Wednesday, October 01, 2008

'There is a snake in the grass...'

Tom can't remember what the plants are he's just put in, and has to go and water.
'Losing memory' he says 'cuts me off from myself. It's worse than deafness cutting me off from other people.'

Yet it's really only words he loses. He misremembers some things, I'm sure, though of course he's sure he doesn't, because he has an imagination that visualises very easily and acutely and then he confounds that with actual memory. For example he's convinced he really saw and heard Tony Banks on TV in parliamentary question time, when Norman Tebbitt stood up to speak, say 'What's he doing out? It's not dark yet!', when in point of fact (as far as my facts are concerned anyway), that was only an anecdote told by Austin Mitchell on the radio. But anyway. My brother assures me this type of disagreement as to What Actually Happened is a function of the marital bond and there's no point worrying about it.

My mother cursed her disappearing memory for words, which anyone from outside found almost absurd, since she remembered so much so accurately - too much sometimes, and rather one-sidedly. But you can't tell someone that their verbal memory loss is normal and unimportant. I can't say I even tried. Sometimes it happens to me now, and I certainly repeat stories. The good thing is everybody else has usually forgotten them too. I also remember too much too accurately and one-sidedly.

It was 'laurel', the word he couldn't remember. Every year when the laurel hedge is cut, whatever is done with the cuttings, a few take root of their own accord. They're usually made use of. So Tom, who's recovered considerable strength of body and spirit, has been clearing some weedy ground at the bottom of the garden to plant them in.

He has company. The grass snakes like next door's large pond. One swam underneath me while I was sitting on the roughly made diving platform over it. I shuddered a little. When Jean lived there, he maintained the pond for swimming in, and killed a grass snake he found there. He wasn't a barbarous or unkind man, but many people can't abide a snake around, even a non-venomous one. Tom's very calm and compassionate about this one; his main fear is of harming it accidently with a spade, or treading on it while it nestles in the warmth under the black polythene we put down to suppress weeds.

'What do they eat?' he asked this morning.

'Oh, frogs, mainly, I think,' I replied 'that's why they like the pond.'

'And toads?'

'Mm. Probably.'

'Oh god. I don't want to know any more. Sometimes I curse my imagination.'

He came hurrying up the garden later, beckoning.

'It's eaten' he said ruefully.

The bulge visible in the photograph is evidence. It's not clearly toad-shaped. It was obviously preoccupied with digestion and rather slow, which gave me time to photograph it.


Memory loss isn't bothering me too much yet. Other signs of aging are, I suppose. Weight gain, because I feel there's a sense of failure about it: I could do something about it, sagging in general is rather depressing. Grey hair, no. I've been getting grey hairs for at least fifteen years now, and have never, ever, wanted to disguise them. I don't have a principle, dogma or politic about it, I don't mind what other people do, but I'm perfectly happy with my hair as it comes, apart from anything I don't want to be enslaved to hair dye, and touching up roots. The grey is a part of me and my sense of myself. Tom, who sometimes expresses a wish that I would grow it a bit longer, likes it too, so I suppose that helps, but even if he didn't I think it would make no difference.

I turned up at E's for a yoga session. E loves henna, which suits her.

'Your hair is so nice now, at that length.' she said ' And your natural colour, it's really good. I don't know why J says you should paint it.'

'Does she, now?'

'Yes. Didn't she tell you?'

'No. She tells me how nice it looks and how I don't need to colour it.'
'Oh. It was a long time ago,' (back-pedalling as far and as fast as her candid Dutch temperament will allow) 'when we were talking about her doing hers, and how B does hers, and I use henna. And she said "I don't know why when Lucy is so young and has such nice hair she lets it stay grey..." '

'You're doing it again, E' I said 'telling people what somebody said about them. When are you going to learn?'

'Oh god. It's another one of those English things I don't understand...'
I think how odd it is that J has known me quite a long time now and hasn't cottoned on that not covering my grey hair is quite an important part of who I am. I'm slightly miffed at her talking that way behind my back. Then I remember I've cheerfully bitched about her behind her back to the whole blogosphere, and convert my attitude to ironic amusement, lest the bits of broken glass from the glasshouse do me a nasty.


Lovely toad-phobic sister rang from her home, where she re-alighted yesterday having completed her French visit with a few days at our brother's.

'My hair's got minky-pink and inky-blue streaks in it!' she said 'and my lovely Italian hairdresser was so pleased with his work he pinched me on the cheek like I was a two-year-old!'

Momentarily I experience unfamiliar hair-dye envy. I tell her about what E said.

'Oh, that's not bitching!' she chuckled 'It's just one of those things...'

I tell her about the grass snake, and its post-prandial bulge.

'They eat slugs and snails...' she asserted

'And toads.' I said ' This was definitely too big to be a slug or snail.'

'Oh god,' she said ' I don't want to know any more...'

(The snakes been sloughing its skin too, 'weed wide enough...').


julie said...

I'm glad to hear Tom is doing better, Lucy. About the hair color, that's one of those things that it never occurs to me to criticize people about. But then I'm not really observant about how people look most of the time, anyway.

Pam said...

Yes, I too can't be bothered covering up the grey. I just wish no one else did either! Mine is still reasonably brown for my age, but everyone else cheats. (Apart from you...)

Zhoen said...

I started going grey in my twenties, and couldn't stand it. I'm happily natural grey finally, but what a bother to get rid of the dye.

I like your bulgy snake, makes me think of the Shawn Colvin song, Diamond in the Rough.

"Snakes in the grass got to step on the gas."

My inability to remember words is steadily worsening, D is patient.

Rosie said...

I now forget complete sentences and even reasons why I am in a place... I will find myself in the garage having gone there from the kitchen, forget why I'm there and then have to go back to the kitchen to remember what caused me to leave it...mmmm

Anonymous said...

What fab pictures. Don't, whatever you do, watch the pelican eating the live pigeon if an unmoving bulge distresses the imaginative juices.

Yup, I'm with Rosie. Where? can't remember... nor why. Words too. Sometimes my unfortunate interlocutors have a considerable wait before I come up with... whatever it was. If at all.

herhimnbryn said...

Loved the aside about the glasshouse!
Memory and grey hair all appropriate as I came a little closer to the half century yesterday. I am now getting a natural streak of white in my fringe and am very proud of it!
YOur snake look oh, so very content.

Jonathan Wonham said...

My parents had a large number of frogs in their garden recently, and a rather large grass snake quickly moved in. Grey hair is for the wise...

Granny J said...

That is a fine snake and a fine snake picture, though I wonder how big the bulge was when it was closer to the mouth! As for having to fetch for words, it happens! More and more often the older you get. I've taken to asking The Google a question which should turn up the right word; it saves a lot of time spent worrying.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Julie - yes, he's in better form really than for quite a while, it almost seems a shame he's have to be knocked back by more hospital treatment. But better to be a bit stronger for that. Thanks for your concern!

Isabelle - like Julie, I don't really give a lot of thought as to who does and who doesn't, I guess most people do. I liked to change hair colour occasionally for fun when I was young, with blonde and henna mostly, I suppose many people do it for style and fun to begin with and automatically slip into covering grey. Some people dye it a more even silvery grey, which often looks pretty cool...

Zhoen - as I say, I've absolutely no policies or strong opinions about it. i have heard a lot say it's a relief to be free of the dye though. The snake had slithered off by the afternoon.

Rosie - actually one of the things I'm worst for is stoppong in the middle of doing something, distracted by something else, and completely forgetting to go back to it!

Lady P. - love the new ID!

HHB - Happy belated birthday!

Jonathan - lovely to see you out and about!

GrannyJ- an excellent solution!

Roderick Robinson said...

My youngest brother has suffered from terrible memory loss over the past few years (eg, the name of his son-in-law). He's had his noggin scanned twice but this revealed nothing. The only comfort I could offer is that when he took me and our other brother on yacht trips up the Cote d'Aquitaine and along the south Brittany coast he was a masterly skipper and did all the multifarious tasks with great skill. Latterly he visited another doctor who was quite rough with him: told him to change his diet and to increase his already high levels of walking exercise. My brother tells me this unlikely regime has helped.

jzr said...

This forgetting thing can be nasty ... words are so important ... how can you be heard without them??

Love the snake. My daughter as a teen always had snakes as pets ... it was strange to watch them eat. She got mice from the pet store to feed them and I didn't watch after the first time. My imagination ran away with me!!!

Lady Prism said...

I have had such a pleasant time reading this post, though I must admit that the snake made me cringe a bit.

And I don't think I would bother to dye my hair when I turn, I most certainly won't.

Sometimes I forget words too. In fact, lately I seem to forget words quite more frequently than I used to. This alarms me a bit.

Dave King said...

A lovely post. Liked the way you wove the two strands of thought - and great pictures.

Jean said...

I forget the word I want and what I was doing or thinking a few minutes ago more and more often I'm about 8 years older than you (aha, I know how old you are Lucy, because I know your school-friend). This is entirely normal, I think, and not indicative of any degeneration, just of the brain getting over-full of information as you've been around for more and more years, so it takes longer and longer to retrieve it. Very irritating and disconcerting, though.

I think I might have stopped having highlights in my hair, finally (very expensive, even though you don't have to keep redoing the roots). Although, I've said that a couple of times and then done it again. Mine's more kind of increasingly dull no-coloured than grey as yet. I've been waiting until it's more grey than not, which I think looks nice. Maybe it's getting there now, because at least the very front has noticeable white/grey streaks, which is a bit less dreary.

I wish I'd taken my increasing middle seriously in hand ten years ago when it started to expand because it's just kept expanding and now I am very overweight, which I hate and which is not healthy.

In other words, yeah, we all brood on these things, but there is so much that could be so much worse :-)

Avus said...

This age thing.....I cannot understand why the lively young man who is me has become trapped in some old person's body and why, to quote the immortal Leonard (Cohen), "I ache in the places where I used to play".
Still, my wife forgot what Yorkshire Puddings were called yesterday.
I don't like snakes, either.

Lucy said...

Thanks again. Lovely to hear your thoughts on it all.

Apparently the memory thing is worse if you get stressed about it, and yes, like BB's brother, it doesn't stop you functionaing in many other ways. An old chap quite near here who had quite serious Alzheimer's used to drive down from Paris at the beginning and end of each summer. I think it got a bit scary for his wife, but he accomplished it, and it was important for him he did.

The words thing is perhaps slightly impeded by being surrounded by a different language some of the time at least, but that might be an excuse...

I'm not quite sure how much minding about getting fatter is about vanity and how much about health concerns. I'd doubtless be thinner if I still smoked, but I'm glad I don't. But I feel with the grey it doesn't change anything about how old I am, I'd still be 46with or without it, and doesn't affect my health, so why bother? But we all have things we care about more than others. I should put my age on my profile again, I wasn't being coy about it, just forgot I think. I think my schoolfriend's looking better on it than I am, Jean.

I'm rather uncomfortable around the snake, though I admire it too. Tom was wondering if he'd have the courage to move it to a safer place, but feels he doesn't quite.

Sheila said...

When I was in college, working on something with a friend that I spent a lot of time with, I forgot something. She came over to me and said, "Sheila, I think you must be going senile in reverse." I asked what on earth she meant, and she said, "Well, most people's memory gets worse as they get older....Yours is so bad now, I think it can only get better!"

And in a way she was right, because I lost so much sleep in college that it led to some hilarious moments. I was kind of an "absent-minded professor" type, just not a professor.

So now when I do forget things, I tend to think it's just normal.

And I don't dye my gray, either. And wish others didn't. Don't fault them, necessarily, but it's so common here it makes the few of us who don't really stick out. But I feel I've earned it and whatever wisdom has come with it.

Lucy said...

Hi Sheila!

Yes, lack of sleep and stress and suchlike can all make memory worse, it is normal.

That's just what I always say about the hair, that I've earned it. The hairdressers occasionally suggested highlights, in 'noisette' colours, I recall. I thought they were quite pretty, but actually so many people had them for a while I thought they got rather boring! Though better than the awful shades of mahogany favoured by many! My sister's bits of colour sound fun though, when I was much younger I used to mess about with henna and occasionally blond, just to ring the changes.

Anonymous said...

I am such an unvisual person that i simply don't notice anything about anyone - whether they are grey or wear glasses or whatever. It irritates me a bit when I hear others discussing the appearance of other people - it is something I NEVER do (mostly because I wouldn't remember what they looked like anyway!) You stick with how you like to be. I don't have any grey hairs yet - or maybe I do and have never noticed!!!

Memory loss is very scary. It is perhaps what scares me most about growing old. I have some experience of it - although not words. After I had meningitis (in my early 20s) I found for months afterwards my brain just didn't work properly - it was like there were gaps in there and I felt like I was physically straining to make the connections. I don't think it got better, I think because I was young I developed strategies to think differently but sometimes i do still feel those gaps and it scares me a great deal. It is such a massive sense of powerlessness. I can understand why Tom would find it frustrating and physically tiring - I know i did.

There is a squashed frog on our road nearly every day. You can see them in various stages of decomposition - it fascinates my sons.

Ooops sorry this was rather a long comment, wasn't it? I had better go.

Have a lovely weekend

Anonymous said...

What Dave said. My dad's hair remained black up to his death and mine is black with a few distinguished silver strands. Lots of lines, though.

HLiza said...

Hi Lucy, I love this much going on which is universal..aging concerns and word loss..I've had that since I was 12! LOL..
One thing I'm really scared of about aging is slowly losing my vision..I'm short-sighted and it's not that bad but I find it quiet taxing to read a lot now and it really scares me. Losing physical attractiveness bothers me too..but I think happiness and love had made me forget most about it.

Auw..that snake really shows off it's bulge!

Anil P said...

So many ways that age manifests itself in, that I wouldn't be surprised at us wanting to negate its 'signs' (of aging) by wanting to 'extend' our youth, or maybe youthfulness.

In that I suppose memory is the key. It can alarm one more in comparison with time gone by than now.

You take very nice pictures.

Bee said...

I like the way that "snake in the grass" does double duty here . . . for who doesn't occasionally have a gossip (and a judgment) about one's friends? Even about things like hair colour -- the decision to do or not do.
Like Tom, I hate it when I grasp for a word . . . and like (most) women, I hate it that I can't help but "notice" how everyone is ageing, relatively. I still haven't decided if it is better to resist with all one's might (and resources), or to give in gracefully and let the years etch their marks upon face and body.

Laura Frankstone said...

I've just come to catch up on your world, your hair, Tom, snakes eating toads, and the like. What a pleasure, though, of course, not all of the news is unmitigatedly happy, and you know, that's life, the way it is. We're still here and that counts for something.