I remember sitting on a tropical beach a couple of years back, the sun high overhead, catching rays & sipping cocktails like you do, when my companion at the time said out of the blue “You men have it easy” in a tone of wistful resignation. “It’s so much tougher for us women growing older, it takes an ever increasing amount of maintenance to look decent.”
Her words stayed with me, mainly because I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was on about, whenever I found myself in her company she always looked gorgeous and this appeared to happen with no apparent effort whatsoever.
Now I finally understand what she meant, though I’ve come to the conclusion that she was right on one count, wrong on another and in the process left out a number of crucial observations.
Men often have a tendency to let themselves go as the years advance, the most visible signs are expanding waistlines & the sartorial concerns that become of no concern at all, when whatever comes out of the clothes drawer first is what you wear, however crap the result may look.
One might argue that this state of affairs comes about because these same men are comfortable with themselves and thus see no need to stave off the visible ravages of time, or maybe the truth is that they are just plain lazy & can’t be arsed. Whatever it may be if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that growing older is not a simple process, in fact its a gordian knot of complications.
Age has a way of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, the insecurities that gave you sleepless nights in your twenties or thirties, these disappear without trace only to be replaced by totally different concerns of a sort that never crossed your youthful mind. Likewise many of those things that you thought of as givens that would always be there no longer are. Take for instance something that most of us have – like hair. Mine as a youngster was black & curly, really curly. It stayed that way for donkeys years & I never gave it a second thought, or attention for that matter, other than every month or so looking in the mirror and realising it was time for a haircut.
At fifty years of age the bloke that looks back at me in the mirror has a full head of grey hair. I don’t like this one little bit, am I just an old fart now? Is it all downhill from here, washed up, grey & past it?
I think of my father who in his forties would go through a Sunday night ritual, slipping off to the bathroom furtively with a packet of ‘Grecian 2000’ hair dye. Then he would spend an hour colouring his hair. I thought this a ridiculous thing to do, why try to be something you’re not? I said to myself I would never, ever do that.
Then a couple of years ago on a trip to India in a moment of age angst I decided to dye. I found a salon in Udaipur on the net that said it did mens hair & colouring and off I went. When I arrive at the salon I find that it’s full of rather glamorous Indian ladies and me turning up, a solitary Englishman having his hair coloured is a rare spectacle. I become the centre of attention and spend the next hour being gawped at and gossiped about.
Lucky, the male hairdresser ( I am unable to corroborate if his experience matched his name) & I have had a long conversation over the phone when I booked the appointment, so he knows what I’m looking for. Just some of the grey taken out and replaced with darker un-grey colour, the main thing that it ends up looking natural.
He begins by putting a latex cap on my head, like an oversized condom, only one full of holes, he then teases strands of hair through the holes, which he goes on to colour. The ladies of the salon find this highly amusing and gossip, laugh and chatter through the proceedings.
When my hair is done I cannot really tell the difference, but my moustache, this is still all grey and doesn’t match in anyway my new hair. I suggest to Lucky that he could also colour the tache. He does so.
A little later I take a tuc-tuc back to where I am staying. Out of reach of the tittering ladies of the salon I selfie myself & check the results. Now the moustache is far darker than the hair on my head. I look ridiculous. I shall not be dyeing again.
Some time later when the dye has long gone & I’m just plain grey an acquaintance of the female variety tells me I am a silver fox, I know the term of course, but being called one, that’s an entirely new experience. I bloody like this idea. I like it a lot.
From that moment I stride out into a new world laid out before me, like a later day Samson, wearing my grey hair like a super power.
I am a Silver Fox.
The curious thing is I actually believe it & next thing I know I seem to attract hot women like a bloody magnet. This has never ever happened to me before.If this is what getting old is like I bloody love it, bring it on.
Just as I settle into the Silver-Fox life my silver-foxiness goes tits up. I sit in the barbers chair in Goa, looking back at me in the mirror is a white haired old man. God he looks miserable. I stare at him for a while.
Then I notice that that the hair on top is growing thin, as if being white haired wasn’t enough?
I conclude that it’s only a matter of time before I end up looking like a medieval monk with a feking tonsure.
The Goan Barber who looks as though he should still be in school addresses me as Baba-Ji, a term of veneration reserved for those of advanced years/ or your grandad. How would you like me to cut he asks.
Make me look younger I say.
He laughs and replies that he is a barber not a magician. Witty little shit.
As I sit in the chair having my arctic fox trimmed by the schoolboy I see that not content with making me white haired and thin on top old father time wants another laugh at my expense, seemingly taking the hair from my head and then getting it to grow in places I never had it. My ears & nostrils are sprouting new growth. I ask boy-barber to trim my nose and ear hair.
This growing old business is a mine field.
So I kind of accept my hair, there’s nothing else to be done other than stoic resignation. Accept it & move on.
But then last year something else kicks in, several of my teeth became loose, receding gums. Then horror of horrors one by one they began to fall out, three of them in quick succession. Where my gums were receding to I can’t really tell you, knowing my luck the missing flesh will probably re-appear as flaps of skin somewhere else altogether?
I wait til I get to Goa where dental treatment is far cheaper than the UK & on recommendation from a number of people who rate him highghly in late October I enter the practice of Dr. Rosemond D’Souza, a.k.a ‘The Singing Dentist’.
Rosemond is a disarmingly pleasant man with a gift for allaying the fears of even the most dentist-phobic of patients. He smiles warmly & easily and when he talks he does so in tones so soothing that I’m convinced he could put a screaming baby to sleep just by reading a shopping list out loud.
My first visit to the practice is for an appraisal, it takes a whole hour with copious notes being taken by the dental assistant. I should have realised that there was a lot of work to be done, but fool that I am I Ieft that surgery feeling confident, I was getting my teeth sorted.
Appointment two and I’m presented with the written notes & quote for my dental work. Three pages of it. I read line after line and each fills me with growing apprehension. Jesus are my teeth really that bad? At the end of each paragraph is a sub total for the cost – figures of so many Rupees that they just make no sense at all to me. I fare little better reading about the actual work to be done, which begins with nine teeth for extraction. I slip into a miasma as I read about root canals, bridges, bone grafts, implants, temporary dentures & more. I resign myself to just getting on with the work. It needs to be done. I decide to just turn up for each appointment & avoid asking what will happen in advance, figuring if I don’t know I can’t worry can I?
I do a bank transfer for half of the cost of my treatment before the first appointment real. This is a pain in the ass as I have to fill out so much info online that it takes ages. But at least that’s done.
Appointment three and the real treatment begins. As I sit in the Dentists waiting room I’m a little nervous, I try to distract myself by looking around the surgery, I look up at a large poster on the wall which shows before and after treatment photos, I wish I was an after. As I sit there Country & Western piped music fills the room & I muse in half hope that maybe the Dentist might have called in sick today, perhaps I can escape for another day? Then the nurse beacons me in to the inner sanctum. Rosemond greets with with a broad smile and invites me into the chair, within moments a needle & syringe is in his hand & its contents deposited in multiple injections around my mouth.
Whilst we wait for the anaesthetic to kick in I thank the passing years for the improvements in dental treatment since I was a youngster. Gleaming white surfaces, 21st century equipment and gizmos, its a far cry from the old days of dental butchery I remember and that makes me very happy. The dentist prods at my gums to see how the drugs are working, he asks me if the anaesthetic is working, I try to reply but instead of words coming out there’s the garbled muttering of an imbecile. I resort to nodding in affirmation.
Then pliers appear in his hand and move towards my gaping & now numb mouth and suddenly the whole thing is getting real. At the same time a new song pops up on the speaker which Rosemond sings along to, it’s a Kenny Rogers number: ‘You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille’
Given that this is the name of my ex.wife who did in fact leave me some years back it’s not my favourite tune. My mouth is too numb to ask for another song and so on he goes, pulling one tooth after another whilst singing about my ex.
I do my best to channel some Buddhist calm by meditating, I focus on the light above the chair. This does not work as the sound of my teeth being dropped into a metal kidney dish next to the chair breaks my concentration. I had imagined a couple of appointments for all the extractions, after all there are nine of them to be done. But nope he does them all in one go.
Thankfully it’s over relatively quickly. I’m asked to rinse my mouth and as I lift the cup of water to my mouth my lips fail to engage and instead I tip the water all down myself.
Afterwards he explains what will happen at the next appointment, which I try not to hear. Then he gives me a pile of pills and potions & gauze to soak up any more blood. He asks if I have any questions & my lips struggle to form coherent words, sounds come from my mouth that I know were supposed to be words but even I can’t understand them, so I just shake my my head.
When I finally leave he repeats three instructions so I have no doubts at all as I go:
- NO SMOKING
- NO ALCOHOL
- No hot foods for 24 hrs, only soft foods & soup for 3 days following that.
I head on my scooter towards a beach cafe to chill by the sea.
When I get there I order a tonic water, start as you mean to go on.
Five minutes later I get a vodka to add to it. I really feel like a cigarette but warned by him & others about the problems caused by smoking after dental work I think I really shouldn’t.
Then I come up with the whizz idea of not smoking through my mouth, but through my nose instead. I kid you not for the next two days when my smoke craving got the better of me I would stick a cigarette up my nose and inhale that way figuring this would avoid my mouth.
The next Few days are for recovery and eating a lot of soup. To begin with I’m happy with this, but then it becomes bloody boring. After a few days I am able to gum vegetables which I’ve cooked to a mush. I keep thinking that it’s like being a baby, unable to eat solids. With each day I begin to fantasise more and more about the food I can’t have. All the while conscious of looking like a gurning old fart.
Next appointment is for root canal work. This takes one and a half hours. I find sitting still for five minutes hard enough but an hour and a bloody half?
Then a few days later another appointment, but this time at my Dentists City practice, an hours drive away from the beach. But no worries, he has his chauffeur bring me, along with another Brit also in for treatment, to begin with I think company on the journey will be good to pass the time away, but then I meet Steve, a Scouser , who just cant stop talking, about himself. He’s one of those people that’s been everywhere, done everything and very ready to tell you all about it. He tells me about his time as a Bollywood dancer, an electrician, a croupier and about his travels around the world, all of it. He tells me he is now a travel guide, the best travel guide, parachute him anywhere in the world and he can guide you, from Prague to the Philippines he knows them all. Ten minutes into the journey I would rather be in the dentists chair having root canal work than listening to Steve. By forty five minutes I’m thinking of opening the car door his side and pushing him out into oncoming traffic.
At long last we arrive and the City practice. I’m first in the chair, this time its a little more root canal & some bone grafts. Basically cement being added to my jawbone. This session there’s a second Dentist there, Dr. Aquaviva D’Souza, no relation of Rosemond, but practice partners. The forenames blow me away and I cant resist making a joke about their parents choosing their forenames. I then reflect that if they take my joke the wrong way then I may live to regret it.
Aquaviva & Rosemond are like good cop bad cop, Aquaviva is all business, there’s no smiling or singing or chit chat, just clinical efficient dentistry. Rosemond is the Dentist & the charmer, they perfectly compliment each other, a symbiotic partnership. Later in the appointment both Dentists are working in my mouth at the same time, then the clinician joins them, I wonder if they are going for a record of hands in a mouth at the same time.
When mine & Steves appointments are over it’s time to be chauffeured back to the beach. The thought of another hour in the car with Steve is depressing, but then I’m delighted to find that we have extra company, thank god I won’t be stuck listening to Steve all the way back. There are two extra passengers, a large middle aged lady from Essex who’s tattooed and bingo winged and her son an equally rotund lump of British Beef with over active sweat glands. Ma has to sit in the front seat as she fell over and hurt her leg on a boozy night out. I therefore have to squeeze in the back with Darren & Steve. Darren drips sweat onto me for the hours drive back soaking the both of us & Steve repeats all the things he told me about himself over again for the delectation of our fellow travellers. It is no more interesting the second time round.
By the time we get back to the beach I am ready for booze and so head straight to a bar to consume alcohol in large quantities.
Next appointment the bases of my implants are fitted. First my jawbone is drilled, I’m sure if it was x-rayed it would look like a Swiss Cheesse. Then the base metal implants screwed into place with a ratchet, I have the strongest feeling of being a human construction kit with bolts and screws. I wonder if I will set off the airport metal detectors?
Work done I head back to my beach shack to dream about solid food and all the things I cannot eat. That and to tick off the days until I get my temporary denture.
Ten days or so later it’s time to collect my new gnashers. That morning I get a message from the Dental surgery, saying my payment hasn’t arrived, I check my bank account, the money has definitely left my account. I text back and tell him.
Then later that day duly collect my denture, glue it in place & head straight off for dinner.
I decide on a regular haunt, Sabina’s Restaurant, she does darned good Indian food. I peruse the menu and whilst I really fancy a lamb dish settle instead on a prawn curry, reckoning that I should break in my teeth gently.
The curry arrives and I just look at it for a while, we are talking love & lust and anticipation, all rolled into one.
Then when I’ve worked myself up to fever pitch I begin to eat. The prawns are as hard as bullets, I can’t chew the bloody things and I really struggle to eat with the denture. Outraged I call over Sabina and tell her her prawns are too hard. I urge her to try one. She does, then looks at me and says, what’s the problem they are fine? But they are hard I say, she laughs at me, they are just normal, what’s the matter with you?
I mutter and make an excuse of having had dental work done & being used to prawns in Europe which are bigger and softer. I eat the gravy and the rice from my curry, suck the prawns like boiled sweets & then deposit the used cartridges on my plate, crest fallen I look at those pale prawns and see it as a metaphor for my life. That night I take out my teeth and put them in a glass on the bed side table. I look at them for a while and realise that I have become my father.
Meanwhile the money still hasn’t arrived with the Dentist. There are only so many times you can tell a person that you’ve paid them. He’s beginning to get worried & asks that I speak to my bank. An automated message tells me that they are experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes and there are delays in answering. This same message has greeted me on every occasion I’ve ever tried to call my Bank, given that I’ve been with them for twenty plus years the statement feels somewhat insincere. Then another message is relayed that I’ve heard many times before, your call is important to us. Utter bollocks, if it was that important then maybe you could employ enough people to answer your bleedin phones?
After twenty minutes I finally get to speak to a human being, I explain that a payment for dental work hasn’t gone through. Then they put me on hold. Five minutes later I am told I need to speak to the Fruad department. Unfortunately they are busy can I hold? Yes I say with my blood pressure rising by the minute. When I eventually get through it transpires that my bank thought the transaction was fraudulent. It was not I explain. It was for dental work, as I explained on the online transfer form. OK Sir, I understand. Would you like me to make the payment? Yes I say. Of course I want you to pay it. Why the hell do you think I am ringing you?
I will do it straight away Sir is the response.
I call my Dentist, explain what has happened and that my bank is processing it as a matter of urgency. I put myself in the Dentists place, here is a patient I’ve worked on for weeks who keeps telling me he’s paid me and I haven’t had a single rupee.
Four days later and still no money has arrived. The Dentist is getting very panicky, he now sends me a message each morning by way of update, each says no money has arrived.
At the next appointment he asks me to speak to my bank again. I call them up, to be put on hold ( again ) and told how important my call is, remarkably they are once again experiencing high call volumes. After finally getting through to a human I am told that the payment has been released from the UK, but is now held up in India by the Indian banking regulators as a potentially suspicious transaction.
Additional information as to the purpose of the payment is required I am told. What ? But I filled out the form online, I said in the description box that the payment was for dental treatment, gave the dentists name, address, phone number. Wasn’t that enough?
Bamboozled by my Bank the call ends with them saying they will call their Bombay branch and ensure that the payment is released immediately.
I then message my Dentist, explaining that my money is in India, held by the Indian Banking Service, but being released imminently.
There is one last appointment for this part of the treatment before I head back to Europe. My jaws need six months to settle before the implants can be completed. When I arrive at the clinic the Dentist hugs me. The money has arrived he says, both of us are frankly astonished and happy. I hug him back. He checks me over one more time to ensure that there’s no infection and that my mouth is healing ok, then we hug one last time and I head off into the wide blue yonder with my temporary plastic gnashers and my smaller bank account.
Later as I take stock it occurs to me that teeth are just part of the story, my eyes once as keen as a fucken Eagle now require reading glasses, that I have a habit of asking people during the course of conversations to repeat what they’ve just said because I can’t hear them, that my hair is going & my memory not what it was, that my limbs creak & crack with arthritis, whilst stiffness in other areas may only be guaranteed 100% with the aid of a little blue pill.
In my battle with the massed forces of decrepitude the ultimate outcome is undeniable, but on balance growing older is really fine, sometimes its actually pleasant, but I have three wishes which I would like to ask old father time to grant me:-
- The first, well that’s easy, please may I request that I never need my food mashed up or liquidised in a blender ever again.
- And whilst I have your attention secondly that my visits to the lavatory until the end of my days are carried out by myself alone and at no point require assistance or having someone else wipe my bum.
- Finally at the risk of being greedy that I may grow to a ripe old age, slowly, disgracefully & looking as fabulous as an old bloke can all the way. With thanks Martin Boyer aged 56 1/2.