The Hands of Time

In which The Author has a shock

I’m sitting in the Angel Hotel in Coleford, which is where I was when I posted the previous entry. I’ve got my Netbook, and I’m working my way through all 208 (count ’em) photographs I took during today’s excursion. They’re not all fab, of course. I’ve got some beauties which I’ll be keeping and posting later. I’ve got a fair number which I need to work on before they’re ready to face the world. And, of course, I’ve spent a fair amount of time photographing the same scene over and over to try and get the perfect shot. I’ll probably end up chucking about a third of them away. Doesn’t everyone?
How often did the great Masters try to capture every detail of a building, a landscape, a face, or even a bunch of flowers in a vase? I tend to do the equivalent with words, to be honest, as regular readers may have noticed. It’s not unusual for me to return to an already published blog and add something, remove something, or rewrite something, because I wasn’t satisfied with what I’d posted at the time. Once in a while, my friend Rob H. (who is a proper proofreader) emails me to point out an error. My blog, like most things in my life, is subject to continuous product improvement without prior notice.
[A digression: A few years ago, the very same Rob related a charming conversation which he’d overheard at the National Museum of Wales. He was there for the Monet exhibition, and at the same time a party of schoolchildren were taking in the paintings.
Their teacher asked them if anyone could think of a reason why Monet had painted so many pictures of haystacks. One little girl piped up, ‘Because he wanted to be able to give one to all of his friends.’]
The Internet – and word processors, which of course came first – are a bit of a two-edged sword for writers. Back in the days of typewriters, once the deadline arrived the manuscript was submitted and that was that. The typesetters got their hands on it, and the author’s next involvement was amending the galleys.
James Joyce was said to have been so delighted at the mysterious disappearance of the letter l from one chapter of Ulysses, and its subsequent reappearance elsewhere, that he insisted it stayed in the printed edition. The typo in question can be found in the funeral report in the Evening Telegraph. One of the mourners is listed as ‘Mr L. Boom’ – not very far from Bloom, but far enough for Joyce to poke gentle fun at local newspapers.
Now that writers use information technology as a matter of course, the potential for accidents to happen has multiplied greatly. The Bookseller related an incident about ten years or so ago. The unnamed author of a chick-lit novel had dotted every i and crossed every t of her latest novel. She was on the verge of sending it to her publisher when she and her boyfriend David had a massive bust-up. In a fit of pique, she went to the manuscript and exacted the worst revenge a wronged female author can exact: she changed the lead male character’s name.
It only took a couple of minor operations on the word processor, of course. It was Goodbye David, Hello Geoff. Her honour satisfied, she hit the Save and Send functions. All well and good …
Until her publishers rang her a couple of weeks later. They’d been a bit confused by the lead female character’s holiday in Italy, where she had spent ages marvelling at Michelangelo’s statue of Geoff.
I’m sure I’m not the only student who has constantly chiselled away at an essay until the only thing preventing any further amendments is the 4 p.m. deadline. Many of my friends were highly impressed when I found a quotation from the late great Douglas Adams in Doctor Who Magazine: ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ I think at least half of us knew that feeling all too well.
But (as Tony Hancock might have said), all this is by the by and nothing to do with it.
No, what’s happened is that I’ve caught sight of the backs of my hands in the unforgiving light of the pub interior. And I’ve realised that they’re gradually, imperceptibly, but inexorably, becoming old man’s hands. The skin, previously stretched so tightly over the musculature beneath, is faintly wrinkled, as though I’d spent several hours soaking in the bath. There seems to be a sort of raised grain effect, such as one might observe on a piece of newly varnished wood. It still seems fairly elastic, mind you, and there are no obvious liver spots. But they’re in the post. They might come by second-class post, but I’m pretty sure they’ll arrive sooner or later.
I’ve never noticed this change before. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of this weekend away from Aberdare. Lack of sleep and a huge amount of unaccustomed exercise may have taken their toll. On the other hand (no pun intended), perhaps I’m going ‘cold turkey’ from conversations about sport, and the popular recording artists of Dad’s formative years, and racism, and Tom Jones being paid off in every club in the Valleys when he was starting out. Or, maybe, my body is starting to draw my attention to a fact which I’ve been doing my best to ignore for at least a decade.
I’m getting older. We all are, of course, but some of us have managed to weather the storm better than others. Mother is 70 today, but could very easily pass for someone in her early sixties (if that!). Meanwhile, my friend Neil J., who hit fifty a couple of years ago, looks set to get his concessionary bus pass any day now.
I went to the GP about a year ago for a medication review, and while I was there I asked him about something which had been at the back of my mind for ages. On my lower back, just below my waistline, I’ve had an odd little growth. It’s never caused me pain or inconvenienced me in any way, but I thought I’d better mention it all the same.
After all, when we were kids we’d play on the beach all day when we were on holidays. We’d get sunburned as fuck, and then have fun peeling the loose skin from each other’s backs when the time came. Nobody had ever heard of melanoma in those days. Now, with increased awareness of skin cancer (which has taken at least one old friend of mine), I thought I’d better ask him about it.
Dr Wardrop took one look and said casually, ‘Oh, that’s just a skin tag. They’re harmless – just a sign that you’re getting older.’
I’m not at all worried by this previously unnoticed change in my hands. If anything, I should have seen it coming a mile off. Hell, I’m not far short of the big Five-0 myself. It’s less than three years away. If I can be bothered to have a party, I expect a big plain cake and a small cute kissagram as compensation.
Please don’t get the details of the order muddled. That would be the ultimate proofreading fuck-up, after all.

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