“I didn’t know they make them for men. I thought only women had them.”
Bernard came for a visit. Unannounced, just on the spur of the moment. We invited him in, sat him down at the kitchen table and gave him a cup of tea. The first thing I noticed was that he’d lost weight.
“You said I could pop in any time I was passing, so I took you at your word. I’m just on my way to Costcutter for a few things for lunch."
It’s true, it’s what I said. And meant.
When we first met him, sixteen years ago, Bernard was upright, entertaining, a pillar of the community, the Church and the Conservative Party. An ex-soldier, and something to do with the Ministry of Defence afterwards, he had literally travelled the world. I don’t think there was a continent on which he had not left his footprint. He was full of stories of his travels, all of them amusing; and most of all, he was full of himself, but in an easy, relaxed, way. He and I got on very well; when his stories became too expansive and unending, I pulled his leg. He seemed to like that, possibly felt flattered.
Now, at 92, Bernard is no longer the man he was.
“One’s social life dries up with age, you know. We find entertaining rather difficult now and we hardly ever go to anyone.”
Bernard’s wife Annabel is an invalid; the two of them have help in house and garden, but he is her main carer and does all the cooking and general looking-after. He cannot understand why former friends and acquaintances appear to have dropped them.
“Annabel is fine in the afternoon”, he said, sounding genuinely puzzled and a little sad.
Many of their friends and acquaintances have died and those who are still around, are old themselves. There are a few younger, more recent acquaintances, like Beloved and me, with whom he and Annabel socialised into their eighties. I feel guilty for not having had them to tea or lunch in recent months. My feeble excuse is that they are a very difficult couple to slot into any social occasion.
Bernard sat and chatted. His need to talk about himself has not abated, but instead of travelling yarns he now talks about his children and grandchildren. And his and Annabel’s health problems. The sort of thing lots of old people talk about. Ambulances and doctors’ surgeries and medication feature prominently.
"Of course”, he said, “the old waterworks don’t function all that well anymore either. I’ve started to leak. They’ve given me incontinence pants to wear.” He grinned at me. “Yes, they’ve engineered them for men to wear. Who’d have known?”