Time was when I could drink eight pints of Tetleys and several double vodkas and turn up, more or less intact, for a 9-o’clock biochemistry lecture. But those days are gone. Yesterday, while I took Mrs Crox and the younger Croxii for a Mother’s-Day meal at the very splendid Red Lion in Stiffkey, I partook of one (1) pint of Wherry, a local real ale which I recommend.
When we got home, I started to feel really unwell, and through the night endured a migraine whose main feature was a feeling as if someone was trying to unscrew my right eye and replace it with a tungsten bulb with a bayonet fitting. It’s now lunchtime on the day after and I am returning to normal, more or less. My eyes, at least, are both pointing more or less in the right direction.
I have noticed that over the years my enjoyment of alcohol has been tempered by the fact that I skip the inebriation and go straight to the hangover. On this occasion I didn’t connect this with the beer (more a big lunch, I thought), but Mrs Crox, who has seen this all before, did. When I have a pint before I play a gig with my band Stealer, I usually follow it with a litre and a half of water during a two-hour performance and sweat it all out, and suffer no ill effects – but if I drink a pint with a leisurely meal it’ll come back to bite me. So, no more beer for me.
As with beer, so with writing. Ever since I finished my Ph.D. I have had a book on the go as a kind of displacement activity. Or a story. Or I am editing something. Or involved in a similar extracurricular editorial function. My ambition for years has been to leave something of lasting value, to prove myself, to justify my existence. I tend to embrace the Kiplingesque view that I should fill each minute with sixty second’s distance run, and despise activities such as sitting down in front of the telly as uncreative.
But ever since I came down with depression, more than a year ago now, people who are generally known as Mental Health Professionals have been telling me that no, I don’t have to prove myself all the time; yes, I am allowed to take time to relax; no, I don’t have to write that book on vertebrate origins that’ll take two years of hard work and won’t turn a penny; no, it’s not a sin to whitter a way a few hours doing nothing, taking a nap or whatever.
So now I am going to allow myself the licence to read a few of those books I’ve been buying and haven’t read yet; to look at all those DVDs and movies I haven’t made time to watch; maybe even do some walking. After all, I live close to the North Norfolk Coast Path, and in all the six years or so the Croxii have lived in Cromer, I have only walked along a few sections here and there.
I think age comes as a shock to one’s self-image. After all, at the age of fifty and three quarters I still expect to be able to down as much beer as I did when I was twenty, and am always surprised (if not affronted) that I no longer have that capacity. And when I step lithely from the shower, I always imagine myself looking like this
rather than this.
But perhaps the time has come to slow down. And maybe cultivate some bat wings and tend to my tentacles.