Notes on Decline

In her position as increasingly informed health professional, [regular readers will know that she returned to the maternal fold for a round of study for another degree], Offspring has mustered the kindness to advise me that I will know I have five years left before I shuffle off into the ether by the absence of my olfactory sense.
I have never been advantaged in my sense of smell. As a child I suffered with hay fever and spent weeks with a streaming nose and eyes during times of high pollen. An enhanced ability to smell can be both an advantage and a blight! I may be the last person in the hotel to smell the smoke but I am able to avoid nausea by being unaffected by the more unpleasant odours.
In the event that I might actually want to know when I am about to pop my clogs my sense of smell may not be a reliable indicator. Other factors, however may point in the general direction of snuffing it. To ascertain some of them it seems reasonable to look to your parents’ old age, the ailments they began to pick up, their lifestyles and their resistance.
In later life my father developed asthma-an unpleasant and often distressing condition-and also eczema. It is a mystery why all this descended upon him in his sixties, but it is now my legacy to have inherited the eczema, a complaint which is not in the least dangerous or threatening but which is, at times, torture.
At night, especially I began to wake to the sensation of thousands of small needles prickling my arms and back. I stayed awake-trying to defy the onslaught by employing ‘mind over matter’. I applied cold flannels, Calomine and ‘stop-the-itch’ cream. The hours passed in a turmoil of raking nails and tram-lined skin resulting only in an increase of the itch factor. I researched the internet. I sought help.
Initially I followed advice regarding liberal moisturising, eschewing soap and shower gel etc. The results were disappointing. I rushed out and purchased emollients of various types, slathering each in turn upon the offending areas of skin. For a few days sun block cream seemed like a miracle cure; then it didn’t.
At last I resorted to the GP, needing only a telephone consultation to be granted a prescription for steroid cream. I must admit I was disappointed, having considered I could beat the problem without recourse to professionals. But there is the inevitable and there is the view from the descent-the downhill slope; if only eczema were the sole ailment!
Not wishing for this blog to deteriorate into a hypochondriac rant I am reluctant to launch into all the other [granted-trivial] health disorders that have crept into my life in an insidious, sneaking invasion but there are times when an additional irritant, such as the arrival of the eczema serves as a reminder of the finite nature of lifespan and that, yes, it is all downhill from here!

To keep up or not to keep up, that is the question…

                If there is one, nasty, insidious, creeping element to ageing I’ve noticed, it is the necessity to complete ever more actions in order to appear presentable in public. This is one of the things your mother never tells you; that seemingly every day that goes by brings another challenge to be faced in front of the mirror! Indeed, the mirror itself is a challenge! These days, if I can actually find something I might wish to try on in the changing room of a clothing outlet I am in the habit of facing the door rather than the mirror. The overall result of this behaviour is that I return home with any garment that I can get on and do up, regardless of how it looks.

                Gone are the days when I could get out of the shower, towel off, drag something on and go. Now it is more a case of completing a checklist of fabrications, falsehoods and concealments, all designed to fool everyone [including myself] that I look ok. Starting at the top, it goes something like this:

Hair [of the head kind]

Having originally been a very dark, almost black shade of brown, I’ve been undertaking a stealthy transformation over the last fifteen or so years to lighten to a shade which will blend seamlessly into grey. Progress continues to be slow. I’ve lacked the courage, thus far, to go ‘cold turkey’. I’ve always been hopeless with hair styling, so at least that is one area that does not change.

Hair [Face]

It grows where it is not wanted and disappears from where it used to be. This anomaly has to be addressed on a depressingly frequent basis.

Skin [Face]

Dry, blotchy, wrinkly, spotty etc etc. It requires the use of ‘product’. ‘Product’ occupies increasing amounts of space and time and is also a drain on resources. It is also of dubious expediency. QED.

Skin [Elsewhere]

Dealing with elsewhere skin demands a regime consisting of a combination of the two above. I am hampered in the execution of these tasks, however by a lack of flexibility [eg twisting around to access lower part of back of leg] and failing eyesight. The result is to go out and about with unsightly hairy patches like a mammal undergoing a moult, not a problem during the winter months but an obstacle to baring flesh in the summer. Elsewhere skin also soaks up ‘product’ like a sponge. The choice is to keep slathering it everywhere in industrial quantities or take on the appearance of a crocodile.


Where do I begin? It changes. I cavort about at the gym, walk, do active things, eat sensible things, eschew the demon chocolate. Despite all this effort and deprivation, stubborn, squidgy bits appear where there were none.

                I know women who deal with the outward signs of ageing by concentrating all their efforts into the extremities. They spend vast sums on nail beautification or the purchase of designer handbags, thus avoiding the proverbial ‘elephant’. If it works for them, great! I am neither a nail person [being more of the Carol Klein type…gardening nails] nor a bag-o-phile. I fail to understand the allure of bags, especially when changing bag to suit outfit requires decanting all items from one to the other. I use a rucksack. When it wears out I get another.

                I also sense a certain inequality here, between the sexes. Men can embrace ageing and become all those desirable things like ‘distinguished’ without so much as nod to Grecian 2000. This is much discussed in the media, where male presenters, newsreaders and the like can carry on into their dotage without a worry.

                So how old do I have to be before I may sit down, relax and let it all go the way it will without my intervention? Like I said, my mother never told me! Answers on a postcard please….. [or in the comments section!]