Maybe the fridge magnets are right - live today as if it is your last


FIFTYSOMETHING:I met an old flame in a country churchyard the other day. If that sounds like the opening lines of a Meatloaf anthem, I apologise, but it seems to me that an inordinate amount of my social interaction happens among the headstones these days. I suppose it’s the age I’m at, a time when the generation ahead is passing on the baton and slipping away.

Time was I riffled through my wardrobe hoping a good fairy might have left a pair of platform boots and a halter-neck in there; now I know with grim certainty where my funeral coat is hanging.

The graveyard was a field of marble; loved, beloved, dearly missed mothers, fathers, sons and daughters slept under our feet. He’d aged, my old friend, we’d all aged; in the mocking white light of a November afternoon, we were none of us unweathered.

“How would you like to die?” he asked me. Not exactly “how are you?”, “how was your drive down from Dublin?”, “mind you don’t trip over the floral tributes”, or any of the things you might say to an old friend you haven’t seen for a long time, someone you had inhaled and exhaled over long, turbulent years. But then again, he was never one for small talk.

“Dignitas,” I answered. “I’m opening a savings account.”

He frowned. I think he might be a Buddhist now, and I’m not sure how they feel about assisted suicide. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure if any of my aspirations are particularly Buddhist-friendly: aim for matching underwear, keep your legs waxed, only drink wine that doesn’t give you a hangover.)

“God, I don’t know,” I relented. “Something fast.” I meant it; I have a deep-seated fear of losing the thread in some geriatric hive.

It’s a big question, how would you like to die, but his blatant inquiry unleashed a bigger question: how do you want to live? I was thinking about it on my way back home, leaving the big grey sea behind me, silently bidding farewell to the monochrome cows, shouldering each other into the hedgerows, udders like bursting gloves swinging between their mud-splattered back legs. They make me laugh, cows, all dressed in black and white, brimming with suspicion and disapproval, glaring at passers-by like big mad nuns. I’d much prefer to look at cows than traffic lights.

Maybe the fridge magnets are right, I was thinking, maybe the thing to do is to live today as if it is your last, especially now that one finds oneself nearing the frontline. Without a generation ahead, it’s alarming how suddenly you can find yourself shuddering in the trenches.

Maybe, I thought, I should move to the country, learn to mourn and bake.

I imagined another life, where the butcher knows your name and your eggs fall warm out of a hen, and you’d happily travel 20 miles over the potholes to listen to a slide guitar. I could do with the routine, I thought; I might get that novel finished in the confines of a lonely hill.

I dunno though. I get nervous in the countryside, what with cows to be milked and dogs to be tethered and kettle-bell classes on a Tuesday and yogalates on a Thursday and the school bus at the end of the lane. And the pitch-black dark by five and the cats slinking into the sheds and prowling for mice, and all those seasons without street lights. It feels, pardon my feebleness, unequivocal.

Would I last a week? Would I recognise a septic tank if it jumped up and bit me on the bottom? Am I mixing up rural living with some notional hippie paradise? And if I am, then forget it; there is absolutely no evidence in my life to suggest that I’d find peace of mind filling jam jars with honeysuckle and my family with home-made chutney.

It’s the old Aga dream, isn’t it? Give me an Aga and a pair of wellingtons, and suddenly I’ll be Linda McCartney with a gross of veggie burgers in the warming oven, my clock set on zen and a bearded spouse sitting on the windowsill strumming his weeping guitar.

Shag it, I think I’d rather eat the rubber boots.

The motorway was too efficient, the suburbs settled around me like quicksand.

The country churchyard remains clear in my mind. Set. Fastened. As undeniable as those broad, staring cows.

I don’t know how I want to go. I do know, however, that it is a kind of privilege to mourn a life well lived, as I did last week. For myself, I’ll just get on with throwing a T-shirt at the cat when she tries to resurrect me at five in the morning, before the search for vaguely harmonising underwear kicks off, bearing in mind, of course, that even congruent smalls won’t halt time’s arrow.

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