When I was forty, or thereabouts, I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve a comb and recoiled in disgust: Old man’s pocket. It had come early.
I pulled out tissues, some as old as trilobites, forgotten sweets with wrappers slightly soiled, a small stone, a pen-top, crumpled till receipts, a fragment of chain, chalk, more tissues, an envelope…
The memories flooded back to a time when, as a boy, I delivered beer, wine, and spirits from a black cast-iron bike, with a huge metal basket attached to its front. Every Saturday I wobbled along Warbreck Moor, delivering much needed alcohol to elderly men and quite a few women, too.
There was this old guy who invariably asked me to retrieve the money from his trouser pocket. Nightmare stuff.
‘Arthritus,’ he said, brandishing two tobacco stained claws.
He watched me while I fumbled; a smile on his face. It was like scrabbling in a damp waste-tip: soiled ten-shilling notes, sixpences and fluff, handkerchiefs that hadn’t seen light since Dunkirk, a half cigarette…
Every child confronts horror, and some far worse than an old man’s pocket. But I was a squeamish child.
And am I glad to use that word again? Squeamish: Great word.
But I neither squirmed nor squealed. I just counted the change and washed my hands after.
The question now, however, was had it come at last to me, prematurely early: ‘old man syndrome’? Unkempt pockets replete with ecosystem. What would happen if I was ever run over?
My mother was always concerned I had clean underwear for such an eventuality. She’d never foreseen ‘old man’s pocket.’
It was my Damascene moment without the blinding light. I threw the contents of my pocket into a nearby bin then searched other pockets for similar evidence of advancing senility. Emptied them out.
A minimalist would swoon at my pockets today. You could eat in them so long as you cleared up after you finished: a wallet, two keys and a comb – and pockets and pockets to spare. Better than Botox, and along with clean underwear I am now prepared for the worst.