Brian Viner: With age, you learn to use your loaf

Related Topics

Our 21st-century world is, in so many ways, mystifying for the elderly. Online banking, eBay, Twitter, sat-nav, congestion charges, flat-pack furniture, they can at least avoid. But making a routine telephone inquiry and having to press 1 for this, 2 for that, and 3 for the other, or being connected to a call-centre in Delhi and struggling to make themselves understood, must seem like a discombobulation too far.

Of course, some old people embrace these modern so-called conveniences. But far more of them, whether in the high street newly stripped of its post office, or the home where the television has just gone interactive, must sometimes feel plain alienated, as if this is no longer quite their world.

Waiting to be served in our local bakery earlier this week, however, the thought struck me like a clout from my headmaster (nostalgia can be painful as well as pleasurable) that it's possible to be too young to understand the world, as well as too old. I don't mean too young as in three, or seven, or 11, I mean too young as in 49. In some everyday situations, it's easier to be 77 or 82 or even 91.

What sparked this realisation was an exchange between a tiny, rosy-cheeked old lady at the head of the queue, and the female shop assistant. "I'll have a cob and a bloomer, dear," said the old lady, and it occurred to me that I had not the slightest idea as to what distinguishes a cob from a bloomer, or, for that matter, a batch-tin from a split-top, or a cottage from a farmhouse. All I know is that they are all types of loaf, baked and sold at the Central Bakery in Leominster, Herefordshire, and that every customer over the age of about 65 seems to have an innate understanding of the differences between them, not to mention the contrasting joys of wholemeal, wheatmeal and malt crunch.

It is my fervent hope that I will absorb this useful knowledge (far more practical than being Twitter-literate), perhaps by some sort of osmosis, on the eve of my 65th birthday. That, rather like Harry Enfield's character Kevin, who woke up moody and obstreperous on the day he turned 13, I will step out of bed on an October morning in 2026 knowing, at last, my long sandwich from my ring. With any luck, the Central Bakery will still be there, to accommodate another late bloomer, though certainly not, as I will be able to tell them, a late cob.

In the meantime, I have noticed a similar phenomenon at the fishmonger and the butcher's. There too, as a general rule, the senior citizenry seem able to name dozens of species of fish, and cuts of meat, in a way that we in life's late summer, rather than its mid-winter, simply cannot. Nor is their superior savoir faire restricted only to foodstuffs. "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and that being the case, the elderly, having in their long lives suffered many more tax rises and seen much more death than the merely middle-aged, have a significantly stronger grip on life's certainties than the rest of us, whether or not they know how to surf the internet. It's amazing what revelations come to you in a bakery queue, moments before you make the unworldly request for a large wholemeal, thick-sliced.

Why we don't do cocktail parties in the country

The city, being full of people, and people being full of quirks, must by definition be a quirkier place to live than the country. But, almost nine years after we came to live in the sticks, that's not how it seems. On Wednesday, for example, our friendly postman delivered, along with a bank statement, a water bill and a mail-order catalogue, two clucking chickens.

This, I dare say, is a situation peculiar only to this little corner of the Welsh Marches, where the neighbourhood postman happens to breed poultry at his smallholding just over the hill, and will, over a natter on the back doorstep, agree to bring a couple of reliable layers the following day. But it still seemed to me, as I carried the Warrens out to meet the eight hens we already had, like one of the more pleasing perks of our rural existence.

I introduced them at dusk, incidentally, for new arrivals invariably get bullied, and a night's roosting at least gives them a chance to settle in. But you can, as a transplanted townie, take these things too far. My wife, on acquiring four Black Rocks from a Welsh hill farm a year after we'd arrived, asked the farmer how she should handle their integration into the existing flock. "Oh, I shouldn't think it will be too much of a problem," he said, which was kind of him, because if he'd kept a sufficiently straight face and suggested a cocktail party, she would doubtless have stopped to buy napkins on the way home.

To be continued: irritating episodes in modern life

It isn't healthy to fall too much in thrall to fiction, but I don't mind admitting that my heart lurched when I read on Wednesday that the next series of the peerless Mad Men is not to be transmitted until next year, when we'd been expecting it this summer. It's another way in which the manifold pleasures of modern life can backfire. The first readers of The Pickwick Papers, similarly breathless for the next instalment, never had to wait longer than a month.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor