For many years my mum worked as a home help, shopping for elderly people and cooking meals. I remember her talking to one of her chums who’d called for a coffee and they were saying some of the old folk they visited were "watching tele all day and waiting to die.” That must be 20 years ago and I can still remember it so perhaps it unsettled me. She didn’t mean they weren’t waiting to die but that life had dried up, there was little to look forward to and they were waiting until the inevitable.
Being nosy and having interests I can’t imagine getting like that (I've found nosiness about the world to be one of the main sources of happiness.) Surely old people that "give up" had interests and vibrancy once. What happened? When do they become resigned? Do they simply accept people of their age have a maximum x years left? Have they seen it all - every style of dress, every kind of painting, every strand of politics, every kind of rebellion, every style of music?
What must it be like to see the edge of the abyss? To learn that distant tolling bell only you can hear is....for you? Why aren't they talking about it? Why aren't they ringing a helpline? Why aren’t they screaming?
When the time comes I hope I'll be enraged that life is tapering to a final point but why are people so philosophical about it? Are they numbed by the pre-death shock of it? Perhaps they don't mind the inevitable end. Are they worn out and have seen it all? Are there no "firsts" left - first helicopter ride over New York? First time falling in love? First song recorded? First 147 break? Was Philip Larkin right when he said life was mostly fear and then mostly boredom? I remember chatting to man on a coach holiday who said that since his wife's death he was "just treading water". I remember thinking "isn't life itself enough?" I remember chatting to a woman I met on dog walks who had no problems chatting about death. When I asked her if she wanted to come back after death her shoulders dropped and she said, "Ohh no, I've had a good life but I don't want to come back. To live again - that's hell isn't it?"
Why aren't there soundproof booths on the streets like telephone boxes where you can shut yourself in a scream your lungs out at the injustice of it all? Cry your spleen out in rage that life is tapering to an end? We only live for about 35,000 days - isn't that worth screaming about? Perhaps animals that have no measure of lifespan are the lucky ones.
Sometimes I sit in my car or on benches and observe old people. Some have light and spirits, a kind of corolla of energy. Others seem to have a poverty of the spirits and it's as though something's sucking their blood out when they're sleeping. I hope my will to live compares with Stephen Hawking’s. Aged 76 with motor neurone disease stripping him of all mobility (except a cheek to work his computer) he was still writing books, giving speeches and fascinated by The Big Bang.
Anyway, with a bit of board, some paints and the above in my head I thought I'd do a quick abstract painting. I'm not sure where this came from (but I know where it's going - in the attic with all the others.) I drew two screaming men and used a knife to smear on a sort of ectoplasm screaming out from their mouths. I'm not sure I like this painting but it was cathartic doing it. I was looking after Marley that morning and she couldn't bear to look at it. You can though - or you could buy it (for someone you don't like) for £6820. It's dry and read to post and I can mail it to you tomorrow morning after I've been attended my Make-Your-Codpiece class. This week we're making them from rhino dung and glazing them with beaver urine. I can't wait.