Vir­ginia Iron­side

‘Out­side a bon­fire burned and through the smoke I was sure I could make out the faces of my small son and friends. I was trans­ported back to a time more than 25 years ago’

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

When I was about six years old, I made a star­tling dis­cov­ery. I was dry­ing my­self af­ter my bath and found that, if I were to put the towel be­hind me, hold the two sides in my hands and pull it from side to side, my back would get dry. This seemed to me to be such an amaz­ing in­ven­tion that I called to my fa­ther who came run­ning up the stairs. ‘Look what I’ve dis­cov­ered!’ I shouted. And I will never for­get his kindly but world-weary look as he said: ‘Yes. I re­mem­ber­ing dis­cov­er­ing that my­self when I was about the same age as you.’

All through my life, I re­alise, I’ve had rev­e­la­tions which have been re­vealed to oth­ers be­fore me. The dis­cov­ery that prob­a­bly most other peo­ple were as fright­ened, in­se­cure and self-loathing as me, was one. The very late rev­e­la­tion that, if you boil beef, it gets tough, and if you sim­mer it, it gets ten­der, was an­other. (I wish I’d re­alised this be­fore giv­ing hun­dreds of din­ner par­ties, in­volv­ing guests chew­ing their way through ined­i­ble lumps of stew­ing steak.)

Very late in life, I re­alised that it is ab­so­lutely im­pos­si­ble to per­suade an al­co­holic to give up drink or a drug ad­dict to give up drugs; they them­selves are the only peo­ple who can do it. And again, late in life, I found that the only thing that mat­ters in a part­ner is kind­ness. And so on.

When my fa­ther died, I was struck like a thun­der­bolt by the rev­e­la­tion that, now I was an or­phan, peo­ple died, and that I was next in line. A hun­dred other rev­e­la­tions crowded into my mind. I wrote a long piece in the Times ex­pound­ing on my feel­ings and thought I had brought the shin­ing truth to mil­lions. Lit­tle did I know that ev­ery­one else who has ex­pe­ri­enced a close death has had th­ese rev­e­la­tions be­fore me. I still read ar­ti­cles now which are very sim­i­lar to the one I wrote my­self, writ­ten by other rev­e­la­tion-struck or­phans who think they are the first to bring the truth to the masses.

Ob­vi­ously be­ing 73, I now re­alise I’m go­ing to die. But, a cou­ple of months ago, I had a re­ally ap­palling rev­e­la­tion.

Some new neigh­bours held a party. They’d moved into a house I knew well from the old days. My son and I had been to bon­fire par­ties there. I knew the house like the back of my hand.

As I rang the bell, I had an odd sense of déjà vu. My host­ess wel­comed me and begged me to look around the premises. She was dy­ing to show off her new abode. I mar­velled po­litely, even thought I could have walked round the house blind­folded; I knew it so well. Then we went to the base­ment where food was laid out on tres­tle ta­bles – just as it used to be laid out in the old days when par­ties had been given in the Seven­ties. Out­side, a bon­fire burned and through the smoke I was sure I could make out the faces of my small son and his friends. I was trans­ported to a time more than 25 years ago. But then the smoke cleared and I re­alised the chil­dren were new chil­dren.

In other words, the set was the same, but the en­tire cast was dif­fer­ent.

And that’s when the rev­e­la­tion struck. It’s not death that is the Ter­ri­fy­ing Thing. The Ter­ri­fy­ing Thing is the fact that life will con­tinue its re­lent­less cy­cle, long af­ter I’m gone. Other peo­ple will live in my house, and other peo­ple af­ter that. They’ll all think they’ve re­designed the gar­den; they’ll all make dis­cov­er­ies – about the trees, the shops, the neigh­bours. New chil­dren will grow up and, when they’ve died, yet more chil­dren will grow up, all mak­ing their own dis­cov­er­ies, all, no doubt, find­ing out the old ‘how-to-towel-your-back-dry’ trick, decade af­ter decade.

Sadly, I now re­alise, this most re­cent rev­e­la­tion is prob­a­bly also one that must have been dis­cov­ered by thou­sands and thou­sands of other peo­ple around my age. Peo­ple who are now dead. And it will be dis­cov­ered by thou­sands and thou­sands of peo­ple in the fu­ture.

What new rev­e­la­tions await? If you’ve got any, could you send them to me please? Just so I don’t get sur­prised by them in the few years I’ve got left.

Vir­ginia will be ap­pear­ing in her onewoman show ‘Grow­ing Old Dis­grace­fully’ at the Rose­land Fes­ti­val in St Mawes in Corn­wall on 3rd May.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.