Every so often London comes to a halt.
Sometimes, this is because of a demonstration or a march but more often, there is an accident or an incident that requires roads sealed off and numbers of police. Traffic flow is impeded for miles. Of course you can’t tell when this is going to happen so you just leave home as usual, with some time in hand, and hope for the best.
Where I live, local bus services are frequent but this morning, there was nothing for ages so
I got on the first bus that came, thinking it would take me at least the first stage of the journey.
I had an appointment with a cherished eye surgeon and I don’t like being late for anybody.
Traffic flow was treacly but eventually we got to Sloane Square where there are usually taxis and that was now the only way.
Four of us queued. Taxis still honour the queue, it is long gone at the bus stand.
Two sped away, leaving me and another woman behind me with a small child.
After several minutes, two taxis began to move ponderously through the square towards the rank. Two men appeared some distance away and signalled the first cab.
I called “Excuse me, there’s a queue.” They continued towards the cab.
“There is a queue” I said again, to which the older man did the “go away dear” flap and said
“Oh chill. Just keep your shirt on. What are you getting so excited about? Just relax …”
Like a version of “she didn’t say no” that makes it consensual? Sort of “shut up and let me do as I wish”? The driver pulled up beside me and, as I got in, the speaker went on
“The trouble with you, love, is you’re old – old and ugly …”
I said I’d rather be me than him, shut the door and we drove off.
It was the first time I have directly experienced “old” as a supposed insult.
But we all get old.
The driver said he hated getting old. Everything creaks and he has to have glasses.
He has had a great deal of trouble getting used to remembering that he needs them – “Not ideal if you drive” he said. I sympathised with having to remember things but I have worn glasses since I was quite young and I’m used to them.
While he was talking, I reflected that there are days when I feel 100 but quite a lot when I don’t think about age at all, still others when I am very glad I am the age I am.
God help the young, my life seems to have been a great deal easier.
In my younger life, I couldn’t be older quick enough. I was fired at 19 for deceiving a company into giving me a job advertised for somebody over 21. I thought if I did well, they would forgive me.
But they felt that one untruth might well lead to another, and I was given my cards.
I never lied about my age for good or ill ever again. It wasn’t worth it.
And the first time anybody threw my older age in my face I was 40.
I was fond of 40, 40 was my 21, the best I have ever looked or felt. Not because I starved or struggled but because life was good and it suited me.
We lived in a flat in Hampstead and five young men rented the one above us, where they had a party of such wildness that the cistern broke and there was a flood which brought down part of a ceiling.
Neighbours called the police. What they did not realise was that my then husband did business with the bank that employed them. The bank required them to apologise. Four out of five managed it in two lots of two but the fifth looked me square in the face and said “It’s just a difference of generation.”
I told him that I had worked and paid tax in his country when I was younger than him and that the notion of a generation gap in this context was simply an evasion. He behaved like a jerk, I didn’t. No age limit on jerks.
I wish I had thought faster when that man had a go at me in Sloane Square. That’s the only thing I regret about age, that one is not always as fast as one used to be, in mind, mouth, hand or foot. That or I wish I had been a Marine top sergeant with a hand like ham and boxed my verbal assailant’s charmless ears.