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The Scrivener: Consider The Ant

“”They’re such a busy breed, ants. Hithering and thithering, and constantly communicating. You eventually notice that they’ve built little towers….’’ The delightfully discursive Brian Barratt considers the ant, arthritis in six knees (or perhaps even twelve) and a time to be useful.

There we stood, in the rain, waiting for a break in the single line of traffic at the shopping centre.The lady next to me sheltered beneath her umbrella. Much more adequate than my acrylic beanie. She glanced up at me, and said brightly, ‘Oldies!’. I smiled and nodded. There was a gap in the traffic. We crossed the road.

That’s it. A brief encounter with a stranger.

We had one thing in common: we each had a walking stick.
When the humidity changes and the barometer falls, the creaking knees complain. Hence the walking stick. But three score years and ten are not in themselves a qualification for being old.

Someone very dear to me used to ride the family heirloom bike round her English village, running errands for the old ladies. She was in her seventies. Wear and tear took its toll. The faithful old Royal Enfield reached the end of its working life.
She bought a new secondhand bike, and at the age of 78 is still cycling round the village, helping the old ladies.
Not all ‘Oldies’ are as outgoing. You meet one who has a friendly dog, and start up a conversation about dogs. You know the sort of thing — breeds, colours, sizes, personality, behaviour, dogs you have known, the dog across the road — but all the other person will talk about is their dog. Nothing else interests them. So sad.

A young friend brought his elderly auntie round here one day. He wanted her to see my library and have a chat, because she was a clairvoyant. Hmmm, that sounded promising. My Gypsy genes started sparking.

Her eyes alighted on an old pack of Tarot cards. She didn’t notice the evidence of Hinduism, Buddhism, mythology, psychic research, Theosophy, theology, Freemasonry, anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, art, music, languages, etymology, Africa… all round her. The whole conversation was about those Tarot cards. An elderly clairvoyant who wore blinkers.

Jack, in his eighties, used to sit on the bench in the park, while Sam wandered round, making friends. Sam was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a breed which specialises in being A Friend Of All The World. Or, as someone else told me when he bought one as a family pet, a dog which is congenitally stupid.

Jack had owned pubs. He had a cellar of yarns about those days. He’d also been a farmer. When we watched a small flock of galahs moving from tree to tree, he told me the weather was going to change. Galahs know in advance, and start flying around restlessly.

He was right, of course. It poured with rain during the night. Another farmer had told me that the movements of cows are also an indication of changing weather. In the country, they don’t bother to watch the weather forecast on telly — they watch the animals, birds and insects.

Clever things, those insects. There are several long cracks in my concrete drive. They’re lined with moss. When the weather is cool and wet, the moss swells forth in its brightest green. When the sun comes out, the green shrivels to brown and ants emerge from the cracks.

They’re such a busy breed, ants. Hithering and thithering, and constantly communicating. You eventually notice that they’ve built little towers.

Dotted along each of the cracks there are tiny chimney-like structures. The building material comprises grains of sand and soil. There’s probably a sentry keeping watch at each of them, telling non-ants to clear off.

When the humidity builds up and the rain returns, the towers collapse and get washed away. The busy ants go back underground.

Their sheer industry brings to mind another near-and-dear, getting on for eighty, who knows what it’s like to have parts of her life collapse. She has serious health problems, but doesn’t talk much about them. She lives in what can be described as a difficult part of the world, with danger on every side.

In a country where AIDS is rife, and deaths are common, she makes clothes for orphaned babies and children. Any old item of clothing or piece of material can be recycled, and that’s what she does. Some folk just don’t give up.

Oldies? Well, thank goodness we aren’t ants. It would be sheer hell to have arthritis and bursitis in six, perhaps even twelve, knees!

But the Paracetamol years need not signal the end of busyness. There’s time to expand horizons. Time to throw away the blinkers. Time to open the mind. Time to be active, physically or mentally. Time to communicate. Time to be useful.
OK, also time to go underground occasionally — but still to come up for the sunshine and build a new tower.

© Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt


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