David Lovibond

Growing old gracelessly

David Lovibond discovers, post-50, that no amount of multi-vitamins or gym visits will put off the onset of 'sordid infirmity'

My parents died quickly and hygienically, without any sort of precursory illness. I have no siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins whose descent into sordid infirmity might have obliged me to visit them. I have a small platoon of children, it is true, but they all live with their mothers and have saved me from childhood mewlings and pubescent messiness. As a teenager and famed walker of hills, I piled humiliations on the heads of less robust friends, but at night I would steal across the fields in search of a private latrine pit. In my last summer before university I spent months hefting cast-iron dustbins full of wet ash for Liverpool Corporation, before heading off to Switzerland and attacking the Bernese Oberland like a hardened stormtrooper. Yet at night in my Grindelwald pensione I suffered agonies of discomfort and embarrassment at the prospect of using the shared ‘facilities’.

Throughout adult life it simply never occurred to me that I could get ill, or that anyone else would either. My various partners knew not to admit to the least ailment: childbirth happened without me, and I was not expected to attend until all the unpleasantness had been tidied away. The years passed and no concessions to maturity were asked of me. I would never become old and, if I grew discontented …well, then I could run away and renew my contract with Dorian Gray. And that, in celebration of my 50th birthday, is what I did.

For the first time in 30 years I was living alone, free of a female support system. I could reshape my body, reinvent myself as someone younger, and none the wiser. No one would want me to care for them, or wear hurt expressions after my suspicious absences, or expect their friends to be able to use the loo, or ask me how I was.

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