‘It wasn’t so hot then,’ says Mrs Pobaan, keen to show that she is up to speed with the climatological zeitgeist.
‘Maybe, but we’re talking about only a small change in that time. Think about your mum.’
Mrs Pobaan needs no encouragement to think about her mum. Mrs Pobaan’s mum is a constant worry, but not particularly in connection with the climate.
‘When we stay with your mum we have no air-con, but the house is made of wood and the boards are placed sufficiently far apart to let cooling breezes into the house. So we sleep well. It’s these modern houses that are the problem. They’re designed by Europeans. Cement. Bricks. No gaps. They depend on a power supply to be liveable.’
‘At least the termites don’t eat bricks.’
‘Good point,’ I say encouragingly.’
I don’t have to wait long for fairly convincing supporting evidence for my hypothesis. It is night. The sleeping forms of Mr and Mrs Pobaan grunt and snuffle in the darkness. Suddenly we’re both awake. Something tells my semi-booted brain that things aren’t right. My skin is hot and clammy. It’s strangely quiet as if everybody has abandoned the party leaving us with the washing up. Drawn up to consciousness I finally get it: the air-con’s gone off in the night. We’ve had a power cut.
We don’t usually get power cuts in the night. They usually occur when someone working for the electricity company sticks his screwdriver into a sensitive bit of a transformer or a truck knocks over one of those overloaded poles. At night there’s usually nothing that can go wrong so the electrons continue to seep along the cables into our house to keep our air-con going.
I writhe around sweatily, hoping that someone somewhere will reconnect the wires that someone has tripped over in some sleepy substation. It doesn’t happen.
Finally, Mrs Pobaan gets up, wanders off and comes back to report: ‘It’s the trip switch.’
‘Not the whole street?’
‘Yes. I hope it’s not that underground cable.’
I apply logic and assure Mrs Pobaan: ‘It can’t be. Nothing on that circuit is on at this time of night.’
We flip the breaker and go back to bed, longing for the kind of sleep that only cool air can provide.
But it doesn’t come. I’ve started to worry.
When I was a younger person, I had the ability to get things in proportion. I didn’t know it at the time but, viewed from the advantage of more advanced years, I was able to prioritise the issues that confronted me sensibly and spend time thinking seriously only about the important ones.
What were the important issues? Family, friends, job, those were the areas where problems could arise that called upon me to think things through to some kind of resolution.
Now I wake from a disturbed night’s sleep and find that a light-bulb has blown in the living room. Or rather, it hasn’t just blown, it has decided to blink at me tauntingly from the ceiling. I’ll have to get the ladder to replace it.
On the way to fetching the ladder, I notice that a plant with large greyish-green leaves which I had thought was doing quite well in the flowerbed at the front of the house is now little more than a bunch of stalks. I abandon my quest for the ladder to investigate. The plant is covered in caterpillars. Not a couple of cute matchstick-sized wrigglers but an army of massive grubs the size of fingers which I discover are blithely munching away at a plant I purchased to beautify our humble home. I stop to pick these monsters off and count 24 before hurling the whole biomass over the garden wall.
Later the same day the food mixer stops working.
What is it in the younger man that steels him for these setbacks but deserts him in later life? I used to take such inconsequential matters in my stride, yet now I consider each such failure in a system, non-performance of an appliance or misbalance in the environment at large as a personal blow.
I have started to worry.
It’s weird. People told me about the things that will happen to me when I start getting old. My earlobes will go on growing, not to mention my nose, until I look like the love-child of Cyrano and Dumbo. I won’t be as frisky with Mrs Pobaan as I used to be. I’ll get aches and pains. I’ll tell people thing s I told them before. I’ll tell people thing s I told them before. I’ll head for the lift instead of the stairs. I’ll start to wear socks. I’ll get liver spots on my hands.
OK, some of these things have happened. But nobody told me I’d start worrying about things that aren’t worth worrying about.
I spent a good part of my youth telling my anxious parents not to worry about matters they couldn’t influence. ‘Can you do anything about it? No. Then don’t worry about it.’ That was me. From this perspective it makes my younger self seem hopelessly optimistic.
Now, I’m big into worrying. Why does the Olympics discriminate against oldies by excluding anxiety from its list of events? I could worry for Thailand.
Put me in a nice comfy chair in the middle of the stadium, make a few of the spotlights go out, engineer one of those hiccup faults into the sound system, arrange a less-than-perfect Mexican Wave and make it rain. They’d carry me off exhausted, but I’d be wearing gold.