This month, the Good Wife of La Poujade Basse took a bold step into the unknown. She has followed me into what my Soul Brother #1 on the other side of the Atlantic dubs 'The Age of Ridicule'. That Father-William stage of your life when you are officially old and open to all manner of insult and injury. Every time she gets home and edges her way down the slippery slope to our front door, I fear now for my partner's physical safety. My family history has taught me that a fall precipitates an end.
Like me, she's certainly not ready for hers just yet. There are still far too many goals to achieve. Or at least, attempt. If anything, her (non-physical) stature is still growing – as more and more parents bring their problematic children to her for a miraculous cure. Instead of laying-on hands, she uses tapping and intuition and astute questions to shift people from their psychological blocks. I tell her she should be charging double what she charges. Parents with problematic children will pay almost anything to someone who can alleviate the problem.
Clients don't find her at all ridiculous. She is fast becoming a kind of Corrézian oracle. Behold! I have seen the oracle at Brive, sitting in her light-grey armchair, and this is what she didst counsel... It's early days, though, of course. We are both in the infancy stage of the Age of Ridicule. Naturally, she's remarkably positive about the final quarter of life. She expects great things, whereas I await with trepidation the next sensory breakdown. I'm OK for the moment, but who knows what will happen in another 10 or 15 years from now? Who knows what component will fall off the chassis that has carried us this far?
I suppose I could ask my dad. He's currently recovering from a cataract operation in one of his eyes. The cataract was much bigger or thicker or tougher (or whatever cataracts can be) than the consultant had anticipated. There were complications. As a result of which, the consultant has counselled an embargo on the second eye. Better to let nature run its course. So he sits now on his re-upholstered armchair, waiting and hoping that the blur he sees through his bloodshot eye will gradually take a more distinct form.
He didn't of course make the long journey south, as he has been promising for 20 years or so, to be there at the big table my wife set up in our living room for the sit-down meal to commemorate 60 glorious years of life. My brother has been promising for at least 10 years to bring our father south with him, but the pair are as intractable and as full of hot air as each other. If they were a double act, they might be known as the Manana Brothers.
Still, that's their look-out. There were about 20 of us anyway, which was quite enough for one evening, thank you very much. I seemed to spend two solid days shopping, while the team of caterers – my wife, our daughter, her friend Phoebe and our friend Judith, who came all the way from Sheffield with her ex-professional catering expertise – laboured long and hard to produce a meal that even impressed our German friends, who turn meals in their château into a kind of performance art-form.
I left a little time to prepare a few CDs for the occasion. Some of my wife's favourite music for dining and dancing. Of course, once the babble of humanity had boiled up into a subliminal roar, you couldn't hear any of the quieter stuff to eat along with, so it was a complete waste of time. And once we had pushed back the tables to clear the dance floor after the meal, people were generally either two tired or too stuffed to join in. Perhaps to our daughter and her friend, the sight of young elderlies going through the motions was irrefutable evidence that the Age of Ridicule had set in. To mark the death that very evening of ex-Temp, Dennis Edwards, I managed to find Cassandra Wilson's sinuously funky version of 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone'. It's dawning on me that the only real way of sharing the best music in the Lot is to find another radio show. Old DJs never die, they just grow increasingly ridiculous. Alan Freeman, anyone?
Anyway, it was a nice do. And it was lovely to see 'er indoors so happy and so revered. It was worth all the washing up and tidying up. A couple of days later, after everything had indeed been straightened, a man turned up in a van from the local garden centre. Inside the van was a magnolia tree almost as magnificent as the man's moustache. It was a commemorative present from the Good Wife's friends. I know the man; we cross each other's paths from time to time while out walking our respective dogs. He has a Dachshund, which doesn't quite seem to go with a man and such a 'tache. It had snowed during the night and in helping him manhandle the tree in its huge pot down the slippery slope, I fell on my arse. Despite a subsequent heavy cold, it doesn't seem to have precipitated my end. There's life in the old codger yet.
Not that I could possibly shuffle off to Buffalo just yet. I haven't had a chance to use my new passport or flash my new carte d'identité at a cashier requiring proof of identity. I'm looking forward to joining the shortest queue on my next return trip to the UK. I can play the appropriate passport in the pack like a joker in It's A Knockout! Who remembers that ridiculous programme? Who remembers its two ridiculous old front-men, Eddie Waring of rugby league fame, and Stuart Hall, who was given to giggling manically in those days before he was accused in his dotage of sexual misdemeanours? Or did the joker only come into play after Knockout evolved into Jeux Sans Frontières?
The woman at the mairie in Souillhac was very amiable (or aimable in French, which is an interesting transmutation, is it not?) and I obliged her by enquiring after her elderly father, who goes a little bit better, she told me (no doubt very impressed that I should remember such a detail from our prior conversation). Maybe she'll spread the word that not all foreigners are bad.
Buoyed by such a positive encounter with a member of the human race, I betook me to a shop called Kandy (pronounced kon-dee), one of those cheapskate shops specialising in Chinese tat, where I found two feather dusters for a very petit prix for my sketch at the annual cabaret: After a big build-up, Bret and I emerge from the wings as if to fight a mixed-weight prize fight – only to exchange gloves for feather dusters once in the ring. On both occasions that weekend, my friend tickled me to death. Quite ridiculous and we made guys of ourselves, but people laughed. And to make people laugh is, in its way, as rewarding as must be my wife's gift of making people better.
Although I'm not entirely convinced that old age should necessarily be the Age of Ridicule, now that I look back on it, the evidence of this rainy, snowy month is already beginning to stack-up. Even so, I'm determined to live life as long and as well as I can manage. Which clearly means that I shall be avoiding the '70s soirée later this month in Martel. The poster boasts 'rock, disco, slows et un quart d'heure américaine'. Whatever that quarter of an hour constitutes. Perhaps a crazed-gunman massacre. Yes, I want to grow old enough to see the magnolia planted and then watch it grow from our reading area as, hopefully, I find more time to sit and re-read all those classics from my past. Before the light dims.