Such is the extraordinary vanity of human beings – well, of this one anyway – I am unable to believe that I am seventy years old, and , although the messages given back by the looking glass when I shave each morning are unmistakable. I still inwardly believe that I could pass for forty-five (in the dark with the light behind me).
But 70 I am, and so, of course, I am eligible for the vaccine in this Covid19 era. I received a summons to something called the Rec Club, which if you simply say it, seemed like my kind of club.
Why not admit it and say that BOTH the other clubs I frequent., the …. Well never mind their names, but they are full of persons such as myself, old wrecks.
I turned up on time for my injection, asking myself (shades of Sir Walter Elliot) why I should find myself in a queue full of these pathetic OLD people? The queue, the assembly of the pathetic old things in the Rec Centre, the conduct of the vaccine – all were quite extraordinarily efficiently organized. We were all in and out of the place within half an hour. The doctor who gave me the jab, very much “one of us” shared my regret that it was not a syringe-ful of good old Oxford Vaccine but instead this foreign muck, Pfizer, but he told me that they are vaccinating 1,000 people PER DAY in this gym, and it all worked like clockwork. One is so used to EVERYTHING nowadays being badly run and stupidly organized, that I could not believe the ease, charm,and speed with which the whole operation was conducted.
When they have given the poor old dears their jab, they told them to sit in rows for quarter of an hour , just in case the injection has the effect of making them dizzy. So, there I sat, itching to get home to continue with my current writing project which is…. My memoirs!
Here’s the funny thing. I had just reached the point of the story where I was a boy at Rugby School, and I was writing about the weird fact that I was never bullied – even though, with ludicrous affectations etc I might be said to have been “asking for it”. . Indeed, I do not think there was bullying, as such, anyway in my house, though there was casual VERBAL racism and antisemitism, which of course must have felt like bullying for those at the receiving end. One Indian boy in our house got bullied, and I still feel guilt at somehow not intervening or trying to stop the brutes who did it. (He’d arrived late, in the middle of a term, from Mumbai, poor kid, and somehow or another he unleashed a Lord of the Flies atmosphere in the place which never surfaced otherwise). But compared with the violence and brutality which happened in the same house ten years earlier when my brother was there, that house was in general calm, gentle, amusing.
Almost the last sentence I’d written, before setting out to the Rec Club for my jab, was to say that even truly WEIRD boys were not merely tolerated but liked, and that those of us who aspired to be intellectuals and aesthetes, though perhaps regarded as ridiculous by others, were not subjected to persecution. I gave as an example a charmingly eccentric boy called Roderic Wye (actually I never knew his first name, I have only just discovered it from Google) who liked the works of Sir Steven Runciman. He and I used to vie with one another to see who could quote more from the History of the Crusades. Wye, as I remember, knew the whole of the final magnificent page of Volume Three by heart.
As I sat, post-jab, wondering why I’d been placed by the NHS among all these old-looking people, quietly waiting for fifteen minutes to make sure we did not pass out from the shock of the injection, a man with a white beard turned round and said, “We were at school together”. Through our masks, we reminisced, about our love of Runciman’s Crusades, about the time-wasting of Corps (blanco-ing spats and cleaning Enfield rifles before we collected our Cert A), I of course did not mention that only hours before I had been writing about him, having not thought about him once for well over half a century. The last time I saw him, he was an eighteen-year old with red hair. Now he was white-bearded and distinguished .
Highly distinguished. Wye is a learned Sinologist who has spent many years as a diplomat in China. (Info retrieved from Google again, and his conversation in the Rec Club).
How strange, that from the mists of time, a figure to whom I once looked up, (he’s a bit older than I am) but who had utterly vanished from my world, should have surfaced at the very time when I had been thinking about him. It makes me think that Memory, Mnemosyne, who, after all, was Mother of the Muses creates the most extraordinary situations, and that Proust, Anthony Powell and others who have woven memory-inspired artistic garlands were indeed inspired.