These are the days of the weak

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

One of the many bug­bears of oldie life is the loss of strength. Ob­jects which you have been han­dling eas­ily for years have be­come much heav­ier and more dif­fi­cult to move.

Yes­ter­day, I de­cided to have a tidy-up in the junk room. In it there is a dec­o­ra­tor’s fold­ing ta­ble which is filled from end to end with files and boxes full of stuff about my Ethel & Ernest book – stuff which I had al­most for­got­ten about.

Bet­ter look through it all, I thought. So I put a fin­ger in­side the cor­ner of a red box file, en­ti­tled ‘per­sonal let­ters’, to get things go­ing.

Nearly snapped my fin­ger off – it didn’t move! Went to pick it up with one hand; couldn’t pos­si­bly do it. Tried lift­ing it with two hands; just about man­aged it, but wouldn’t like to carry it any dis­tance. This is crazy, I thought. I’ll weigh it. 8½lb!

So, a new way to record and com­pare fan mail? By weight, not by num­ber? Have you weighed your fan mail lately?

In the same week, I was given a su­perb book about Lu­cian Freud: A Painter’s Progress – A Por­trait of Lu­cian Freud by David Daw­son. It’s a truly mag­nif­i­cent book, writ­ten by some­one very close to Freud, but it weighs a ton; well, not quite, but heavy to pick up with one hand. For weedy me at any rate. It weighs just un­der 5lb.

This re­minded me of the time in the life room at the Slade. We were all work­ing away silently, when the door opened a few inches and Lu­cian Freud slipped in.

Im­me­di­ately, he pressed his back against the wall, both hands with wide­spread fin­gers also pressed against the wall be­hind him. He looked very fright­ened. Slowly, he moved along the wall all round the room, say­ing noth­ing, un­til he came back to the same door which he opened and dis­ap­peared with­out a word.

So, what was that all about? Lu­cian play­ing a joke on a room­ful of stu­dents? Most un­likely. He looked gen­uinely fright­ened.

In those days, most stu­dents did their work on the land­ings and in pas­sage ways, which made it more in­for­mal. I was lucky enough to have two en­coun­ters with Freud in this way. He was a fas­ci­nat­ing man. En­tranc­ing is the only word for it. Yet when friends asked, ‘What did he say?’, I couldn’t re­mem­ber a thing.

Talk­ing of not re­mem­ber­ing, I had al­most for­got­ten about my nearly bro­ken fin­ger. How could any­one for­get that they had re­ceived 8½lb of per­sonal let­ters on one sub­ject? How many let­ters was that? Too many to count? I had cer­tainly read them all, but couldn’t have replied to even a frac­tion of them. Is it a colos­sal con­ceit to find it un­re­mark­able?

But then there are oc­ca­sional ex­am­ples of in­creas­ing clum­si­ness. Came down this very morn­ing to find a brand­new, un­opened box of tis­sues float­ing in the sink: ‘kleenex man­size: con­fi­dently strong, com­fort­ingly soft’ – that’s me, folks. All in bold black, gold and yel­low. £1.99.

So, what now? Take tis­sues out and dry them off? Let the whole box dry as it is? Chuck it? It is now sit­ting on the front doorstep in the bak­ing sun.

Still, the aged brain goes stag­ger­ing on. I keep fall­ing asleep writ­ing this. Wake up to find pen in hand and a trail of ink all across the page.

Why bother? If I find it so bor­ing, what will the read­ers make of it?

‘How could any­one for­get they’d re­ceived 8½lb of let­ters on one sub­ject?’

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