Tuesday 30 May 2006

The wisdom and folly of old age

I officially turned into my mother at 11.14 a.m. on 13 May 2006. At any rate, that was the time when my companion whispered in my ear that I had been talking rather loudly when I drew her attention to the obvious nuttiness of the obvious nutter standing near us at the station.

Naturally I assured her that my decibel level had been modulated with the greatest of care: just loud enough to register with the lunatic, and with luck encourage him to delight someone else with his gibbering and capering. But not so strident as to provoke outrage, whether in the form of a frontal assault or a sly push under the next available train. I had also made a reasonably scientific calculation of my chances in single combat, just in case my first bit of analysis proved as accurate as it usually does.

Nevertheless, it set me thinking. My late mother had a pithy phrase for nearly every occasion, and like all elderly people she was wont to deliver it without too much regard for the consequences. I remember it fondly now, but my first reaction was one of cringing embarrassment when she looked around the crowded cafeteria and commented on our neighbour with the healthy appetite: ‘Eeh, will you just look at that big fat man – digging his grave with his teeth!’

To use another of her favourite catchphrases, I wished the ground would open up and swallow me.

But at least I now have a huge stock of folk wisdom which can be applied in virtually every situation. Except that I have had to admit defeat on what my mother would have thought of our First Lady, after Cherie Blair and possibly the Queen, Lady McCartney. Former underwear models were rather thin on the ground in the Longbenton of my youth, particularly one-legged former underwear models married to legendary pop superstars, so I suppose it falls rather outside her area of expertise.

As a result, I’ve had to start thinking for myself, and have concluded that I rather approve of Lady Heather, as she apparently likes to be called, in defiance of a thousand years of English protocol.

Many people, particularly in her line of work, would simply have given up after that unfortunate encounter with the police motorcycle. But like the unidexter gamely auditioning for the role of Tarzan in the classic Pete and Dud sketch, Ms Mills (not to be confused with Mrs Mills, the big-boned and big-hearted pub pianist) pressed upwards and onwards. In fact, she used her leg-off as a leg-up. She became a Journal columnist – in itself the summit of many people’s ambition – then an energetic campaigner for good causes. And who could doubt the public spirited nature of her crusade against land mines when, as a correspondent to the not-as-funny-as-it-used-to-be Viz letters page pointed out, she is only half as much at risk from them as the rest of us.

Then came the Big One: marriage to a quarter of the Beatles, specifically to the genius who brought us such timeless classics as Yesterday and the Frog Chorus. And if reports of their turbulent engagement are to be believed, he can’t say that he didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.

Yes, I hope Lady McCartney does rather well in the divorce courts, and spends it all on fur coats and sausages made from contented pigs. I’m sure there will be no shortage of former Beatles fans eager to take her place.

And while I may be stumped (no pun intended) on what my mother would have made of Heather Mills, I know that she would have appreciated the exquisite piquancy of the answer to the question ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?’ turning out to be ‘No.’

Oh, and I know exactly what she would have said to Sir Paul if the opportunity arose: ‘There’s no fool like an old fool’.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne, slightly edited to avoid outraging public decency.

No comments: