As I got off the train today and entered Victoria concourse I noticed a tall elderly chap wearing a bright yellow sash holding a collecting tin for the homeless. He stood erect and motionless as the commuters swarmed around him threading their way to the tube – like one of those static mimes you see in cities all over Europe. It was quite bizarre.
As I ambled myself towards the underground I noticed another old chap wearing the same yellow sash but who looked a bit more approachable. I walked up and put some money in his collecting tin. Then I said to him:
“You look very well”.
“It’s the pills. It’s the pills.”
He then asked me how old I thought he was. I answered in the way you do when you want to flatter someone – by knocking off a couple of decades.
He glanced at me in amusement and then laughed.
“Now you know that is way off the mark.”
“OK, how about 82?”
“Close. 83, 83.”
“You still look very good for 83. How do you do it?”
“It’s the pills. It’s the pills. I tell you.”
I then asked him if I could take a photo of him and he was a little hesitant until I told him I was researching aging as wisdom. Then he told me his name and how he is stands there every month on a Tuesday morning. Next time he is there he wants me to bring a print of the photo I took of him.
I am struck by the contrast between the small pleasures that can be had in later life – that I have been encountering on the streets – with the big reports and prosaic books I have been reading recently on aging. The latter usually begin with a bombardment of stats about how the number of old people is dramatically increasing followed by a long list of cognitive, social, medical and other problems that beset us as we age.
Reading them makes me feel depressed. But the lovely chap I met today filled me with hope that we can rethink ageing in new ways. So long as there are the pills!