‘Elizabeth studied the drawing again.  She’d  been reading Madeline a book about how the Egyptians used the surfaces of sarcophagi to tell the tale of a life lived – its ups, its downs, its ins, its outs – all of it laid out in precise symbology.  But as she read, she found herself wondering – did the artist ever get distracted?  Ink an asp instead of a goat? And if so, did he have to let it stand?  Probably.  On the other hand, wasn’t that the very definition of life?  Constant adaptations brought about by a series of never-ending mistakes?’

The last sentence of that paragraph jumped out at me as I read it (from Lessons in Chemistry).  So true.  I’ve been in constant adaptation, for the past few months, not all due to mistakes, some due to changes in context and circumstances.

Adapting to increasing physical decay (I’m getting elderly) is a constant, but came into clearer view, this week,  at the theatre.  The viewing was actually fine – I could see the actors, the stage, and what was going on.  The issue was my age related hearing loss.  Watching actors milling about and only being able to hear one (the man) of the six on stage, even with the theatre’s T-loop, rather defeated the object of being in the audience.  My hearing is decreasing.  Even with hearing aids I can only hear certain voice pitches – men’s are much easier for me to hear than women’s, and I find non-London accents almost impossible.

Adaptation 1.  Buy or borrow from the library the script of the play I am intended to see and follow along reading as the actors speak. 

Adapting my plans for the day, in my role as grandchildren carer,  is a regular occurrence, some of it can be anticipated – teacher’s strike days, for example. Other events are unanticipated, though often predictable.  Last week came the 06:30 message:  ‘He (5-year old) has been up in the night with earache Just in case he has to come home from school, can you collect him?’  In the event he did not make school and we spent the day together, doing jigsaws, reading stories, colouring, and so on.   Not what I had on my to do list that day, but nevertheless we had a lovely day together.

Adaptation 2.  Keep all school days free of scheduled activity – appointments, meetings, etc. unless they can be done with a 3 or 5 year old around.

Then there’s the adaptation to being the driver of the car and not the passenger in it.  The day-to-day driver, has  glaucoma, an eye ailment, which is notifiable to the Driving Licence Authority (DVLA).  His first eye test – where some of the equipment was apparently faulty – recorded wrong information.  Three eye tests later, all showing that his eye-sight conforms to DVLA safe driving standards, the  DVLA is obdurate in refusing to un-revoke his licence which they did earlier this year.   

This means he is the passenger and I am the reluctant driver.  I don’t like driving and I especially don’t like driving when the passenger is wincing, bracing himself against the seat, slamming down his feet on an imaginary brake, or and taking sharp intakes of breath at inexplicable points.  I told him I would only drive him if he looked out of the window and made no inferences verbal or physical about my driving.   For the most part he’s managed this well, but he is anxiously dashing to the letter-box each day to see if the DVLA will, finally, give him back his licence.  I really hope they do.  Then I can go back to placidly knitting in the passenger seat.

Adaptation 3.  Be prepared to swap being a passenger in a car for being the driver of the car.  If that happens, give clear guidelines with a penalty for non-adherence to passengers who would prefer to be driving a car than being a passenger in it.

Rail travel is a great test of a person’s adaptability, and good practice for the recommendation, ‘Do your best to retain a sense of calm’.  Several times in the last few weeks I’ve arrived at the station to find the train I was planning on getting has abruptly been cancelled (‘shortage of train crew often cited’), or – worse, in my view,  sections of the train route have the dreaded ‘rail replacement bus  service’, which is some form of road vehicle – I’ve experienced several of: a double decker bus, a single decker bus, a luxury coach complete with reclining seats and on-board toilet. Some have phone charge points, Wi-Fi, and luggage racks or storage, others don’t.  Each leg of the ‘replacement’  adds at least an hour to the journey time.  It also means getting off one train, onto the bus, off the bus, onto another train.   Then there are the train strikes which recently led to my taking an over-night coach to Manchester – not a great experience.

Adaptation 4: Give up the idea that journeys will be smooth running, and be appreciative and notice when they are.  Be prepared for unexpected journey disruption (I guess, this is true for any journey). Carry as little as possible to make switching transport mode easier.  Remember there may not be room to put a suitcase somewhere, backpack is better.   Practice calming techniques.  View the rail replacement bus as a good opportunity to knit (as I can no longer knit while in the car).

Fingers crossed, I’m moving house soon, but not far. Only down the street – a 100 metres from where I am now.  Even so, moving house is an experience demanding adaptation – different room layouts, different kitchen appliances to get to grips with,  a different garden to work on, and so on.  Not only that, it means informing countless organisations of a change of address, and hoping that the Royal Mail re-direction service works well.  It might in my case, because my postman delivers both to my current house and to my new one, and he knows who I am. He may be able to redirect to the new place if he sees items falling through the redirection cracks.

Adaptation 5:  Take the house move as an opportunity to meet new neighbours, fling out stuff I don’t really need but cling onto,  flex my garden design aspirations (can I really design a garden?), and get out of the ruts of my current routines and rituals. I can start new ones.  In fact, that’s a great idea – I will examine my current routines and rituals e.g. I have the same breakfast every morning. I will change, adapt or discard them.  What new directions will this lead me into?  I think it will be fun finding out.

A passing thought – what will these adaptations say about my life lived?  How would they be visualised on my sarcophagus, if I had one.  (Unlikely I will have one!)

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