2: Last Man Standing

“There’s nobody about these days,” said Uncle Fitrambler as he settled himself on my settee.

It was a Sunday morning, the weather pretty good considering what has been dished out since Christmas. I was thinking of a good walk or cycle ride after lunch while the weather was behaving.

Uncle Fitrambler usually arrives on Sunday mornings, it’s often part of his routine for the day, once he’s helped his wife with the shopping. I think it’s because it’s the one time in the week he’s a good chance of catching me in.

“No, there’s nobody about these days…” Uncle Fitrambler repeated.

I agree. He’s actually right, because as far as he’s concerned, there isn’t anyone about.

Perhaps I’d better explain. Uncle Fitrambler is 84. He lives in a nearby street to me, no more than a five minute walk; or probably ten for him these days. He’s my father’s – that’s Daddy Fitrambler – brother.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve known Uncle Fitrambler since I was born. He, my Gran and Gramp, Mum and Dad, lived together in a house in Park South for about five years. Uncle Fitrambler and I got on quite well, more so than most of my uncles. He’s always liked to keep in touch. Like me, he’s always quite enjoyed a good walk.

When he talks of nobody being about, which he’s done for many years now, I feel more in tune with him and have begun to form an empathy with that phrase; one he’s so often used in the last ten years or more.

You see, Uncle Fitrambler has outlived all his friends and most of his brothers and sisters. It’s a side-effect of survival. It’s something most of us don’t think about most of the time, but obviously the longer you live the more it happens. (Ten green bottles, anyone?)

The reason I feel more in tune with this phrase nowadays is because several friends of mine have died in recent years, most of which have been younger than me. I’m only in my fifties, two didn’t quite get that far, a third at least was approaching 80; which was something of a fuller life.
Life goes on, we are told, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept the deaths of those you are close to.

It makes you think of the ones who are left and you can’t help but wonder how many of them you’ll see off before you yourself are burned or buried?

One such friend was only 47 when he died, another no more than 51. Then there have been nearly half a dozen work colleagues who haven’t been much older than me before entering what could be termed ‘The Undiscovered Country!’

Before I can be accused of entering Gloom-Laden’s territory, I can report that after my latest check up – and not including ‘the cough’, which seemed to turn me into a pub carpet inspector – I seem to be fairly healthy. The cough and weather has slowed me down, but now a change in weather and the cough easing off I’m getting a lot more exercise again. Getting the Fit back into Fitrambler, so to speak, before age gets too firm a hold. Plenty of long walks left in me yet, I hope.

Velocipede remarked once – while I was enjoying a pint of beloved Entire Stout in the Glue Pot – that he didn’t mind the numerical advancement each additional year brought, but disliked the fact it seemed to bring with it failing parts. Being an extremely keen cyclist and collector of bikes, ‘parts failing’ seemed to be a reasonable analogy.

Still, unlike poor Uncle Fitrambler, I get about very easily, with, I might say a bounce in the old stride. These days he shuffles a lot more, looks more drawn in the face, still got a fairly good head of hair, greying but still with a lot of its original colour. But he doesn’t give up. He’s got a bus pass, but walks most places, usually alone, as Auntie Fitrambler is not as keen on Shanks’s Pony as he is.

Uncle Fitrambler isn’t much of a conversationalist really. He never has been, and the ground covered in our meetings is more or less the same.

You see, he likes to check to see if I’m alright, even though, really, it should be the other way around.

Within ten minutes Uncle Fitrambler and I have finished our somewhat ritualistic chat and he’s ready to shuffle off again. I’ve offered him a cup of tea, but he always refuses. Well, once he accepted but never since. Perhaps that’s a subtle critique of my tea.

“There’s nobody about, not like there use to be. All gone…” he tells me one final time as he walks to the front door.

I sympathise again and think, I’m around; and I’m thirty-two years younger than you, so hopefully, there’ll still be somebody about for a long time when you venture out…