Is This Your Life? By Pamela Gough

How did this happen? Do you ever look down at your body, as I do, briskly rubbing with the towel and shivering in the not quite warm enough bathroom? Do you have the same thoughts as I do? Where is the once firm flesh, the breasts that used to beam upwards? Why do my legs look like two rolls of  crepe paper? As for looking in the mirror, that’s something to be avoided at all costs. If you refrain from looking at that wrinkled old crone, you can go along with the lovely fantasy that you are as lithe and desirable as when you were twenty-five (which is the age I still am, in my head).

Then there is the assault course that is getting dressed, knees creaking as I bend to pull on my socks. I try to think back to a time when I could dress standing up, and without the accompaniment of groans and sighs. That seems to belong to an era long gone.

Food is now a real minefield. Once, I was an omnivore, relishing spicy curries, all sorts of French delicacies (including snails), pies, pasties and everything else that the British kitchen could dish up, all washed down with a glass or three of red. Now, my curries are extra mild, pies and pasties are a no-no and, as for wine, don’t even think about it!

There doesn’t seem to be a single moment when all this happened – it’s crept up on me imperceptibly, like the fingers of mist that gradually transform themselves into a thick, blinding fog.

And talking of fog, what has happened to my brain? I used to be sharp as a tack, always ready with a witty riposte. Now, I often find myself struggling to remember even simple words, and sometimes have to resort to a kind of ‘give us a clue’ combination of mime and description. When I’m with my young grandson, this isn’t a problem, as he can almost always finish my sentences for me (we have obviously forged a strong bond over the years I’ve been looking after him). Does that happen to you? Do you remember what you wanted to say just after the person has walked away? Or maybe it’s two days later when you’re sorting the washing.

And as for what I was planning to do next – no chance! It’s not just going upstairs and forgetting why. I often find myself picking up my phone to look something up and, by the time I’ve typed in my password, I can’t for the life of me think what it was that I wanted to know.

The online world has kept pace with my life. I used to get adverts for holidays, clothes and even cars. Now it’s retirement complexes, gadgets for getting the tops off jars and incontinence pants.

I used to have a brilliant memory. I never needed to write anything down, not even a shopping list. Now, I write a list, then find myself in the supermarket with the list still on the kitchen worktop. I decide to do something but, as I move from one room to another, I spot something else that needs doing and do that instead. It could be the next day before I realise that I didn’t do the first job.

Of course, worse than not being able to remember is forgetting something and not realising that you’ve forgotten it. When you promise to do a little favour for a friend or neighbour then forget all about it is really embarrassing.

The online world has kept pace with my life. I used to get adverts for holidays, clothes and even cars. Now it’s retirement complexes, gadgets for getting the tops off jars and incontinence pants. If these people know so much about me, why can’t they just do my shopping for me?  Then I wouldn’t have to bother with a list at all.

All these changes must show in my appearance and demeanour, as strangers have started being kind to me in a way that they didn’t when I was younger. Builders, who used to wolf-whistle as I walked past in my mini-skirts, now offer a solicitous ‘all right, love’ as I totter around their work. Shop assistants go out of their way to help me find what I want. Only the other day, I asked a young man where to find pocket tissues. He told me they were near the checkout and I thanked him, saying I would look there. I carried on with my shopping and was in the frozen food aisle when he came and found me, bringing pocket tissues with him. This is all very welcome in many ways, but I cannot help but feel a little resentful that people imagine I’m not as alert as I once was.

A few weeks ago, due to forgetfulness on my daughter’s part (for once, not mine), I had to meet someone at the school gate to pay for my grandson to go to the school disco. Half a dozen of the mums spoke to me to make sure I knew who I had to give the money to. In one way it was good to feel that they’d got my back, but do they think I’m not capable of finding someone?

And when did I turn into my mum? ‘It’s been in a hot place,’ I said the other day, when my grandson tasted his dinner and said, ‘This is hot.’ That was one of her phrases, along with ‘a nasty piece of work’ and ‘where there’s no sense there’s no feeling’. I’ve found myself using those recently. As long as I don’t start saying ‘keep snug’, or ‘what time are you hoping to get away?’ every time members of the family are going on holiday, all is not lost.

So, my life now consists of clothes which conceal, ibuprofen gel, endless lists, adverts for support bandages, the kindness of strangers, and a vocabulary that is lapsing into a bygone era.

Oh, well. Now where did I put my glasses?

Pamela is retired and lives in Derbyshire. She divides her time between writing short fiction, looking after her grandsons and tending her vegetable patch. She often finds inspiration for her writing whilst out in her campervan in the Derbyshire countryside.