Why Can’t I Ping?

A certain kind of wise guy is apt to say that growing older is just a state of mind; generally, they prescribe pomegranate juice, improving hobbies, running marathons and cycling. Well, I have to say that when I see some guy or gal of even my modest years trundling along Portobello Promenade in nylon or Lycra, they don’t look so happy, in fact they often appear half dead, and what they definitely look is old, as they variously puff and swerve and ring their wee bells to warn approaching young mums and children and harmless dogs of imminent death. Anyway, I’m sure they’ll all live to be 100 and have the last, sardonic, laugh from the common room of their care facility, in between games of bingo with the nice lady.

I just went to get my feet looked at, and was cheered enormously by the breezy lassie who did them, who in between telling me the plans for her postponed wedding, and discussing the pros and cons of being an only child, told me that I wasn’t old. I shall be going back there. Still, though, it got me pondering about getting older, and I have come to a great realisation. Getting old isn’t about physical ageing, or your marbles slipping off to another game, it’s about coping with new things.

Last week Mr F and I went to see my very dear old friend Stephanie, one of the cleverest people I have ever known. Mr F is quite a techy chap, and has the advantage of being twenty years younger, so Stephanie had a few things to ask him about computers and such before returning to our own ongoing conversation about the best place to plant a salvia. She asked a question that I have always wanted to know the answer to: why is it, that when things are ‘upgraded’ they are in fact, and I quote her, ‘stupider and worse’. I wanted to hug her, even more than usual. I don’t believe there’s ever been an upgrade of anything where I thought – ‘oh this makes x so much easier, or more intuitive or more interesting’. FaceBook upgrades and is much less navigable; the phone updates and things disappear; even dear old WordPress (bless it) upgrades and I can’t justify!!

I know, I know – we’re having a pandemic and I shouldn’t whinge because I’m incompetent. But still – under pressure from better people than I am, I tried last week to download the Scottish Test and Trace app, so I could spend my waking life anxiously waiting for it to ding thus sending me into quarantine and making my life yet more death-like. But I couldn’t – in order to have it I need to ‘upgrade my IOS system’. This appears to mean that I have to get rid of my old phone and get a new one, a process which is, for me and millions like me, akin in stress terms to moving house or losing a medium-ranking loved one. It did strike me as being a bit odd that it required newer technology to work – I imagine quite a lot of old buggers, certainly really ancient ones, are unlikely to have the new iPhone 26 (in candy pink) at their disposal, so will probably just accept their fate, while the young ‘uns go pinging merrily around their university campuses, thankfully mainly unscathed by the disease, except for the destruction of more or less everything that’s good about being at uni.

Little weird things happen to my body – why is there so much hair in my ears suddenly? If it carries on until I really am old I will have ear beards. Thankfully my carefully honed hypochondria keeps me well, even if my patience is tried every day by a touch tone conversation or a cold caller (I seem to have been in any number of car accidents, and there is sport in discussing them, creatively imagining unlikely circumstances – can I get compensation for my injured chimp?) Why are lightbulbs suddenly so difficult to change? Why does Waitrose wrap cheese in a plastic so indestructible it could house nuclear waste? In some ways life seems more complicated now that when I was working – and it was complicated enough then.

Philip Roth said ‘Old age is not a battle. Old age is a massacre.’ Roth was, of course, a genius, but in fact I suspect that old age, for me, will prove to be a long, slow war of attrition, won eventually by the forces of modernity, as I beat myself to death with a laptop that has gone blank as it ‘upgraded’.



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