Pillow talk

The column He can't kid himself any more, Howard Jacobson is no longer young. And the ear that has been a good friend for 50 years is turning traitor in the night

I am older than I thought. Yesterday a street corner evangelist handing out booklets entitled It's Never Too Late refused to let me have one. It's not as though he could have missed me in the universal panic to grab a copy. You know what people do when they see an evangelist: they remember urgent business and increase their pace. Not me, though. If It's Never Too Late I want to hear about it. Yesterday I even put my hand out. But he wasn't interested. He took one look and decided I didn't merit the investment. Never Too Late for some, but definitely Too Late for me.

The sad thing is, I fancied I was managing to stave off old age. I play at being old, of course, pausing to look at retirement villages when I'm out driving, whistling at ladies in their eighties, sending off faxes to the organising committee of the International Year of the Older Person wondering why we can't have two years, given how long everything takes us. But it's only bravado. I can afford to pretend I'm old because in fact I'm young.

Change that "can" to "could". It's Too Late to go on pretending. I'm the real thing.

It's not only the indifference of the evangelist that has persuaded me of this. I've been noticing strange changes in my behaviour recently. I become self-conscious in the company of anybody not yet 40. I try not to be too friendly in case they think I'm currying favour. Sad bastard. Nor to be too unfriendly in case they think I'm cantankerous and bitter. Rancid old fart. If I listen too eagerly to what they say they'll think I'm trying to relive my youth through them. If I feign boredom with their prattle - which isn't all that feigned - they'll think my interest in the living is wavering and my every second thought is of the grave.

I don't know how to be old, that's the problem. Nobody teaches you. When it comes to being young you get all the assistance in the world. Everybody's giving you advice. Not like this, like that. Not like that, like this. But when you're old the people who could help you are all gone. That's the bit you're not prepared for - that you're going to have to do it unaided, by instinct alone. But what if there is no instinct for being old? What if old age is precisely the death of instinct? Where does that leave you?

Suddenly, for example, I don't know where to put my ear when I'm trying to get to sleep. How can this be? I've had an ear - I've had two ears, come to that, both perfectly good, both even rather shapely I've been told - for over half a century. Hitler was alive when I first got an ear. The Chinese were not yet Communists. That's how far back we go, my ear and I. And not once in that time have I had to wonder where to put it. You lie down, you close your eyes, your ear accommodates itself to you, and you fall asleep. Or you do when you're young. Ask a young person to list his top 10 personal inconveniences and I bet his ear won't be among them. Become old, though, and your ear is an unmanageable appendage, a living hell, on some nights so cruel a torment that you would gladly get into a clinch with Mike Tyson and let him chew on it to his heart's content.

No matter how you negotiate your pillows your ear is now forever in your way - big, hot, swollen, slippery, as impossible to sleep on as a pea if you happen to be a princess. Even supposing you can get the temperature down with ice, it won't lie straight, but folds double, bending at the corners like a parcel of finger-food at a book launch, a crispy vol-au-vent of crushed gristle and cartilage. Or it scrunches up under you, on an inexorable roll, like a lady's nightie on a sticky summer's night. Does that date me? A nightie? OK, so it dates me. I am old, I am old. I remember nighties. I remember pyjama parties, come to that. And I cannot find anywhere to hide from my ear.

Be thankful Proust never lived long enough to know the excruciations of an ageing ear. How many more pages would that have added to the great adventure of nodding off?

Notice that I am not describing dysfunction. If only. I believe I could live with the discomfort of my ear if it were a failing organ. What do I want to hear anyway? Natalie Imbruglia? But from all that should accompany old age I now authorise you to remove another consolation: there is to be no respite from the ear as far as hearing goes either. Let's say you do succeed in getting it to lie flat and still for half an hour - then what? It starts picking up the commotion inside your pillow. Listen! What was that? The goose feathers squeaking. And that? The man-made fibres rubbing up against one another, in synthetic pain. Once upon a time, when the world was young, the only question as to pillows was how many and how soft. Now you have to be certain you have silent bedding.

That's where I was going when the evangelist refused me - to buy new pillows. "Never mind how I am," I told the assistant. "Never mind how my day has been, never mind how my day will be, never mind whether I collect Air Miles, never mind the duration of your guarantee - I won't be alive that long anyway - just sell me a fucking pillow that's got nothing to say for itself."

I watched her make the sign of the nutcase to another assistant. No doubt they get a lot of them in a bedding department. Sad bastards. Rancid old farts.

I gave her the sign of the ear back. Your time will come, sweetheart. Your time will come

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

    Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

    £25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015