It’s surprising how TV advertisements stick in your head, well, mine anyway. I can sing so many, from so far back. I remember going into a pub in England and standing at the bar. The barman asked me what I wanted and I said “Worthington E”. He looked at me in a funny fashion and said “We ain’t got any”. So I said “A pint of Watney’s please, Draft Red Barrel”.
Well, if I ever did. People around me were spluttering with laughter and choking on their beer. “Gor blimey,” said the barkeep, “What planet have you been living on? They stopped making that stuff generations ago. Come on,” he said, “Try again. Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on.”
“Well,” I said, “”you wouldn’t have a pint of Moosehead would you? Or Molson Canadian?”
I settled for a pint of best bitter. It was okay, but it wasn’t quite the same. And then I discovered Old Thumper. I’d never heard of that before, but it certainly was the best thing going.
Sometimes we twist ourselves into knots. We double-think our thoughts, put our feet in the wrong hole in our jeans, slide our socks on backwards, put our shirts on inside -out.
Poor twisted mortals, we have made up our minds that all is well, that everything is for the best in the best of all worlds, but we are not candid with each other and sometimes we are so twisted we cannot see the truth even when it is staring at us from the mirror.
Alas, my front tooth is chipped. My hairline is receding. My whiskers are turning as grey as my thinning hair that has already lost its curl and now falls straight forward in the Julius Caesar cut that belies the closeness of the Ides of March.
And this has been a dialog with my time and my place. But what is time? A river flowing? A long line leading from my beginning to my end? Alpha and Omega? An instant held between finger and thumb and so swiftly forgotten? A dream I dream when I am awake or asleep? And which is my real dream, waking or sleeping, sleeping or lying awake?
And what is my place? This house in which I now live? The garden I watch from my kitchen window? My town? This forested area where I think I belong? My county? My province? My region? And how do I relate to my “time” or my “place” to this being called “Roger”, this dream-Roger who dreams this post-amniotic ocean of life in which he now drifts? I dream I am male yet when I read Carl Jung I learn that a large part of me is female. I always thought I was masculine / macho / male, yet when a large part of me is feminine / hembra / female, I am no longer sure what I am. And how much does it matter?
I have ten fingers yet I use only two to type. Two fingers manipulate twenty-six letters, selecting some, rejecting others, making careless mistakes, organizing and reorganizing, shuffling all those verbal cards. I turn this black-and-white keyboard world upside down when I think my subversive thoughts and type them onto the computer screen and then print them out on what starts as a snow-white page that slowly fills with ant-size letters. Time and place, male and female: I lay on my side in hospital and the young urologist shot me full of female hormones so my prostrate cancer would not take over my inner organs and destroy my life. Place and time: I lie awake at night and shape disturbing dreams, dreams I have never before dreamed of dreaming.
Some nights I sense the end is drawing near. I fear it. In my beginning is my end. Beginning and end: both belong to me as do time and space, so central to the story of my life. For life will continue with or without me even if I am not there to bear witness. But I have been here, and parts of my story will remain embedded in the mind of each and every one of those who knew me and heard me speak.
Beethoven took the Fifth and rewrote it in his own image. I want to rewrite my life. I want my youth to return. I want to be young and athletic and lithe … I do not want to be this old man with a stick who bends double when he walks and sticks a blue sticker in the windscreen of his car.
I want to refuse to open the door when the postman knocks to deliver my mail. I know that soon he will bring me that registered letter, for which I must sign, with that last fatal message, the subpoena from which there is no appeal. I guess that like the snow and the wild geese, he’ll be back tomorrow, or the next day, in spite of those voices telling me that tomorrow never comes. And so, on an unusually Odd Sunday in a bar they once called Corked, or at another table in another wine bar with a different name, raise a glass to me when I am gone and leave an empty glass on the table for me. If you do, I promise I’ll be there.
Comments: This, as promised, is the final chapter from On Being Welsh. Chronotopos is Bakhtin’s theory that all our writing is a dialog with our time (chronos) and our place (topos). “Know me, know my time and place.” When we discover and explore our time and place we begin to understand ourselves and our roles in life. Then we can start rethinking who and what we are, what we have been, what we want to be, what we need to do in order to change. But first, we must know ourselves, for without self-knowledge, we are ships adrift, floating rudderless on a rising sea, or driven by the forceful wind of others into places where we may not wish to go. My friends, I raise a glass to you, filled, alas, with orange juice, because it is breakfast time, here in Island View, on the first Sunday, damp and cold and wet of 2022.
Wisdom in the wrinkled skin, the grin that glows with humor, the sun sign of old age, or merely that of ageing, the knowledge that, yes, many have walked this wobbly way before, and many will follow.
What is pain, but the knowledge that we are alive, and relatively well, and still on the green side of the grass. Long may it last. When the pain is gone, we shall soon follow. For this is age, and age is this pain, and the painful knowledge that we are no longer young, can no longer bend the way we bent, or touch our toes, or even see our toes, some of us. The golden arrow pierces the heart. Fierce is the pain. But when that arrow is withdrawn and the heart no longer lives in love, why, how we miss that pain, how we weep to find it gone, perhaps never to come back again.
Pain, like rain, an essential part of the cycle of the seasons, of the days and the weeks, and all the months and years that walk us around time’s circle, in time with the earth and its desire to open its arms, and welcome us, and greet us, and bring us rest, from our pain.
Last night’s rainstorm shrank the house. We closed down rooms and now the walls are closing in. There’s so much we no longer use, nor visit, so many rooms we no longer enter.
Almost all our friends downsized long ago. We are the holdouts. We love it here in this big house with its lawns and trees and flowerbeds with bees’ balm, butterflies, birds, and the yard abuzz with sunshine and bees.
But now we are starting to throw things out. Maybe we’ll move, next summer perhaps, or maybe not. For now is the time of indecision.
Like friends of the same age, we travel the lesser road of memory loss, a name and a face here, a date or phone number there.
Perhaps, when the time comes, we will have forgotten how to move. Meanwhile, the mandatory old man’s question: ‘where did I put my glasses?’