Hilary Fannin: Some people barely age in their own mirrors
I’m not sure what I see these days. A grimmer version of my mother, perhaps
How much do we notice ourselves change? Photograph: Getty
It was Sunday. The Virgin-Mary-blue sky that earlier in the day had promised some respite from the biting wind was being wheeled off by the scene-shifters and replaced by a badly painted backdrop of heavy grey cloud.
The house was in rag order, the hot water running cold, the boiler whimpering like a sick puppy. An uncooked chicken sat in the fridge, baggy-skinned, a headless corpse in an empty morgue. The only other occupant of the cold locker, a pickled artichoke in an empty jar, was starting to look spookily like a cadaver’s tissue sample.
I really, really needed to get out of the house.
As it happened, my husband was going to the vaccination centre for his first jab. I offered to drive him.
It was a strange, unsettling sensation to see a crowd of strangers, their only connection being their year of birth, come out into the light and scatter to cars or bikes or waiting companions
Temporary road signs – plentiful, luminous and unmissable – led to the campus in north Dublin where a bevy of helpful people in high-vis jackets ushered their willing guests into the fast-moving queue.
I left my spouse at the barrier and went for a walk through the adjacent Albert College Park, past the playground where small children were happily knocking each other off the roundabout and rolling around in their padded jackets, miniature sticky-faced sumo wrestlers oblivious to the mass inoculations happening just beyond the sandpit.
It’s a beautiful park, a bit of a revelation. I hung out under the hazel trees, caught glimpses of a watery sun, and after half an hour or so wandered back to the vaccination centre.
I’ve stood outside creches and had my toddlers returned to me, little time bombs of love and rage, to be quickly packed into a buggy. I’ve stood at the gates of national schools, too, to pick up my children when they were a bit older, wondering vaguely and slightly trepidatiously if their day had rendered them wild or weary.
I’d never, however, stood waiting (and trying to find that one silver head in a haystack) as waves of approximate 64-year-olds were disgorged from a side door.
It was a strange, unsettling sensation to see a crowd of strangers, their only connection being their year of birth, come out into the light and scatter to cars or bikes or waiting companions. It seemed to me that there were no distinguishing characteristics that would mark anyone out as being in possession of their gold-plated membership of the Vera, Chuck and Dave cohort (which seems to be the word of the month so far).
Unlike a rabble of three-year-olds, the sexagenarians didn’t all rush out with gold stars on their chests but rather with appointment cards and information leaflets. I was struck by the level of affection I observed between reunited couples; the hand-holding, the back-rubbing, the quiet congratulations.
I don’t always trust my own version of the past, but I seem to remember a more constrained society where public displays of affection – even among couples whose lives had become entwined like beech trees and blackthorns – were limited to a tight nod of recognition or maybe an affectionate instruction to get up the yard.
Having left my glasses in the car, I found myself waving enthusiastically at a man in black jeans and a ratty jacket who, it should be said, was badly in need of a haircut
I waited, wondering how much we notice ourselves change and whether, bar the occasional roar at our sagging necks, we’re essentially blind to our own maturation.
I recently read an article that claimed that for some older people, the individual they encounter in the mirror each morning magically appears to be ageing at a slower pace than the rest of their age group, and that this chimera helps them maintain a distance from the negative stereotyping they associate with growing older. (For myself, I don’t know what I see in my reflection these days: a grimmer version of my mother, maybe.)
Having left my glasses in the car, I found myself waving enthusiastically at a man in black jeans and a ratty jacket who, it should be said, was badly in need of a haircut. The man, much to my irritation, was studiously ignoring me and then bolted for the car park, whereupon my husband tapped me on the shoulder.
We went back to Albert College Park, bought takeaway teas from a stand, then hung out for a while underneath the yew trees, rather than going home to face the uncooked bird, the haughty cat, the icy water running from the taps.
As well as being blind to our own looks, I wonder whether any of us really see the other as they age either, as opposed to some hybrid version of past and present, an imprint in the mind’s eye?
I wonder if we become invisible to the people we are closest to, existing only as a montage of moments. If so, maybe it’s another thing to be grateful for, this kindness in our biology that enables us to dim the obvious and see instead through a prism of memory.