Ten years ago I bought my little cottage in North London. I was 62 and it was perfect: three floors, immaculate bathroom, lovely kitchen. No changes necessary. Then came a time when my sons began to suggest turning the big understairs cupboard that I call my hidey hole into a downstairs loo.
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘It’s ideal for storage. The vacuum cleaner, ironing board, bucket and mop all fit in there perfectly.’
The boys were careful about the way they expressed their enthusiasm for getting the builders in: ‘Well, you know, it’ll be useful when you have people here. They won’t have to keep going upstairs.’ For years I demurred. ‘Can’t deal with the disruption and the mess, and it’ll be far too expensive.’
Then their tone began to change: ‘Mum, you’re not getting any younger. We worry about you continually going up and down those steep stairs.’
Jenni Murray admits that she struggles with the stairs as she has got older and her sons want her to get a downstairs toilet. She contemplates why we cannot admit that our bodies are not as agile as they once were
I was appalled. ‘For heaven’s sake, I’m not old. I’m perfectly fit and healthy. I don’t feel any different from when I was in my 30s and having the two of you.’
Why do we oldies find it so hard to face old age? Perhaps it’s the fact that my mind feels no different from the way it did in my youth. I still pay great attention to exercise, getting my hair done, dressing well and never going out without my make-up.
I revel in comments from people who tell me I look young, but, for a couple of years now, my body has been telling me a different story and I have to listen.
Excruciating pain in my back shouts at me when I’m crawling up the steps and tells me to take it easy as I get in and out of a car.
I can’t deny the need for a little sit down in the middle of walking the dogs, or that I fell over a few months ago while leaving the local supermarket and broke a rib.
But, when it comes to having a downstairs bathroom, I’d rather suggest it was for anything other than my benefit. My Ukrainian guests, Zoriana and her son, Ustym, are due to return at the end of next week.
Jenni Murray (pictured) says none of us want to accept our own mortality or the fact that we can’t do things we once could
So, if anyone asks, I say that I’ve decided to get the job done in their absence — that it was a bit awkward before, having three of us in the house and only one bathroom. It will be so much easier to have one bathroom upstairs and another downstairs, so, of course, I’m doing it for them.
I know that, really, it’s for me but there’s no way I’ll admit to my boys that I have given way to the inevitable.
They’ve been right all along but I’ll go to any lengths to avoid confessing that their pleading with me has been my motivation for doing the right thing.
Why do so many of us refuse to accept we are simply not as fit as we were? Why are we reluctant to ask for help or advice?
It seems it’s human nature to believe we can go on for ever. None of us wants to acknowledge our own mortality and admit that the day will come when we can no longer rush up the stairs, two steps at a time.
Our minds may be as agile as ever — but it’s hard to accept that one day you may need to steady yourself with a stick or that you’re no longer capable of standing in an airport queue for hours so wheelchair assistance may be essential.
Convincing yourself that declining physical capacity has no shame attached is tough but necessary. Now that I’m in my 70s, it seems to me that it may be an ageing parent’s duty, not only to take the best care of themselves, but also to listen to the concerns of their children.
None of us wants to be a burden on our families so, frankly, if they advise a downstairs bathroom, I will put their minds at rest and allow them to enjoy their own lives without constant worries about my safety. Complying with their wishes is the least I can do. There comes a time when putting our affairs in order while we still can is our job.
So, here I am, with my builders, Nick and Kieran, rushing around getting the job done.
As I write this, there’s a huge hole in the wall where the storage cupboard used to be.
Time has been spent selecting the toilet that has an integrated, space-saving hand basin; the chairs around me are covered in tiles which must be agreed on; and there’s equipment all over the place.
Tomorrow there’ll be noise as the plumbing is sorted, then it’ll be the electrics, but they’re careful about containing the dust and clearing up after themselves.
Disruption, yes, but they’re young, super-fit and really quite fun to have around. Not so ghastly after all.
Beyonce’s lesson in language
Beyonce has removed word which offended disability campaigners from her new song, Heated
Well done, Beyonce, for removing a word which offended disability campaigners from her new song, Heated. The word is spaz, which can be used to insult people with cerebral palsy. The star says the word was ‘not used intentionally in a harmful manner’ and to be fair, in African-American communities, ‘spaz’ or ‘spazzing’ means ‘go crazy’ or ‘fight’. Another example of how two countries can be separated by a common language.
‘Jessica Rabbits’ do hold us all back
Dawn French has it so right when she says women came close to equality but messed it up by becoming Jessica Rabbits
Dawn French has it so right when she says women came close to equality but messed it up by becoming Jessica Rabbits. Speaking earlier this week, the actor lamented girls growing up with an impossible vision of perfection — one perpetuated by those who seem to copy the animated sex symbol in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Those Kardashians have a lot to answer for.
Never a footie fan (rugby’s my game) but I had to watch on Sunday. I was delighted to read the banners around the pitch saying: ‘Women play football #NotWomensFootball.’ And they did and our Lionesses won. It brought a tear to this old cynic’s eye.
Don’t turn justice into a show trial
Jenni fears a slippery slope in regards to Sarah Munro QC making legal history as the first crown court judge in England and Wales to be filmed live on TV last week
My heart sank to see Sarah Munro QC make legal history as the first crown court judge in England and Wales to be filmed live on TV last week.
The coverage was strictly limited to the judge, as she jailed Ben Oliver for life, with a minimum term of ten years and eight months, for the manslaughter of his abusive grandfather.
But I fear a slippery slope. I’ve watched TV coverage of trials in America. The fiasco of Johnny Depp v Amber Heard earlier this year; the performance of OJ Simpson and his flashy lawyers; and the humiliation of the young English nanny Louise Woodward, in the 1990s.
The most serious of issues become entertainment for the masses: that must never happen here.