Is this the end of the world? All my friends are dying, and Fergal Keane's sanctimonious voice drones in the background.by Jeremy Clarke / June 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
I’m not an expert, but having lived in an old people’s home on and off for the past ten years, it seems to me that the first signs of a physically deteriorating brain are short-term memory loss, an impoverished vocabulary, and short-term memory loss.
This short-term memory loss, I think, chiefly accounts for the widely held and absurd belief that old age brings serenity. Pace Dr Jung, there are no spiritual benefits accruing to the elderly that I know of-unless, of course, you believe that pain and rejection are somehow character-forming.
Take Molly, for example. Molly is 87. She was born on the day the Titanic sank. Whenever the subject arises, she always says how grateful she is that her parents didn’t christen her Titania. “Or Titanic,” I add, if I’m within earshot, for she is a large lady. She has been with us for about a year. She is intelligent, outgoing and normally polite; but there are times when her short-term memory lets her down so badly that she has to rationalise her disorientation by accusing the care assistants, very impolitely, of lacing her food with narcotics.
Returning from yet another funeral (Miss Scattergood’s) yesterday, I came across Molly in the front garden. She was sitting on a wooden bench in front of the house, soaking up the sun. Molly likes me. She likes me because she thinks I am being drugged as well. And she likes the shape of my bum, she says.
“Budge up,” I said, plonking myself down beside her.
“Now don’t tell me,” she said, “you’re called…” and we played our usual little parlour game of guessing what my name is. And as usual, she lost. I told her my name, and she said, “Ah, Jeremy! Of course. It was on the tip of my… tip of my…”
“Tongue?” I suggested.
I reported to Molly on Miss Scattergood’s funeral, my third in a month. Aids watchers have calculated that, on average, a Zambian adult of normal sociability is invited to a funeral a week. It may surprise…