ve had a lifetime of tasteful cream tints and suitably muted accompaniments. The old girl’s going yellow and wooden blinds and a large poster from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis.
I’m also getting an elephant tattoo for my sixty-fifth birthday.
‘No, you’re not.’
‘Excuse me, is that my son or my mother speaking?’
‘What do you want a tattoo for?’
‘I like elephants. We bond. Fat, grey, wrinkly and matriarchal.’
He blames the Princess, who has three tattoos now. She’s just come back from her summer trip to Thailand, where she spent some time working in a school, and a much better time working in an elephant sanctuary. I have a beautiful new little wooden elephant to add to my already quite extensive elephant collection.
I love getting old. It’s better than the alternative, obviously, and there is the perk that most people regard you as pretty useless, when all’s said and done, so they don’t give a shit what you do. In fact they expect you to talk to yourself as you walk along, not quite remember what you came in the shop for, and have trouble squeezing between tables in an artisan café. Of course, I say I like it now, when I still have my health and a large chunk of my faculties, no-one else to look after – apart from Little Cat – and sufficient funds to go to an artisan café and have scrambled eggs and chorizo on sourdough toast with a crust I can’t chew. I shall undoubtedly hate it when I’m on a millennium-long waiting list for a replacement part, can’t get help to cope in the Pad, and can’t afford to go anywhere because they’ve done away with bus passes (which they will do in August next year, because I qualify for mine in September). So, enjoy while you can.
I gather that the plan for my sixty-fifth, still a few weeks away, is to take me somewhere quite trendy, for a tasting menu. Ten or twenty years ago I was a bit reticent about birthdays. I didn’t like a big fuss. Nothing to do with the passing of the years, I just wasn’t enamoured of being the centre of attention. But now, twice a year, I am faced with my late parents’ left-over birthdays. Birthdays they no longer have any use for. I would dearly love to take my Dad to Loch Fyne and watch him chomp his way through every prawn dish on the menu, or escort my Mum to a ‘nice play’ and a modest meal afterwards, her idea of absolute heaven. We did those things, but perhaps, it feels, not enough of them. So, if my kids want to spoil me on my birthday, I shall let them. Hopefully, in the future, those great birthdays will fill up the spaces of my left-over ones.
Folk here in the surrounding Pads became friendlier over the summer. New people moved in across the hall, a couple of postgrad students renting. One set of parents arrived with them, and I supplied assorted screwdrivers for the dad to put something up, and a hoover for the mum to clear up afterwards. I know, I know. Gender stereotyping. But he came for the screwdrivers and she came for the hoover, and I didn’t feel I knew them well enough to point out the error of their ways. Also, I got a box of chocolates out of it, so I put my principles on the back burner. The problem of the cigarette smoke floating in through the windows has pretty much vanished since the previous occupants moved out, so I was able to enjoy birdsong with my two trays of Green and Black’s.
The telly packed up a couple of weeks ago, and I knocked on a few doors to see if it was just me or a problem with the communal aerial. Everyone was very nice and invited me in and chatted before telling me they all had either Sky or streaming services only. One of the postgrads came over to borrow a Scart lead because the one she’d bought from the pound shop didn’t work and she had people coming round. In my day, you borrowed a corkscrew if people were coming round, but there you go.
I’ve discovered that a couple of ex-colleagues live nearby, so numbers and invitations have been swapped. I have settled. I feel safe and secure in my little Pad, with my nice neighbours. My role is old cat lady, and I’m confident about asking the postgrad’s dad, next time he’s visiting, to come and replace one of the inset light bulbs in my kitchen, which I can’t reach unless I’m at the top of the ladder, and I don’t do tops of ladders. I am reliant on outside assistance because the Princess, being epileptic, is not allowed on ladders – not in my house, anyway – and the Scion is bloody useless at anything practical and liable to pull the whole fitting off the ceiling. If it should be the postgrad’s mum, I’d ask her, of course. One cannot make assumptions because of previous experience.
How fortunate I am to live in such a wonderful fool’s paradise. But even here, the odd little cold draft is sneaking under the door. The Princess has yet to receive assurance that her epilepsy meds will be available should the Cummings government achieve orgasm and take us out with No Deal. The Scion’s Girlfriend, who is Swedish, has faced questions about her future status and continued funding for her PhD. The Scion is a musician in a band that is just starting to get regular work in Europe. Of course they will still be able to go over there. But it will cost more, which could make it unviable. Unlike Girlfriend’s work researching improvements in learning outcomes for autistic children, the Scion’s problems won’t affect the welfare of the nation. Just his career, and that of thousands of other young people who will no longer have freedom of movement.
It goes beyond sodding Brexit, of course. Brexit is one bit of the great big needle that will eventually puncture the bubble of all our little fool’s paradises. I’m not a great believer in conspiracy theories; most conspiracies seem to require a greater degree of planning and competence than most governments can marshal. From what I’ve seen so far, Cummings’ bunch of hysterics is no exception. It’s the fact they actually lack the ability to run a good conspiracy that worries me. They have no idea what they’re unleashing in the country, and they don’t even know yet that they haven’t got a hope in hell of controlling it.
I’m looking at my paint charts and choosing the blinds I can pull down over my windows and defying my son by getting a tattoo for my sixty-fifth birthday. I chat to the nice people around me and Little Cat has lots of admirers. I order my Americano with hot milk and navigate my way round the sourdough. I’m enjoying getting old, but what’s happening beyond my Teletubby sun walls frightens me. I just wonder what life will be like for the Princess and the Scion, and Girlfriend, when they’re contemplating my left-over birthdays.
Today (8 September) is my Mum’s third left-over birthday. She’d have been ninety-two, and once we’d been to the nice play, and had the nice meal, and once she’d had her one glass of wine, she’d have been giving that Dominic Cummings a piece of her mind. Despite being a staunch Liberal Democrat, she always liked Ken Clarke.