I’m probably not difficult to confuse. It’s my age and that brain cells are dying at millions a day, though sometimes I am indeed in the zone and have endless amounts of concentration to get done a job for which I am totally motivated, by choice or necessity, but there comes a point when there is little choice but to recognise the onset of advanced years, both in attitudes and ailments. As for physical condition I can’t complain: slight hearing loss, type 2 diabetes and a dodgy pair of ankles is far better than the appalling medical conditions many people are forced to live with.
OK, so I’m only 54 and certainly shouldn’t be thinking “old” at this age. Quite the reverse, in my mind I’m still a teenager, though the body does sometimes struggle to keep up. The mind is still buzzing, in fact positively teeming with ideas. It’s only cost and time that prevent me going off to do any one of a thousand things on the carpe diem philosophy that you only live once and how the worst thing is to die regretting the opportunities you didn’t take when you could, so no lack of willing there – my get up and go didn’t get up and go!
No, the main problem is that I’m turning slowly but surely into my dad, a condition well recognised anecdotally but not yet ascribed a scientific syndrome, to the best of my knowledge. But don’t confuse that with the old stereotype that I’ve become in my old age set in my ways and generally more conservative – or, even worse, Conservative. If anything, like the late great Tony Benn, I become more radicalised the older I get. For me, the status quo is so evidently unsatisfactory that I don’t trust elected representatives to fix anything. But that’s another story…
In fact the problem is on a smaller scale. My short-term memory fails me all the time, such that I forget where I put things or what I was just about to do. Or if I do remember them, unless I write it down I’ll have forgotten by the time I get up to do it! This results in endless fruitless searches for things I need, or, things I need but can’t remember what it is I am searching for.
Take supermarkets. These days I write my list on a blackboard and take a photo of it before I leave the house. I still forget some items, then remember other things that should have been on the list, then wander around the store trying to remember what it is I remembered then forgot.
The flipside is that I become increasingly pedantic about putting things back in their place so I know where to find them – short of OCD but to the extent that I get irked when I can’t find the torch because my son moved it somewhere, or that my pen cap has mysteriously gone AWOL. Deeply frustrating, to be sure, all the more so since my memory of events long past is as clear as a bell! Hope this isn’t early onset Alzheimers…
So then, time to face facts here: I am becoming a touch crabby. Here “crabby” might mean a tad irritable and short of patience rather than temperamental, though it’s important to say any lack of patience I suffer occurs under particular circumstances and certainly not as a generic trait. At times I have inexhaustible supplies of patience, like waiting at hospital for whatever procedure that needs to be completed, that sort of thing. And indeed for writing and cooking, either of which frustrate the hell out of some friends but which I take steadily, enjoying every step of the way.
But when I’m not in the zone, woe betide anyone who gets in the way. I WILL NOT give up searching, even if I have to turn the house upside down. In some ways the dogged persistence is a great quality to have if you want someone to argue your case using all the considerable eloquence and lucidity at my disposal, but knowing when to stop is equally valid. Sometimes there is no choice, so lateral thinking is required to identify another way to resolve whatever problem my lapsed memory has caused.
It is true that people in general become more demanding and less tolerant as the years progress. Spike Milligan famously put notices on the doors to his house urging people not to slam them, and doubtless each transgression caused him an almost physical pain. The thing is, no matter how much you goad people nobody will live up to your standards, so trust reduces in equal measure.
There is another factor at play here though. What some might consider crabby behaviour for the reasons stated might also be thought of as eccentricity, of which many examples exist and about which I’ve written previously. Perhaps the two merge and at some point what was thought of as quirky or pedantic behaviour becomes a delightful idiosyncrasy which others cherish.
We’re a funny lot, aren’t we? I wrote recently about how people go deliberately to the Wong Kei restaurant in Chinatown, London, to be abused and insulted by the famously rude waiting staff. Perhaps that is a psychological comfort triggering memories of being told off by irritable parents when we were young?
Either way, with modern life running at ever faster pace and people are consequently losing whatever patience they had all the faster. More and more we demand instant gratification and forgetting the dictum oft-quoted by grandparents: “everything comes to he who waits.” I don’t think that was ever automatically the case, but holding out a bit longer sometimes works wonders.
In my case, there are occasions when hunting for something is fruitless, but I might just chance upon whatever it is I’d lost or forgotten quite by chance when I wasn’t looking for it. The subconscious works in mysterious ways and doesn’t stop working on the case just because conscious thought processes have moved elsewhere!