Archive for the ‘Ageing (dis)gracefully’ Category

Since I was twelve years old I’ve worn glasses all day, every day. In recent years I’ve had progressive lenses, which allow for both close and distant sight. A month ago I had a cataract operation on my left eye, and this week’s consultation with the optometrist suggested that I may no longer need glasses for reading or using the computer. The contrast between my eyes which used to be 2.5, is now 4, and having such a disparity means progressive lenses are less likely to be useful. So, the new glasses I’ve ordered are for distance only and I’m experimenting with no glasses for reading and writing.

This feels very strange! My glasses have always been the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night. The whole idea of spending awake time without them is difficult to get used to. I realised I could now have my photo taken with a naked face:

Ruth with naked eyes

I could even wear eye makeup if I could be bothered buying and applying it. I’m experimenting with doing things like moving around the house, without wearing my glasses. There’s a whole new me waiting to be set free! Maybe I’ll wear glasses much less – just put them on for going out or watching television.

I’ve found it hard to remember to take them off for reading, and keep putting them back on without thinking. It’s such a well-ingrained habit. I stop to write something, then find I’ve put my glasses back on before I go back to book or computer screen. Have any of my readers weaned themselves off continual glass-wearing?

Learning to trust my naked eyes, is not easy. I’ve bought a cord so I can wear my glasses around my neck, rather than putting them down in different places (and maybe forgetting where they are). It’s all a strange new world, and will be different again when my new distance-only glasses arrive.

There’s new eye muscles I can flex
I’m learning to live without spec’s

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Curbing a Cataract

The operation on my left eye was scheduled for this morning. A cataract is a cloudiness on the lens of the eye, not a film that grows across the eye. The most common cause is getting older, and a cataract is definitely better than the alternative!

Treatment involves removing the eye’s natural lens and implanting a synthetic lens. Prior to the operation I needed to complete a detailed health questionnaire where I was asked to list all my hospital admissions starting with the most recent. While I’ve had occasional outpatient procedures, my most recent admission was to have a baby fifty years ago, so I’ve done pretty well health-wise.

The information said not to wear any jewellery, not even a watch, with no explanation why. I left my wedding ring on, and the nurse said that was fine. They just don’t want extra things on wrists, or anything that might get mislaid.

On arrival the receptionist put an I.D. bracelet on me and gently asked for the hospital payment before we went into the patients’ lounge. The nurse put drops in my eyes to numb and dilate the pupil, and checked blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen levels. My name and birth date were checked several times.

I’d paid extra to have an anaesthetist, who put an injection in my hand to relax me, then another beside my eye. The procedure was totally pain-free. I asked the surgeon whether I might be able to take the old lens home, but she explained that they mushed it all up and the sucked the pieces out, so there was nothing left. A patch was put over my eye, then I was escorted back to the lounge and given a cup of tea and a sandwich.

Piratical Ruth

The whole event had taken just two hours. Stephen drove me home, tomorrow morning I can take the patch off, and I have drops to be put in my eye four times a day for the next four weeks.

I currently look a bit like a pirate. Couldn’t find a parrot to perch on my shoulder, so I have a flamingo instead. With just one eye it’s harder to focus, but I’ve managed to do the Press puzzles. My left eye feels watery with very slight discomfort, and I look forward to eventually being able to see better.

The cataract’s gone down the drain
and soon I’ll have two eyes again

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My birthday is on the second of January, something I share with only 11,900 other people in Aotearoa.  This date is ranked 362 out of 366 and considered fairly rare.

On 1 January 1949 New Zealanders became New Zealand citizens in their own right, where previously they’d been British citizens.  I was born on the following day, so must have been one of the first to be born a New Zealand citizen. 

The ‘day after New Year’s Day’ is always a public holiday here, but not in the U.K.  As a child I always had some kind of a celebration, often just a small one because so many people were away on holiday at that time.  I remember one year when a school friend was dropped off for my birthday party and her younger brother was invited to stay too to swell the numbers.  Games such as Pass the Parcel were played and there was always a birthday cake.  One memorable year this was an ice cream cake from the Perfection Ice Cream Company just down the road, which my brother fetched on his bicycle – no large domestic freezers in those days.

Teenage birthdays have faded into the mists of time, although I’m sure they were celebrated.  I do remember that the first year after we were married Stephen went off tramping with some senior scouts leaving me, heavily pregnant, to languish on my birthday.

On my 20th birthday I was again pregnant, although not showing it as much this time.  I remember meeting a friend the week before who found it difficult to believe a birth was expected on 3 January.  In the event my younger daughter was born on the 4th, so we have always shared significant decade birthdays.

I believe in celebrating a birthday on the actual day, but this wasn’t possible for my 21st.  Close friends were marrying in Wellington on New Year’s Day, with Stephen as Best Man, and Cathryn as Flower Girl, so that took precedence, and my party was eventually held later in the month.

While the children were small, I adopted the habit of having a beach picnic with friends on my birthday, often at Cheltenham, one of my favourite Auckland beaches.  After we moved to Christchurch, I hoped to continue this tradition, but the first year we tried it at Spencer Park, and ended up sheltering in a van in the rain.

On my 40th birthday we were camping in Golden Bay with Alf’s Imperial Army for a New Year Tournament.  I’d taken a number of birthday presents with me.  Again, it rained, so I sat in the car with Stephen and Louise to open my gifts.  I just remember feeling so loved as I unwrapped presents from old and new friends.

For my 50th I planned a special celebration.  We hired the Hurst Seagar Room at the Arts Centre, invited a crowd, and asked them to wear something over the top.  Louise came down for this, but Cathryn had already emigrated to England.  I planned it as a ritual, with candles and invocations, and five people each told the story of one decade of my life, with a suitable song played after each.  I employed a student to serve catered finger food, people helped themselves to drinks, and my women’s support group baked five cakes.  Later we had an Irish band and barn dancing. 

Dancing at my 50th birthday

It was a wonderful evening!  We even had people from the YWCA hostel across the road who heard the music come and ask whether they might be allowed to join in, which we had to refuse.

My 60th was a quieter affair, a Garden Party at home with 18 women and Stephen.  Guests were asked to bring a small symbolic gift to hang on a trellis and make a garden collage.  We introduced ourselves by saying our name, and year (optional) and place of birth.  A couple of poems were read: The Cat of Habit by Janet Frame, and Finding Her Here by Jane Relaford Brown.  Each woman hung her gift on the collage and talked about its significance, then we held hands to sing Happy Birthday, and feasted.

60th birthday invite
60th birthday cake

In 2006 the Octagon Restaurant opened in the old Trinity Congregational Church (where my parents had been married).  That was one of the few restaurants open on 2nd January where there was live music, including a restored 1871 pipe organ.  I had several very happy birthday dinners there, the last just before the church was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes.  I keep hoping it may again become a suitable birthday venue, but no sign of that yet.

Birthday dinner at The Octagon. Sadly, Ann and Denny on the left have since died.

For my 70th birthday I again planned a ritual with women friends in our back garden.  Just 14 women this time.  One sad aspect was that three friends who’d been at my 60th had died in the meantime.  I’d asked people to think beforehand about their answers to several questions and there was deep sharing among the group, some of whom had not met before.

Cutting the 70th birthday cake

I wonder who will still be around to celebrate my 80th?  Anything can happen!

A birthday’s time to celebrate
when friends and cake can make it great

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For our anniversary we decided to have breakfast and lunch out, then a quiet evening meal of antipasto at home. We chose Little Pom’s for breakfast, but found their menu rather limited (no mushrooms!) so decamped and went to Under The Red Verandah instead – plenty of delicious mushrooms there.

For lunch we chose No. 4 in Mansfield Avenue which we hadn’t been to before. They have a small parking area beside the restaurant and Stephen cleverly manoeuvred our car into the very last space. We’d booked an outside table, but the wind was a little too strong so we sat inside instead.

Lunch at No. 4

I was happy to find they were offering whitebait as a main course, and my meal of whitebait omelette with fries and slaw was absolutely scrumptious. Stephen had Beef Wellington. As it was a special occasion I had a glass of wine – my first for some months, in fact I can’t remember when I last had one.

It was a pleasant surprise to meet there a friend from the past, who was coincidentally celebrating a significant birthday.

After all this gallivanting we were happy to have a quiet evening nibbling on savoury treats and watching Netflix.

Lunch out, not dinner, suits these days
we are adopting old folks’ ways

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A doctor’s appointment yesterday demonstrated some of the changes that have been brought about by Covid 19.  When I arrived the receptionist asked whether I had any coughs, cold, or flu-like symptoms.  Her next question was whether I’d been “hanging around” cruise ships, airports, Auckland, or Customs areas.  The idea of my hanging around cruise ships conjured up some strange scenarios, but I was quick to deny any such activity.

My doctor’s been in new rooms for some time now, but this was only the third time I’d visited, and the first time since Covid appeared.  In the waiting room I sat at a different angle to previously and noted a long mirror at seated head height.  I later confirmed that the mirror was in fact transparent from the other side so staff seated at desks behind it could keep an eye on the waiting room.  Chairs for those waiting were socially distanced, and there were no magazines.  I wished I’d brought something to read.  Of the five people waiting three were looking at their phones, and the other was writing notes like me.  Coast Radio was playing, a station I’ve had recommended, but never actually tried.  While they had advertisements I was pleased to find they include acknowledgements of local events.

The practice nurses who used to wear professional white smocks were this time  dressed in pale blue pyjama-type outfits , the tops patterned with illustrations from Spongebob Squarepants.  I didn’t like to ask to take a photo, but I did ask whether this was for the benefit of child patients, and was told no, this was the only option available at the time of lockdown.  I guess they’d be more easily changed and laundered than the previous white smocks.

My annual Well Woman check went smoothly, and after discussing my recent eye exam with the doctor she gave me a referral to an eye specialist.  I’m mainly using only my right eye at present, but the cataract in my left eye isn’t bad enough to warrant a referral to the public system.  I’ve decided that rather than wait (and add to the CDHB’s burden) I’ll pay to have it removed privately.  We shall see . . . . (in my case, literally).

This virus means the doctor’s changed
with practices all re-arranged

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Four of us decided to go together to He Puna Taimoana, the New Brighton hot pools on Friday afternoon.  We’d booked earlier in the week, before Covid 19 again reared its ugly head, but we didn’t see any reason to cancel just because we were in Level Two.

You need to book and pay online beforehand and choose one of the daily time slots.  For those of us who are Christchurch residents and Super Gold Card holders the price is a reasonable $10.  We lined up outside at the allotted time and were quickly admitted.  There’s plenty of room to change, including private cubicles for those that want them, with the changing area all heated.

I wanted to hire a locker to ensure security for my wallet and camera, but this proved difficult.  The lockers do not accept cash.  You have to use a credit card, and I was unsuccessful on two attempts to do this.  The Life Guard assured me that there had been no problems with people leaving valuables in the outside cubby holes, so that’s what I did, and I was able to keep an eye on my things all the time.  Because we are now in Level Two the Sauna and Steam Room were not available, but there were several pools to choose from, and the experience was gorgeous.

He Puna Taimoana

We started in a pool that was 33-38 degrees, then moved to a warmer one (38-40 degrees) for a while, then back to the cooler one when we started to feel too hot.  The hotter pool was at the edge of the complex where you could see through a fence to the surf below.  We agreed the experience is as good as the pools at Hanmer, without the need to drive for an hour and a half to get there.  While you can smell chlorine, the salty water is buoyant and pleasurable to soak in.

I understand the original plan was for the pools to take 150 people at a time, but the advent of Covid meant this was reduced to 80, and on Friday at Level Two the limit was 65, which meant there was no crowding and everyone was able to be socially distant.  When you get out there are good warm showers, a costume drying machine, and hair dryers available.

There’s an onsite café, but we chose to walk down the shabby and sadly deserted New Brighton Mall to have afternoon tea at Switch Espresso in Carnaby Lane.  This café has interesting decor and a good selection of treats.

Switch Espresso Café

I liked their footpath sign outside inviting you to play the Chicken Game.

Chicken Game

We all enjoyed our soak in the hot salty water, will definitely go again, and highly recommend the experience.

I loved our visit to He Puna
could wish that we had gone there sooner.

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Growing older is inconvenient
diminished energy
less ability
hearing fades
cataracts encroach on eyes
friends die or drift away
new ones hard to find

But     there’s time to smell the roses
watch the birds
sit outside and soak up vitamin D
fewer responsibilities
opportunities for contemplation

Yes, growing older can be inconvenient

But     it sure beats the alternative



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Friends are easily made when you’re young.  You meet people at school, in groups, at social events.  Plenty of potential pals, and it’s easy to develop relationships.  I spent my teenage and young adult years in Auckland, always had good friends I enjoyed spending time with, and shared deep and meaningful conversations.

Aged 36, I moved to Christchurch, and those long-term connections slowly dwindled.  I knew only a few people here, and during the first few years I was sometimes lonely for old friends.  Slowly I made new bonds with new people, and again built a circle of intimate friends I trust and share personal feelings with.

As I grow older it seems harder to make new friends.  I’m less tolerant these days, and disinclined to spend time with those whose values are very different to mine.  The close friends I have are doubly precious, especially those who live in the same city.  One day this week I learned one friend was close to death, and another told me she’s moving to the North Island.  I wonder when, if ever, they will be replaced.

To make new friends takes energy
old ones are best, it seems to me.

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Did you see David Hill’s article in the Press, 20 December 2019?  I loved it and was inspired to write:

A clever item in the news
I read, was cheering to peruse
by David Hill, a clever man
who’s passed through his allotted span
He spoke up and he lobbied hard
for those of us with our Gold Card
he pointed out that we’re not slow
It’s just that messages that go
from brain to limbs have lots to say
to friends they meet along the way.
We may take time remembering
as through large data banks we swing
there’s so much knowledge packed with power
to find a fact may take an hour.
We do not blindly follow fashion
as comfort is our preferred passion
it’s not a symbol of decay
to wear pyjamas in the day
you see young folk out on the street
whose outfits are not half as neat.
You may think we’re resisting change
we’re not opposed to something strange
it’s simply we’ve already found
it did not work last time around.
If you are scared of getting older
relax, you’ll find you can be bolder
remember if you’re age-averse
alternatives just may be worse!


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When paid work has finished it’s good to still have some structure and purpose in your life.  There’s the opportunity to try different things, make and develop friendships, and spend time an y way you choose.  My days can be taken up with voluntary work, classes, various appointments, activities with friends, and reading novels.  Sometimes it’s just lovely to have a day like today, with no commitments, nothing in my diary or on my task list.  The sun was shining and I could do whatever I wanted.

I started the day with my usual routine, ten minutes of stretching exercises, then a few Wordscraper moves, and checking of e-mails before breakfast.  I did some gardening, had lunch outside, completed the daily Press puzzles, and sat in my swing-seat to draft this post.

Ruth in swing-seat

Of course someone phoned to ask me to do an extra voluntary task.  It doesn’t have to be today, and I’ve added it to my task list for tomorrow.

It’s good to have a day that’s free
from all responsibility


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