The Jury Room  (Week 9)                                                                                                                                          Posted 2nd July 2014

Dreaming about the zimmer gang or...                                 From The Herald : Sat 16-May-1998

            Adonis in a wheelchair is still Adonis          

Ah'm walkin down the street, the Purple Sage announces.

He is, in fact, standing at the bar of The Jury Room. But Gus has always had a Scottish weakness for the historic present. In his stories things haven't merely happened. They continue to happen, before your very eyes. So Moses says to Pharaoh - that kind of thing.

Ah'm walkin down the street.

In The Jury Room repetition is a good idea. It can be noisy in there and sometimes people are beyond the pint of conversational subtlety. Three times is best, like three raps of a gavel or Oyez, Oyez, Oyez.

Ah'm walkin down the street.

Our small group is called to order, becomes a congregation awaiting the text for today.

And Ah see something happening up ahead. It's not a wide street, right? And maybe a hundred yards ahead of me, Ah see something happening. It's just after school's out. And there's a dozen or so teenagers walkin abreast down the road. Boys and girls, maybe 15 or 16. They take up all of the pavement and a good half of the road. They're walkin away from me. And beyond them, coming towards me, Ah see a very old woman with a walking stick.

Jeez, Dave the Rave says. You lead an exciting life, Gus.

You should write your memoirs, Greyman says.

Gus endures the jibes with the air of a man who understands how shallow some people can be. No doubt there were some who heckled during the Sermon on the Mount.

It's the casual moments that show a society's style, Gus says. The simplest thing can be significant. If you can see the significance. But - he looks around condescendingly - you need brains for that.

Ooyah, Dave says. That was sore.

You lot've seen too many recent American pictures and videos, Gus says.

I've lost the thread, Greyman says.

The pictures these days are full of car crashes and explosions and buildings collapsing, aren't they? Gus explains. You show an audience something quiet and subtle, the screen might as well've gone blank. The whole culture's being taught to live on its nerve-ends. If something doesn't hit them smack in the face, they don't know anything's happened.

Was there not an auld wumman round here somewhere? Matt the Mesomorph says.

So. They're walkin - say, 12 abreast. And the old woman's hobbling towards them. And Ah sees her negotiating her way out into the middle of the road. With great difficulty. And she just makes it beyond them before they walk past her. It's a good thing she made it. Otherwise, Ah think they might have walked right over her. And Ah watch her goin on safari to get back to the pavement.

There is a pause.

That's it? Matt says.

That's it, Gus says. Is that not enough? That old woman must've been in her eighties. Who knows what contribution she might have made to our society. Bringing up kids. Living through strikes. Two world wars. And it doesn't even earn her a space on the bloody pavement. Where is this we're livin? Not one of those young men and women moved one yard to accommodate her. Not one of them said, Through here, Missus. Here's a space. The boy on the outside didn't even break his stride as she passed in front of him. It was as if they didn't even notice her. And she accepted it. That was the point. She didn't expect them to make way for her. That's crap.

That's kids for you, Dave says.

Naw, Gus says. That's the kinda kids we're rearin for you. And it's the kind of attitude to the old we've created. Ah couldn't believe it. Ah felt like givin them a piece of ma mind. (Not that Ah can afford it. These days ma brain-cells are wavin cheerio like troopships leavin.) But they were too far away. By the time Ah caught up with them, they could've been married with weans of their own.

Ah hope none of ma two were there, OU Wilson says.

There is silence. What we know about Gus gives a special poignancy to his concern for the old. He lives alone and daily visits his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer's, in a geriatric unit. He moved from Ayrshire back to Glasgow because that was where he decided he had found the best place for her to be. Their children, still in Ayrshire, hardly ever visit her. He can't be feeling too highly valued himself, nor that his wife is.

I think we all feel the need to express some kind of emotional solidarity with him. Matt the Mesomorph, who sometimes betrays spasms of unexpected sensitivity, finds a way.

Know what ye mean, Gus, he says. When Ah think of what ma mother's been through. And for what? Every day Ah've lived's been another grey hair for her. And our Johnny. He was a late one. Doesn't show respect. But then he's got his own problems, Ah'll admit. And on top of everything, a pension that wouldny keep a cat.

Like Matt, I find Gus's dismay with the young giving way somewhat to dismay with myself. Look in before you look out, as my mother might have said, and it's her I'm thinking of as I do it. Do I show her enough consideration these days?

A relationship with a good parent can become such a familiar part of the mind's furniture that you can forget to notice the beauty of the grain. Some time ago I tried to overtake the tacit assumptiveness of my relationship with her and express in a poem a sense of some of the things I never say. I sent it to her on a card. I can't remember what the occasion was but no doubt, whatever it was, the card arrived belatedly as usual. It was called Visiting my mother in my mind in her 88th Year.

I do not know the thoughts that come,
Companions to your aging,
Whether your heart with grief is numb
Or whether it is raging.

 I wonder in your lonely nights
What old times choose to call.
Are they ghosts of past delights?
Are they remembered gall? 

And do you doubt, there in the dark,
The meaning of your living -
If it has been a wasted work,
An unrequited giving? 

Listen: I have come here to say
Let all your thoughts have ease.
You've been in winter a warm day,
In choking heat cool breeze. 

You've been an island in a sea,
After wild waters shore.
You've been a lesson how to be.
And no-one has been more.

The poem seems to have mattered to my mother but it certainly can't compensate for the small daily failures to turn up as I should have done. I could imagine her looking at the title and thinking it might have been a good idea to visit her more often in my body as well. What she has given remains an IOU I will never be able to repay. But I could surely pay more emotional interest on it than I do. Must try harder.

We're talking now about how the young perhaps just react to the social atmosphere around them in the attitudes they develop towards old people. After all, in a society that seems determined to replace all values with prices, the old don't exactly constitute the most lucrative market.

Except as livestock for granny farms, Gus says bitterly.

Eric the Red mentions Sally-John. They are an old couple whose togetherness is so complete they have acquired a compound name. They come into The Jury Room when John feels well enough. He is in a wheelchair now but Eric has often told us we should have seen John when he was young, as good-looking a man as you would ever see and a fearless socialist with it, and still now full of a wisdom nobody ever listens to.

Postmodernism, Greyman says. (He says that a lot.) We're creating a mentality that has no memory. Only today is real. The death of history, right enough. You're only what you can do today. It's a pity old people couldn't carry round with them a record of their past. Like a constantly running video. Then we might realise they're more than a collection of old bones and wrinkled faces. I mean, you see Adonis in a wheelchair at 70. That doesn't mean he wasn't Adonis once.

Ah see them in the Co-operative, Dave says. Old punters. Men and women. Queuin' at the drinks-and-fags bit. Wee half-bottles and quarter-bottles. Ah suppose that's their fix, eh? Help me make it through the night.

I come away but I like Greyman's idea of renewable youth. Maybe it's just the food I take at home but that night I dream a strange dream.

It's about a group called the Zimmer Gang. They are men and women who are very old and they travel the streets in motorised zimmers. Whenever people behave nastily towards them, they strip off their aged faces like rubber masks. They become young and vigorous again and give anybody who has insulted them laldy.

I wake suddenly, aware of a strange sound in the room. It takes me a moment to realise I have been cheering in my sleep.

( To hear William McIlvanney reading the poem featured above, visit this page.)