Participant to Spectator

All of a sudden, I got old.

It wasn’t just that I no longer had a job where I was in charge of lots of people. For years I was the senior officer on duty in my force area when the light went out in the command suites of each individual police station, that’s from around 18.00 to 08.00 Monday to Thursday, with an early slide for the bosses on Fridays. I could arm police officers, tell others what to do in the expectation that they might follow instructions, and run emergency situations until someone important phoned me.

On retiring I discovered that a few lengths of welded metal tube on wheels is considered a deadly weapon in my hands. While my wife decides what I’m going to eat in the coming few days without reference to me, I’m allowed to push a trolley around Tesco. She, however, is so scared I might suddenly run amuck that she holds on to the front of it. All the clever twisting, suddenly coming to a stop or brushing her up against the tinned fruit, fails to break the hold.

I realised that other old blokes around me were being kept in check in the same way. We were all washed up together, like those dinosaur bones that were all found in one spot. We are living fossils who should also be in a museum.

Even so, I felt up to the challenge of keeping oldness at bay simply by refusing to admit it. At first I was successful. Then fate intervened and confronted me with my loss of facilities.

I came out of WH Smith’s, a place I hide in now whenever trolley pushing is on the cards, behind a father and his circa seven-year-old son. The lad was looking at the magazine that had just been bought him and walked into one of those flapping signs. He stopped and studied the pretty blue poster. He turned to his dad, who’d had also stopped, forcing me to stop as well, and asked, “Dad, what’s a Health Lottery?”

The kid was obviously pleased that he’d been able to read it and wanted to impress his father.

Dad thought for no more than five seconds and replied, “Smoking, son. Smoking.”

Pretty cool, or what? I was impressed not only at the speed of response but its quality as well.

While enjoying a grande skinny latte with my wife I told her of my brief encounter. She said, “That’s just the sort of thing you’d have said.” The ‘in the old days, when you were younger’ was left noisily unsaid.

It encapsulates my life now I’m old. Instead of being a participant I’m a spectator. I report rather than generate, or even respond. I’m now happy if I see something unusual, or if I learn a bit about people.

I’m IT literate. I’ve built my own desktop computers for the last 20 years, adding state-of-the-art hardware, firmware and software. I’ve run a dozen or so websites and currently run two. I have just learned WordPress after years of WYSIWYG software. I have computer problems brought to me by my kids. ‘You couldn’t just . . . ’ is a common phrase used when relatives present me with a laptop. However, on one of my now frequent visits to WH Smith I was perusing the computer section of the magazines when I saw ‘Computing for Seniors’.

I picked it up and saw that for just £11.99 I could be patronised for about 100 pages. I tutted, something else that comes with age I’ve found, and tried to throw the magazine back onto its shelf. I missed, something else I would not have done a few years ago, and it fell to the floor.  A grey haired ‘senior’ woman, about my age, picked it up and handed it to me. I shook my head.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that I’m more IT literate than any of my kids, and lots of their friends, but because I’m old, it is assumed I have no idea what bandwidth is.”

She nodded. “I run my own IT company and I always wanted to hand it over to my elder daughter. But she gets confused by her iPad. All I’m doing now is making it look a bit better for the sale.”

We chatted for a while, no doubt the epitome of two pensioners looking for a book to help them use their mobile phones.

As we are old they think we are somehow past anything technical.

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