Outside, it’s raining needles.
I shuffle to the bathroom – shuffling has become my default method of locomotion. There is no pressing medical reason for me to shuffle, it just feels more comfortable. Shuffling is something people do when they get to my age. And wear carpet slippers.
I vowed I would never be seen dead in carpet slippers. But I was in a play, people’s feet on the stage were making so much noise you could not hear the dialogue. The director ordered us all into carpet slippers. Mine stayed on after the show. God, they were comfy. Did I just write ‘comfy’?
They were fuzzy brown Dralon. I was playing older than my age. I’ve read Stanislavsky, I chose brown Dralon to seem older. I shuffled. I grew a big white beard (see photo). Now, I wear them all the time. Shuffle. And grow my beard – but only as far as a Number Two, grizzled-but-still-available look. The fuzzy brown Dralon has worn bare. Shuffling has worn them out. That, and scraping dog hairs out of the carpet pile, it wears out the soles. But look, here I still am, wearing them in, wearing them out. Comfy.
I have taught myself to pee more-or-less accurately in the dark. Find the handholds, spread the legs so. Shuffle, and pee. As much as one may, at my age. One, it saves a penny’s worth of electricity. Two, the people who are out to get me can’t see there’s anyone living here. I can lock the doors, but I can’t shut the bathroom window. I can’t figure out how to fit a catflap in a double-glazed unit without breaking the seal. It is the Achilles’ Heel in my domestic security.
And it is why I don’t have the heating on either. I can’t afford to heat the garden too.
I knew some people once, a couple from West Africa. They lived in North London, he was proud to be a senior clerk at the High Court in the Strand, proud of his lovely wife. They had sons he was proud of too, I don’t know what happened to them. But they missed sitting out on the porch watching the sun go down over West Africa. So they extended the central-heating pipes out to the garden, put radiators under an open-fronted shelter and watched the sun set over Neasden, comfy all-year-round. We laughed about their huge gas bill. Then she died.
Shuffle back to bed, pull the heavy fleece coverlet my mother gave me around my neck. I feel sorry for Hunzi on this cold night, but he has to stay down on the carpet, softly leaking hairs. I’m not one of those old people who lets a dog sleep on the bed, let alone in it. It’s bad enough with the cat. Cats always know where you wanted to put your legs. The rigor such discomfort induces helps with the shuffling, I have to say. I can imagine what it would be like to have constant pain in your hips.
A sudden gust of wind sends needles tinkling mechanically against the bathroom window. The weather outside is a little strange. I suppose if you are reading this in Florida, or Israel, where the weather has turned stranger still, you’ll give a hollow grunt. Strange weather? Why, the only way out of this house is to jump from an upstairs window, hope I haven’t left the car buried under that snow drift, that is going to cushion my fall. Or maybe not.
Our weather here on the coast has taken to arriving in short bursts. It hasn’t snowed all winter, not properly; hardly at all. It hasn’t been that cold. Last year our seafront, our beaches were wrecked by powerful Atlantic storms, seven in succession. They are having to build a new bandstand on the Victorian promenade as a result, a modernist design that has infuriated precisely half the inhabitants. We are all old here. Some more than others. I am looking forward to singing there on reopening day, but the work has fallen behind. And no-one has asked us.
This year we are experiencing many sudden gusts, powerful mini-storms driving needles of icy rain against the house, then suddenly dying away. These storms last for maybe only thirty seconds, metal splinters tinkling mechanically on the windows like shrapnel; then it’s quiet again for half an hour.
I don’t understand the principle. Age 12, I got my Scouts’ Weatherman’s badge. After nearly thirty years of living in deep countryside, never less than a mile from the road, I’ve got pretty savvy about weather lore. But why does the wind do this? Blowing off three thousand miles of Atlantic, you’d expect a continuous, smooth flow of wind. Instead it comes in violent, staccato bursts and pulses. What can cause it to break up like this?
At last, a few grudging drops of old urine are produced, and I wrap-up. I have shuffled to the bathroom at two in the morning, in the dark; what the vivid new street-lights leave me of the dark, because it’s what people do when they get a needle-sharp pain stabbing in their bladder in the dead of night and they lie awake worrying about cancer. Or stones. I’ve told doctors about it, but they take no interest. A few questions: were you seen within eighteen minutes of your appointment? Great, you can go.
A few drops squeezed and shaken, an old person’s comfy blowing-off and the pain is gone. I shuffle back to bed. How many times a night do I experience falling asleep without noticing?
It is like when I had that little operation, one minute the nurses are discussing their love-lives over your nervously recumbent, about-to-be corpse. But it’s a ruse. When you least expect, there’s a momentary sensation of ice, then nothing. Until the coming-round, the shuffling around the ward, through the temporary tightness that is your numb and bandaged groin, the staples pulling at your loose skin.
Oh, I hope it is like that.
The shuffling off.