Never too old

Graham Dukes can still find new things to grumble about.

Yes, I have reached my fourscore years and a little more. And no, most of the time I do not feel old. But there was one moment….

It happened in Kabul, of all places. I was consulting, as a member of a health team, and thoroughly enjoying myself. And then, on the second morning of my stay, as I opened my bedroom door ready to run downstairs, a very capable young lady consultant came tripping across the corridor. She relieved me of my briefcase, gripped my arm, and proceeded to guide me slowly down to the breakfast room. Once I recovered sufficiently to protest it merely elicited the response: “Oh, that’s quite all right – I always do it for my grandfather.”

I have always perceived oldness (as distinct from old age) as a state of mind which certain people cultivate, some of them early on. There was that bank manager I knew, who on his forty-first birthday, declared through his cigar smoke that his tellers were still Men in Blue Suits, that in a back room his typists still typed on solidly-built Royal typewriters and that with only 24 years to go before his pension he expected to keep things that way. Fortunately for everyone, the Almighty elbowed him out before he had the chance.

Have I been any better? I like to recall that I sat down to process words on my first laptop in 1982 and have been clambering up the gigabyte scale ever since. Admittedly, I have complained about the state of the world, but fairly consistently, the range of my grumbles only growing with the range of novelties to grumble about. Those irritating mobile phones, for example, which I won’t touch. Or the BBC’s decline into Estuary English, untidy, inexact and ungrammatical.

To say nothing of trousers, pairs of shapeless tubes with illogical creases ironed into them front and back. I tolerate them, because in the meantime things have gone further downhill; some scoundrel with a warehouse full of unsold blue tent cloth and a boxful of copper rivets started a whisper campaign to the effect that cheap denim jeans hammered together from these components were just what the world’s legs had been waiting for. Heaven alone knows why the Hoi Polloi fell for the nonsense, but they did and went on to achieve further uglification by patching, sandblasting and other forms of maltreatment. Mind you, these things pass.

Think of the time when the Beatles pioneered cutaway shirt collars, exposing the untidy bits of the necktie. Until the madness receded, I had to hunt in the backstreets for years to find properly shaped collars. The only things I now have to hunt for are underpants not polluted by advertising; even in my bedroom I see no reason to parade around like a walking billboard on which large letters proclaim that my unmentionables are the progeny of Pierre Robert or Calvin Klein, whoever they may be.

Even computing is polluted. What am I to do about all these unsociable social websites that want to have me chasing cobwebs? Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter are all lurking somewhere in the ether, hoping to grab me, or provide me with new friends for whom I am not waiting. I admit that I did give one of these websites a chance when it promised to locate for me all the people around the world who shared my interests. Now as it happens I have one very, very unusual hobby, and I have it in common with around a dozen other folk on this side of Eternity. So I confessed to it, and I waited. Within minutes, the system was cheerfully informing me that it had identified 93,722 other people with identical interests who were just panting with impatience to meet me. How nice, I said to myself, and pressed the “delete” knob. At least I know now that in the twenty-first century the world has brought forth some things that are even more ridiculous than blue jeans.


Graham Dukes is a lawyer, physician, author and church organist. He lives in Oslo.

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