MY stepmother-in-law has just been down to the local social club where well-meaning, middle-aged women with chests like bolsters fed her tea and biscuits and encouraged her to join in the singing with all the other octogenarians.
They even got her to wear a funny hat.
She said she enjoyed it!
You don’t know my stepmother-in-law. And if you did you wouldn’t want to. Basically, she doesn’t like people, whom she divides broadly into two groups, both equally odious to her.
The groups vary according to mood: socialist and capitalist; rich and poor; violent and passive, scheming and docile, young and old. But whichever way she slices the world, when she’s finished there’s just her. Right at the centre.
Ten years ago if you had suggested she go and sing songs and wear funny hats with a bunch of other old people she would have torn your throat out.
So what happened? And did it just happen to her? Or is the whole social club full of elderly people who ten years ago would sooner have died than join in a sing-song?
Clearly not, because they didn’t. But where were they back then? I’ve never seen whole halls full of 50-year-olds or 60-year-olds doing community singing with relish.
And now a worse thought occurs to me – will I suffer the same fate? I don’t claim to be as sour as my stepmother-in-law, but I’m proud to say milk would turn pretty quickly with me in the room.
And I’ve already issued instructions to my family that they are to club me to death if I ever show an inclination to sing songs with a bunch of elderly and respectable citizens, who should know better, while tweeded women ask me if I want to go to the lavatory yet.
This is what frightens me about old age. Not just the short-term memory loss, nor the dribbling, nor the inability to reach my own feet or wipe my own bum, but the horror of being trapped in a room full of people who are also falling to bits while being patted by amateur social workers and fed tea with too much milk in it and singings songs through collapsed lungs and missing teeth – and enjoying it!
Maybe there’s something going on that we don’t know. Maybe when we grow old and feeble and sufficient brain cells have dropped off, our minds are commandeered by aliens.
That fits. They probably come from a planet where they live for 300 years. That’s why they’re grateful to get an 80-year-old body. That’s why they sing a lot.
And the real horror is that they might be — probably will be — coming for me!
Am I to be reduced to that? To behaving in a totally irrational fashion that is completely opposed to the way I have lived so far? Am I to become a victim of hearty, middle-aged folk who profess to be merely trying to make my waning years comfortable, when really they are wreaking a terrible revenge for some deep-seated trauma they blame on their grandparents?
Will I have to sing and wear a funny hat?
I have a feeling, a very bad feeling, that the answers are yes, yes, yes and yes.
And the worst part is – I probably won’t even know. I asked my stepmother-in-law why she does it. Or, to put it another way, allows it to be done to her.
“But I like people,” she said. “I like singing.”
Too late. The aliens have got her