He was never a favourite of mine so I was rather puzzled why Hughie Green, of all people, should invade my sleep. And three nights in a row, to boot.
He had had several popular shows on British TV in the 1960s. Double Your Money was one. It was a quiz show in which you got to double your winnings with every correct answer, but lost it all on a wrong one. It could get quite exciting if a contestant had good general knowledge and gave the right answers again and again. The potential winnings were fantastic – or they seemed so when I was a child. But, even back then I was always a rather timid ‘bird in the hand’ personality when it came to money (which must go some way to explain my lack of a financial portfolio, and riches in general), so I always found this program more stressful than exciting. I never could understand why the contestants just didn’t take their free earnings after a few right answers and head off home to spend it.
I’m thinking as I’m writing here, yes, even as I edit, hence the slightly rambling nature of this piece. So, money and stress, stress and money. Are these the reasons that Hughie Green has taken to sharing my bed? It would make things nice and tidy; explained, forgotten. Doesn’t seem right though. I’ve been in tighter pecuniary corners without men from televisionland slipping between my sheets.
Hughie (first- name terms seem appropriate given our recent friendship) continued his career with a talent show called Opportunity Knocks. Now, I might be someone who won’t risk losing everything I have on what I see as a stupid gamble, but I have tended to answer life’s knocks at the door. Granted, these opportunities haven’t always led to good places, but mostly they’ve been worthwhile. Maybe it’s this other show that’s tapping at my subconscious. Have I regrets for opportunities not taken? Well, of course. Who doesn’t? My lost opportunities don’t seem big enough to be the best fit here either.
I never was a fan of talent shows, but I did watch Opportunity Knocks occasionally. Probably when avoiding homework. The thing I remember most was the host’s pseudo sincerity. If my memory hasn’t quite failed me, he would tilt his head ever so slightly to one side, do something contrived with his eyebrows to give an impression of artlessness, and say ‘I mean that sincerely, folks.’ And another thing that used to aggravate me about him was his way of treating any guest a little on the elderly side. He would introduce them, whilst gently holding them by the arm as if they might drop down dead on his show, with something like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big hand to Bert Smithers who is seventy-two years young.’
It was the word young that bothered me so. Even as a girl I found it extremely condescending and wondered why the contestants didn’t object. The obedient audience clapped like seals as if they were super-impressed that such an ancient was even upright, let alone taking part in a show where he’d need to sing, play the spoons, or do card tricks. How was any person over sixty-five expected to survive such patronizing behaviour and still go on to fame and fortune? I’m sure that the schoolgirl me couldn’t have put that last sentence together, although she would have agreed with it wholeheartedly if offered by someone else.
Yes, now it’s beginning to make sense. I paused after typing in ‘over sixty-five’ and literally counted on my fingers to see when I’d be old enough to fall foul of Hughie Green’s eyebrows and ingratiating language – only six months. I’d like to think that I’d have shoved him off the stage into the arms of his clapping seals.
Let’s see, what do I have so far? Hughie Green in my bed – he’s really not my type. Winning money then betting on it – I’m too cowardly for anything other than an honestly earned salary. Trying to become famous – I’m fairly talentless and, anyway, reading the tabloids long ago cured me of wanting fame. That leaves the age thing – BINGO!
All right, it’s not exactly the way Freud would have done it, but I’m going with it anyway because it dove-tails, or shoe horns if you insist, nicely into some recent experiences.
Before these nighttime adventures I had had several chats with my husband about aging. I won’t go into his pet peeves on the subject just now simply because … well, this is all about me – he can write his own piece. I’d noticed that over the last few months many people have prefaced what they want to say to me with ‘At your age …’ For example, I asked my dental hygienist if my gum recession was any worse. She replied ‘At your age it’s to be expected. We’ll keep an eye on it.’ She continued with a short lecture on the wisdom of flossing gently for the older generation. I was about to tell her that a simple yes or no would do but she’d already started scraping away with some medieval instrument so I lost my train of thought.
I paid a rare visit to my family doctor a few days later because I’d been having some indigestion that didn’t clear up with antacids. He said that it was probably a Helicobacter pylori infection. I knew that a simple, cheap, quick breath test would give us a diagnosis so waited for the request form to slide out of his printer after he’d spent five minutes one-finger typing in the request. My surprised look on reading the form and seeing the word gastroscopy as well as hearing the overtime his printer was doing prompted his, ‘At your age we must have a good look around when you get any gastric symptoms.’ I left his office with a half-inch thick pad of papers for tests based solely on my date of birth.
Now, I understand the sense of, and am grateful for, preventative medicine and early detection procedures. I am a good patient; I believe in saving the health service a ton of money by finding and fixing the ‘if’ before it becomes expensive. But with all these test requests sitting on my desk I’m now beginning to fear that the only a possibility inherent in the ‘if’ has been replaced by a loud, clear and likely ‘when’.
And it’s not just the important and necessary parts of me that have come under scrutiny in recent months. A little while back one of my adult children, over an otherwise lovely evening meal, mentioned that my eyebrows had gone missing. Before I had time to laugh at what I thought was a silly joke the other two chimed in with their questions about my missing brows. Apparently this had been a mystery that they’d been discussing for some time and had only now the courage to bring it up. One of my sons tried to soften the blow, silly boy, by telling me that I’m missing only half the eyebrow over each of my now angry eyes. They were right of course – I got my husband to confirm it after promising him that I wouldn’t get upset, or blame him. I did and I did, although he tried to sugar it with ‘You look great for a woman of your age.’ Nice try hubby, but next time just leave out the last six words.
I became a little - oh, all right - very, obsessed and started looking at pictures of older women in the public eye, as well as those in my age group in the supermarket. I came to the conclusion that those who had discernible eyebrows (not the heavily inked-in variety), looked a little better in some way, less tired, prettier, more intelligent, even richer. If you don’t believe me go for a walk around your local mall and check it out yourself.
Or maybe it’s just that good eyebrows, i.e. ones you can see, allow for more animation. Ah … is this what my new bedfellow has been trying to tell me? It doesn’t matter really, except that my observations led me to make my first ever appointment with a beautician.
Turns out that my eyebrows hadn’t dropped off, they’d just faded to the colour of my skin, which is a whole other story. The beautician was lovely, although I nearly ruined our new relationship in the first few minutes. She claimed to be an artist. I asked her what kind and had to stop a giggle when she replied ‘Make-up for brides, nails, waxing – it’s such an art form, people don’t understand.’ It’s true, I didn’t understand. Like a lot of people I wouldn’t have considered her work to be an art form in the way we usually mean, but after what she did with my eyebrows, and how much better I looked and felt she can call herself Frida Kahlo if she wants.
So, that’s it. Hughie Green, who would be over a hundred if alive, has taken me by the arm and led me to the spotlight. He’s unearthed my disquiet that I’m just moving into the elderly region of life’s span, and am doing so with more vanity than I like to admit. I can hear him announcing me. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a big hand for this wonderful new act, who is sixty-four and a half years young. I think she looks fabulous for her age, and (cue eyebrows) I mean that sincerely, folks.’
I’m ridiculously flattered, grateful, and looking forward to feeding the seals. I thank him, and, surprisingly, don’t push him off the stage.
Helen Kreeger was born and raised in London, but has lived elsewhere for many years. She has been published in Blunt Moms (USA), ARC 25, 26 and 27 (Israel), Writing District, (UK), Café Aphra (USA), Scrittura Lit Mag (UK), Free Flash Fiction, With Painted Words (UK), Café Lit (UK) and Memoirist (UK).