An Eejit Abroad: Notes on Broken Backs, Loud Music and F Troop
By CB Makem
I realized I was getting old last week when an episode of The Love Boat came on the telly and I groaned under my breath because it was a “new one.” By new I’m referring to one with Captain Stubing’s daughter, Vicki. I mean, why didn’t she go to school? Didn’t they have child labor laws in the 80s?
I know I don’t qualify as old yet, but I’ve reached the age where random pains present themselves once a week or more and remain throughout the day. I worry about the first one arriving that will decide to stay for the rest of my life.
Already I have what seems to be a unique ailment—at least among people I know—where arthritis in my hands is relieved by eating an orange. What in the world do the truly aged go through? I imagine there’s some woman in her nineties who cures herself of excess gas by humming the tune to F Troop, or perhaps by spinning around four times, three or five doesn’t do the trick, just four.
There’s over seven billion people on this planet. Surely some grizzled wrinkly fellow somewhere wakes up every morning and fakes a sneeze to guard against walking with a limp or to prevent his eyes from seeing everything in shades of purple.
And this brings us to this month’s topic: the worst things about traveling while old.
First up on my griping list are stools. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Ireland has pubs littered with these things. Granted they’re better than standing, but only slightly. How about some back support? Unless you can secure the bench seat against the wall, you’re out of luck. You’ll be leaning your elbows on the table or on your knees for the entirety of the evening. I watch my hunched-over elders with a modicum of disdain for the pub owner who made them this way through a lifetime of leaning in.
What’s next? Obviously, airline seats need to be placed on the list, but I don’t think I can add anything here you don’t already know and there are only so many column inches I can donate to seats.
Without hesitation, I’ll put pop music right up there near the top of the list. How many of us have stopped into a restaurant, pub or shop anywhere in Ireland, glanced around at a clientele averaging retirement age and pondered why the music blaring over the speakers is bubblegum pop? I recall a time not so long ago that Aer Lingus greeted its mostly very adult flyers with pop music upon entrance. I think by my last trip they’d upgraded to Enya or something ethereally similar, so kudos to them.
Don’t despair, I have an associated complaint for Irish pubs in old Amerikay, as well. It’s rare to find one that plays actual Irish music, strange as that is. I find it to be mostly plain rock and roll.
My father used to say he liked to hear Chinese music when he went into Chinese restaurants. I think he was onto something. Hey, it’s a free country, but what’s the sense in picking an establishment theme if you’re not going to stick to it?
I also enjoy places sans televisions. My eyes are a bit like a moth to firelight when it comes to TVs. It doesn’t matter that I have no interest in sports, or whatever is on, my attention is drawn to the infernal devises.
I find myself losing track of conversations because the flickering flat screen is always on. I don’t want it that way, my brain just isn’t capable of tuning it out.
The absolute best pub in which I’ve ever luxuriated was in Sligo town. I seem to recall the name as being “The White Horse” or something similar, but I have a terrible memory. There were no TVs, no background music, just a centuries old pub with snugs and low lighting. It was one of, if not the oldest continually running pub in Ireland.
People went in, talked with other people and had a pint or two. I sat at the bar one evening and met an older man, who was later joined by his daughter and her daughter. By the end of the night, they were insistent I stay with them, that the B&B I’d booked simply wouldn’t do. I declined as graciously as I could. I’m a huge fan of waking up in my own place and of B&Bs in general.
But the moment stuck with me. It’s a scene I don’t expect will ever play out again for me, especially since I generally have a hard time speaking over the volume of the music in most places. And after centuries of serving patrons, that pub closed.
I guess it couldn’t compete with the noise, hustle and bustle of modern life. I’m a bit confused as to why people gravitate toward excessive noise in bars. Maybe it’s to conceal the disappearing art of conversation.
Of course, a lot of this is based on the younger version of me anyway. As I’ve aged, the night doesn’t hold what it used to. This doesn’t ring true for everyone, but once the clock strikes eight, I’m usually settling in for the evening. I used to have fun at night. What happened? Today when a friend invites me out for a couple of drinks, my first thought is that it had better start no later than 6 p.m.
A number of years ago I began going to sleep earlier than I previously had. My friends or bandmates would stay up after a night of music or general carousing and I’d beat a hasty retreat with an Irish : [email protected].