I am peering in the mirror, just before bedtime. There’s something funny going on around my eyes, especially the right one. It looks as though I’ve been a victim of a practical joke, the one that involves handing someone a pair of binoculars whose eyepieces have been rubbed with soot. (I wonder where one gets soot these days, if one is any distance from a genteel home with a wood-burning stove. Burning the end of a cork can work, but when was the last time you saw a cork? Don’t get me started on corks.)
This is worrying, to say the least. We are coming up to my birthday – by the time you read this it will have come and gone – which is always a time of year when I am filled with a sense of time passing horribly swiftly, as I suppose is the case with many of you lot.
However, at least we only age one day at a time, in the normal run of things. Great shock can accelerate this enormously, though; and I remember an aged actor telling me once that, every seven years, time (and here he made a gesture somewhere between wiping a window and waving goodbye) suddenly changes your appearance. Well, I’ve had some shocks lately, about which I am not at liberty to talk just yet; and I suppose I am due for my seven-yearly punch in the face by Time.
But this ring round the eyes is not good. I rub at it and it doesn’t go away. It’s something male Lezards are prone to, I recall: and although I thought I might have inherited at least some of my mother’s seeming immortality, that is not the case. Then again, I have been hitting the wine and the roll-ups fairly heavily these days, and although I still look considerably better than I deserve to – basically, I deserve to be in an iron lung – you can’t cheat the forces of entropy.
However, it could be worse. I think of those of my friends around my age whose backs are killing them, or whose necks have gone wrong; who have to turn their whole body to look behind them. My heart bleeds for these people, which is by way of saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I suppose being slender, and with no muscles to pull, I have escaped many of these depredations of the middle-aged. Largely.
I once found myself unable to move my right arm anywhere without pain, and above shoulder height without agony, and I hadn’t even slept funnily on it the previous night. That lasted about two months before it went away without even leaving a note, but not before the kindly doctor gave me a prescription for tramadol, prince of opioids, a painkiller against which I will not say a word. (I still have a few left which I am saving for a special occasion.)
But the eyes. The eyes and the teeth. They’re the things that get you in the end, that mark you out as time’s victim. And the hair: which I think of as grey but now looks snow-white in photographs. The teeth . . . I know I go on about these, but I spend pretty much all my spare time thinking about them. I also think about other people’s teeth. When in conversation, I look at their teeth. Aren’t their teeth wonderful? So neat, so white.
I mentioned a trip to the dentist a few issues ago, the purpose of which was to see how much it would cost to make them look presentable again. Two things I didn’t mention: one, that there was a form to fill in beforehand, which asked questions such as: “Are you afraid to smile?” and “Do you cover your mouth with your hand when you smile?” My answers: 1) Yes, and 2) That hadn’t actually occurred to me, but what a bloody good idea, now you mention it. Of course, because I’ve not been trained as a geisha the gesture does not come naturally; so what I do is simply not smile. As I have little to smile about these days, that isn’t so hard.
The second thing I didn’t mention is that the dentist put a temporary crown on my front two teeth to show me what they would look like in an ideal world. Having become familiar with my two eroded stumps, the sight of two normal-length teeth came as something of a shock. Basically, I looked like a rabbit.
Anyway, now it’s the eyes. Maybe I have been sleeping badly and this is just temporary. Maybe a change of diet would help, this time with the odd vegetable and piece of fruit. I had a banana a couple of weeks ago. It was really rather tasty, though a bit of a chore by the end. But it was very easy on the teeth.
I wonder if the skins are good as a poultice for tired eyes.
This article appears in the 17 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies