Jim comes in, looking dapper in his blazer and with his ageless smile says ‘hello, me ducky’ and puts his hand on your cheek to illustrate how cold it is outside tonight. ‘A bit nippy’ he usually says as he rubs his hands vigorously together.
‘All right, Jim?’ we ask jovially.
‘Still breathing, me ducky; still breathing’ he laughs as he pulls out his pipe, a dark piece of gnarled wood with a bent mouthpiece, the bowl of the pipe as handsomely etched as Jim’s own mahogany features.
Jim uses his hands in the most natural God-given daily task – gardening. He retains a freshness, a love of life itself because he holds an unsullied view of all living things; an old man but youthful, un-withered by the canker of cynicism that attacks the least and most among us. Jim saying ‘the older you get the faster the years fly by! You know, it goes like lightning’ without rancour.
I reply ‘frightening really’ but I could see he was unperturbed. To him the escalating passage of time was a natural thing, as natural as the seasons that fly by in their cycles of death and rebirth, as natural as the growth of a plant from a seed given the care of his hands, sunshine and rain; as natural as the clouds scudding across the sky.
But me – I was frightened by the image of a carousel accelerating so fast it flung you wild and fast away, away to be brought short and smashed like a limp doll. I felt time knotting up in my stomach, and I was going to say to Jim ‘with the days slipping by like that as fast as greased lightning don’t you ever think of the time you’ve wasted; because I do. My God, I do.’ But I recognised the question was superfluous to him and he could read the question in my eyes, and I could see his answer. I felt humbled for that moment.
‘Ooh yes, the Fridays come and go just like that. You don’t notice the other days, boy. Oh, no.’
‘Did you see the film last night, Jim?’ He cocks his head, sucks his pipe. You go on ‘the one with Cary Grant in.’
‘Ooh yes, that was a good ‘un. I like a good film, you know.’ Jim laughs often and his Adam’s apple bobbles as if sharing the joke. ‘Of course – the old stars, boy. There’s nobody around to beat them nowadays. Your new stars, boy- rubbish, ooh yes. A good plot and a bit of entertainment, that’s what we used to get. None of this sex and violence rubbish, me ducky. Oh no.’
You don’t argue because, corny as they were, the old films do still retain a certain ‘magic’ with their sugary naivety.
When we go home from the pub the stars are hard and bright in the night sky, our alcohol and hops-tinged exhalations plumes of luminous steam.