Don't let the old men in - an inspiring and affectionate tribute

Here we are in the 'bows' of the Baltic Fleet pub, across the road from the Albert Dock. It is okay over there, but take a big breath before buying beer or lager. Here is rough and ready with loads of choice of real ales and £3.50 per pint. A real fire as well.
  It's a spot we went to as students, maybe once or twice when we were on a 'firm' at the Southern Hospital. In the late 60s/early 70s. Don't ask, but yes I lived in Liverpool in the 60s. 'Free love' passed me by and I remember most of what went on so I couldn't really have been there. Today I met older brother at Lime Street and he suggested here after a mediocre coffee in Liverpool 1. Inspired choice. He is the one on the left.
  What do we talk about? - family, illness, family illness. Where did it go? Time that is. Where are we now? The Baltic Fleet. It was quiet and there were moments when we were the only ones in. We had quiet moments too. Even the barman left, though he did take the pic.    

So what's happened between then and now? GOK. 1953-2019. Work mostly. He was a Liverpool University chemist. I moved round a bit as a medic before returning home to the W. Riding.
He is now heavily involved with the scouts around Widnes and gets a lot from it. Sounds as though they get plenty of him too. I write a bit and sing a bit and try to keep out of the way. Oh, and I drink Guiness or blonde.
  It's iconic. Two old geezers in a pub down the docks.


The Mule
Clic on the link for the trailer. A Clint Eastwood film and the song 'Don't let the old man in'.
An 85 year old gets back in touch with his family after a lifetime of being away, especially when he was most needed.
And the circumstances of this epiphany? Being a drug mule for a hispanic cartel. He is just the same as always - not worried about what he says and does - missing, driving long road trips listening to country music on the radio, dancing with young and beautiful girls, referring to his new colleagues as negroes. His bumbling humanity, which makes the him difficult to track by the police, wins over the hardened criminals.
Finally he befriends the cop who is running the search for this elusive mule. Over coffee they talk families. No spoiler alert here.
The film and the song are about all of us who have at some time in our lives got the work/family balance wrong. But mostly for me it is an affectionate tribute to older men who just are. They can't help being themselves even when guess what is just around the corner.


Alison Joyce, the Times, November 23rd reflects on her experiences of caring for 'end of life', dying and funerals. 
'In a society that exalts the virtues of autonomy, independence and choice, we can find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with vulnerability ...'
'The natural process of ageing steadily erodes many of the things that we assume give us identity and a sense of worth ...'
'There is nothing romantic about the process of dying.'
Yet given these ultimata, maybe we discover what it really means to live. 'There is something profoundly human about acknowledging our need of others ...'
I agree with all of the above. Can I extend these ideas to apply to any change, but especially retirement and ageing. I think it's a tad late to wait for a terminal diagnosis to affirm relationships - even ones that we think are broken. It's also a great time to reinvent yourself and be that person you always wanted to be. Bowie said this not me.


Dated and somewhat tired hotel - a short break for us oldies who are not dated and tired, but inspirational

I'm a tad late with this offering - dealing with Amazon and our latest book.
  It was an impulse buy and paid off. That answers the question 'why were we there?' As to the other question 'why is there a hotel in the middle of nowhere?' if you can read the blurb on the flyer then you will know. A pub used to be on site and when Manchester built the reservoir (there was a lake) they had to replace it and so they did in Art Deco and amazing it is. But, it's on the road to nowhere and quite a long way down at that. Quaint basic rooms - no drawers or shelving. Wind through the metal window frames. Shutters rather than curtains. Massive bath requiring some climbing skills. Antique heating. All made up for by the ambience of the hotel, coal fires and the views, views, views. Across to Kidsty Pike and High Street.
  Autumn colours, rain and sun. Askham for a washed-out short walk and pub visit. 
  17 hotel rooms, same food in the bar and restaurant - all restaurant tables laid for two and occupied by whispering couples.
  A two hour fell walk - the childbride's knee not brilliant for balancing on bumpy rocks.
  Sunday with the papers and the cold window breeze.
  Keswick for a day out, recalling our previous visits with mum and dad. Also Steve and walking up Skiddaw and Eric on our way back to St Bees. A lake launch trip.
  Lots of rugby, but I've stopped thinking about that now.
  On the road to nowhere, a dated and somewhat tired hotel that is not going to sleep any time soon.


Who is this idiot? In summer sunshine. Half way up Skiddaw with older brother 1976. Huddersfield RUFC shirt and a battered souwester from scouts.


Can I inspire my older brethren to read Brian Cox while drinking Guinness?

Me an' our kid. Yes, we were dressed to match. Older brother with the brylcreem and me with the 'coconut' look favoured by my dad and his mail-order manual shears. Has anyone else been subjected to this abuse - a lone chair in the middle of the kitchen surrounded by pages from the Examiner? And the style is back in vogue? To the left, Willow Lane, famous for the Slubbers Arms behind us. Right, the yard behind the Engine Tavern. The yard had a communal wash house originally built as part of the public health strategy for cholera. 
The houses round the yard all had cellar dwellings. We used ours as a coal 'ole. It had a window.
There are five years between us brothers which was massive at the time of the pic. Why put this up? GOK, but thinking about what it is to be human involves a little bit of musing on life stages. Not too much, there's still a bit of future left.

The following are the titles that have brought me up to speed with some current secular thinking on what it is to be human:

How the Mind Works; Steven Pinker, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1997
A Short history of nearly everything; Bill Bryson, Black Swan, 2004
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage, 2005
Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind; Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage, 2011
Human Universe: Forces of Nature; Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen, William Collins, 2017

Whilst these titles don't easily belong to the scientific establishment, their overall message is clear. They are popular yet stir up enough to get thoughts going. There are plenty others and sorry if I have missed out your favourite. Mine is Pinker followed by Cox.

Brian Cox wrote
"What is meaning? I don't know, except that the universe and every pointless speck inside it means something to me. I am astonished by the existence of a single atom, and find my civilisation to be an outrageous imprint on reality. I don't understand it. Nobody does, but it makes me smile."

That's all right then. Brian is a smiley person. There's another volume out this week reports Tom Whipple in the Times, 9th November. Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time; Gaia Vince, Allen Lane. These books are all part of the genre known as '30,000 foot books ... which sell an explanation of everything' - coined in an article which appeared in The New York Times Review. Books that see everything through the perspective of a 747 - miles up in the air.
  You may have some favourite bits of stuff. Here are mine I haven't forgotten yet:
  • Impossibly big and impossible small numbers.
  • The jumps in humanoid brain size - 1.8 million, 1million and 200,000 years ago. So recent then.
  • Hunter-gatherers. I love these guys.
  • Evolution is forever - natural selection. Culture arrived yesterday. Community, collaboration, planning and social skills generally helped us to use our large brains to become self-aware. History, psychology and a few other 'ologies' also arrived.
  • Sure, it's biology, physics and chemistry, but there is no need for aggressive atheism.
My pal Clive thinks computers will take the next steps in understanding what it is to be human. A machine with intelligence and self-awareness. Wow - who can that be?

When my big brother went to grammar school, within a few months he had learned everything. I got to a similar stage by 18. He'd been a university chemist for 5 years by then and what he didn't know about stuff? Ploughed different furrows since. Usual stories - bumps in the road, blind alleys, some successes. We both spent our professional lives learning more and more about less and less. For my part at the expense of more important stuff. So, catching up with the question 'What is it to be human' is a challenging and rewarding way of spending time when I'm not playing with grandchildren or going away for long weekends with the childbride or drinking Guinness.

More gardening and senior moments from an older but not too inspiring role model

That same visit to Morrison's as the wine incident, at the checkout I noticed the young lady assistant was not wearing a Halloween accessory, as many of the staff were. Seeing as it was Halloween. "Where's your hat?" I asked innocently enough. "I don't have one." No smile, no banter, just a muted tolerance. Probably eyes gazing at the heavens, but I'd ceased seeing by this time.
  What is it with young women these days?


I visited the eye clinic today. Two years since I'd been and out of the blue, an appointment dropped onto the mat - into the postbox in our case. My previous consultant left and the replacement was trying to catch up - two years. I'd been privately, so my eyes were okay, but it's £170 a pop and if I need my cataracts doing it's £1200 each. My other diagnoses for those interested are viral keratitis, astigmatism from the viral scars and mild macular degeneration. With glasses happily my eyesight is excellent.
  Today I only waited an hour to see a 15 year old lookalike who confirmed she was a consultant when I asked. She suggested I monitor my symptoms and get to her early to prevent further damage to my cornea. I didn't take offence at this. Assertively, I confirmed my familiarity with my own symptoms and any previous damage did not occur as a result of my delay. Two senior doctors got it hopelessly wrong despite me telling them the diagnosis. Anyway the right guy eventually took over and then left. So, what about trying to get an a non-routine appointment from the worst appointments department in the world? Nay the universe. "Phone my secretary," she said. So I will. My routine attendance will hopefully be in 12 months - yippee.
  She was thorough and gave as good as she got. 

I then went for a coffee - nowadays they have coffee shops in out-patients. With a young lady serving.
"I'd like a medium. How many shots is that?" 
"What sort of coffee?" 
"That's a good one, yes please." 
"Do you want milk?"
"I like to taste first."
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"It's a maybe."
She then went on at some length about levels in her cup so I concluded she didn't do maybe. Not a flicker, of annoyance even. Muted tolerance with just a hint of boredom.
  What is it with young women these days?


Finally the childbride and I went to pick up a spare wheel for our not so new car, but recent. I don't do these new-fangled blow up tyres. I thought I'd ordered one when we fetched it, but earlier this week I tried to stop something rattling around in the boot and noticed the absence of a spare tyre. Our Suzuki son-in-law was dutifully informed of this oversight at Sunday's meal and promised to rectify said issue. Hence our visit.
  Sheila parked and I went to see Matthew, the Suzuki s-i-law. We strolled down to the rear car park, him with the wheel. Boot open, Sheila about to lift whatever you call a shelf that covers a spare wheel. Bl... H... and all other swearwords beginning with 'B', if there wasn't a spare wheel, pretty as a picture. Guess what? We have two shelves that cover the spare wheel, with quite a large space in between to facilitate extra luggage when the need arises. I had only opened the top one in my search for a rattle.
  "Good job we had it in stock," said Matthew.


Two more senior moments from an ageing gardener

The garden keeps giving, from our wildflower patch to the clematis.


To date, I have not given my new hair trimmer a go, much to the amusement of Rod Gooch who gave me the idea. This weekend in Scarborough, the fear left me and off I went, following the advice of that young local hairdresser. And, small amounts appeared and my hair looked shorter. The childbride cleaned out the neck'ole. It's not as good as the hairdresser, but good enough for a few weeks before I go and get it corrected - maybe a Christmas present to myself. It is a number 4 and not quite as easy as a number 1 which is basically let's get bald. Which Rod and my son Chris are - down to the wood.
  It's a new skill.


I had a major let-off in Morrison's yesterday. Choosy with white wine, the box was empty. Underneath a new box covered with the price. Underneath again, a new available box which I raided. Then my conscience. What if others do as I did, then there could be a collapse - the full one with the price overcoming the gradual depletion beneath? Back I went and removed the one with the price followed by the one I had used. Little did I know that this latter box had a wet and hopeless bottom. It shredded when I moved it. Four bottles of Chardonnay rolled towards the checkout. Two of them had bounced. No breakages. Phew. No one clapped, but there were several startled glances. One lady did speak, with sympathy I think, but I can't remember. A dry box was available and all was well.
  What does this say about a good deed?