History? What of it. As my mother carried me, yet unborn, General Allenby led his army into Jerusalem on foot, with the words “I will not ride where my Saviour walked.” As I came into this world, the Tsar and his family were being shot in a cellar.
I loved in my own way, survived another war, the blitz, the rationing, and then I raised a family. Let future generations decide whether I did a good job; and now I am old. As we grow old we build a shell around ourselves like a snail. An accretion of memories and familiarity, known people and comfortable places that prop us up and help us make our way slowly but steadily into the future.
Was I shocked? In the last ten years the only thing that shocked me was when I read that they cancelled all London buses because of a bit of snow.
And now I am ill. The shell that supported me and gave my life shape has been smashed. My world is a hospital bed. I’m surrounded by nurses and auxiliaries and physiotherapists and technicians in unnumbered hordes. They speak kindly and clearly to me but then talk staccato gibberish to each other over my head because the day is too short for the deeds that need doing. And the wards keep changing, diagnosed with this, transferred there, diagnosed with that, transferred onwards again. This time the care is intensive, this time palliative, this time they’re building me up for discharge. I’ve even got a social worker, whatever one of them is supposed to do. Perhaps it’s to make sure I don’t play truant or spend all my money on drink?
The day’s routine? Wake up, look round, try and check to see if I’m in the same ward. The bed next to me has a different occupant; I’m sure they weren’t there yesterday, are they new or am I?
And slowly my mind tries to rebuild the shell. Tries to give me back the security of ‘knowing’. Tries to give me what everyone else takes for granted. So we start with the real. We start with the German exam that no living person but me remembers. We start with the new lab, a triumph snatched from post war austerity. Did someone say austerity? What does some rich young puppy on the front bench know of austerity with his millionaire father? And they tell me his father was a Marxist?
And then there’s the questions; they’re always asking me questions, some difficult, some personal, and always such haste for the answer. Don’t they want me to think about it, to give them the right answer? If they don’t know who the Prime Minister is, why ask me, I’ve seen twenty of them, some great, some pygmies struggling to see over their own inflated egos.
But that’s the trouble with being ill, the questions, the tablets, the constant change for no reason. It leaves me so tired. I think I’ll sleep now, I wonder where I’ll wake up?
But to cancel the buses, just because of a bit of snow. I remember 1947 and……
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.