VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
by John Morrison
The Flag is a haven, every lunchtime, for the old guys of Milltown: it's the ideal place to while away a few hours in congenial company. It wouldn't be so bad if they were just going back to their second chidhood, but most of them seem to be well into their second adolescence. They're having such a good time they almost make you look forward to getting old.
It's a funny age: too old to cut up their own food... but still too young to audition as a Radio 2 disc jockey. They're having fun: trading snuff, tall stories and puerile jokes. But did they really have to tell the oldest member of their little entourage that his blood group had been discontinued? Imagine the trauma. He's not actually a hypochondriac, he just thinks he is, which is nearly as bad. He's never been quite the same since he fainted and fell off his chair during the screening of a particularly gruesome Safety at Work video. Hearing that his body is full of irreplaceable corpuscles could just send him over the edge.
There's good beer at the Flag, racing on the telly and an open phone line to the local bookies ("Two quid on Colostomy in the 2.30 at Wincarnis"... "Viagra, each way"). They know all about the runners and riders, the favourites and the form. And they can recall - as though it were yesterday - childhood events that date back sixty years ago and more. The trouble is they can't recollect what really did happen yesterday. The Flag at lunchtime is like an exclusive gentleman's club for old guys who can't remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot.
It doesn't seem to bother them; they can't regret things they can't remember. They've even forgotten what it was like to have a good memory. After a few pints of the strong stuff in the Flag they can actually hear those memory cells thinning out; it sounds like idle fingers popping bubble-wrap.
Their working days are over; it's back to the playground for Milltown's senior citizens. They long ago stopped trying to climb that greasy pole of success (what did it all mean anyhow?) and now they've got a whole new set of priorities to go with their bus passes, flat caps and those special, mail-order, 'old guy' trousers with the waist-bands that fit snugly under the armpits. A dab or two of Dettol - Calvin Kline perfume for the over-sixties - completes the ensemble.
Old enmities and jealousies are put aside, at least until the chess board comes out. Most games follow a familiar pattern. The classic Sicilian opening, followed by a swift Ali Shuffle, leading towards an end-game that tends to be overly reliant on Angstruther's Revenge: just a fancy name for tipping the board over in a fit of pique.
To rationalise life's disappointments in our middle years, most of us come to the conclusion that ours is the only valid lifestyle, the only opinion worth having, the only job worth doing, the only country worth living in. Protected by this armour of prejudice against unpalatable truths, we try - but inevitably fail - to make sense of our despairing lives. Later (older and perhaps a little wiser) we can allow ourselves to loosen up a little, and recapture some of that guileless curiosity about the world and its wonders that we had in childhood.
The main problem facing the Flag's lunch-time regulars is what to do when the pub closes. They can sit in the park, or peruse the Milltown Times in the warmth of the library, to see if there are any memorial services worth going to. They can go shopping for large-print alphabet soup. They can sit in St Bernard's Square, and indulge their mistaken fancy that taking their teeth out will amuse passers-by. They can hang around, in the hope of witnessing a bus crash, so they can leap aboard, feign injury and go for the compensation. It's a bit of a long shot but, well, they're in no hurry. Anything to avoid going home to find their family measuring up for curtains, and looking guiltily through glossy brochures for old folks' homes.
The old guys of Milltown have largely come to terms with their waning powers, with no more than a shrug of the shoulders and the occasional twinge of regret on seeing a well-turned ankle. The flame of passion burns less brightly as the years slip by; sometimes the pilot light goes out altogether. They look elsewhere for excitement: a cup of weak tea, a visit to a garden centre, another punt on some hopeless nag. In the lottery of love they've long since cashed in their chips. But now they face the prospect of being dragged out of sexual retirement, now there's a little blue pill to stimulate 'the gland that time forgot'.
Will Viagra transform our senior citizens into predatory Lotharios? Will they replace their usual chat-up line ("Don't worry, love, you won't feel a thing") with something more suggestive? Will the old biddies of Milltown respond in kind ("Hello there, big boy... Is that a pension book in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?), or will they revive the wartime practice of putting bromide in the tea? When the old guys start talking about 'planting my potatoes', will they be referring to a pressing task on the allotment, or using a thinly-disguised sexual euphemism? These are no idle questions for guys whose sexual philanderings seemed to have ground to a halt with the ban on using tranquilliser darts.
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