Balance

Bert Grimes is dead, finally. Should I use that word – finally. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to him. It is that, just by rights, he lived longer than he should have. Not that I begrudged him that – not one iota.

I hadn’t seen much of Bert since the copperheads and a mugger curtailed my daily ramble down the track at the end of Riverside Drive. My neighbour, the best of all possible neighbours, had kept me appraised of how he was getting on these last few years. Noel, good man that he is, would check on him a couple of times a week to ensure he was okay. Maybe I should of done so as well, but sometimes life just gets in the way. I knew various support groups kept him under observance as well – and delivered his groceries. I suspect they delivered a little more as well. Last week Noel came across for a coffee. He confirmed what I had already suspected – I’d seen a hearse go by and I’d figured who it might be. Old Bert had passed away. We both commented that, at 95, he had had a fine innings.

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Bert was out in his vegie patch most days I passed by his cottage, down near where the bitumen gave way to the track back in those years I did my perambulating. He’d have his old dog with him, for company, lying nearby. He’d call out a greeting to me, or give a hearty wave. One day, the ever present rollie in the corner of his mouth, he beckoned me over. ‘I hear word the Joe Blakes are about down further. You be careful along there young fella.’ I told him that, now I was in my sixties, it’d been a long time since anybody had called me a young fellow. He emitted a chuckle, as dry as the Aussie summer bush around us, as I headed off. After that I occasionally stopped for a bit of a yarn with Bert. One day we got onto the subject of the travails of ageing. ‘How ancient do you reckon I am, then, young fella?’ he inquired with a twinkle in his rheumy old eyes, relighting his fag. ‘Bout 75 or so Bert. Close enough?’

No where near,’ he chortled, obviously very pleased with himself. ‘I’m 89 years young,’ he roared. ‘Put that in your pipe and smoke it!’ I then asked the standard, ‘What do you put your longevity down to, Bert?’

Longevity. That’s a bloody good word, ain’t it? I’ve been asked this question a few times, young fella. I know it’s not these bloody ciggies, but I reckon I can point to three things. I worked in the bush all my adult life. Not much stress in chopping down trees, son. Then there was Marie. She was a good woman. Looked after me, like. Fed me up well and made sure I kept regular appointment’s with the doc. She’s long gone now, but when I get an ache or a pain I can still hear her nagging at me, ‘You get yourself to the medical centre, Bert, or you’ll have your rations cut.’ and off I’d go.’ He paused at that point, a bit of a faraway look in his eye.

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I bought him back to the matter at hand with, ‘And the third, Bert?’ He grinned and pointed across the way to where there were some brown bottles were assembled outside the back door. ‘I reckon it’s them. See them there tallies? One with me tea and one just before beddy-byes. Sleep like a baby. Yep, regular as clockwork. No more. No less.’

Bert was old school. They were all VBs. None of the new passion for craft ale for this wrinkled, rake-thin boy. The line up reminded me of the old days, as a kid, when most backyards of my experience had stacks of the same sort of bottles – Boags in my part of the world – waiting for the bottle-o to come and collect them, handing over a few bob for the family budget for the privilege. Recycling was alive and well back in the day when Bert was in his pomp. Back in the era when a hard eared thirst needed a thorough quenching after hours of hard yakka in Tassie’s forests.

It’s now ten, Stevie,’ came the call from the lounge room, from my lovely lady, as I was washing up in the kitchen. She was watching the news, but I knew what she was on about. I’d read it in the paper earlier that morning. The National Health and Medical Research Council, based on the latest information, as well as, would you believe, ‘mathematical modelling’, had arrived at the conclusion that, for health to continue to be fine and dandy, we all should restrict ourselves to ten standard drinks a week. Ten!! Previously they had generously prescribed fourteen standard drinky-poos.

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I have already made mention in a couple of scribings how the gentle influence of my beloved Leigh had lessened my alcohol intake to around that mark. I have become more disciplined with my drinking – three a night, four nights a week. I suspect my idea of standard might not necessarily agree with the Council’s, but, even so, I figured, I still had a little leeway up my sleeve. With that I was tickety-boo – felt comfortable. But now it’s been ordained it’s ten. Sheeesh!

I wonder what old Bert Grimes would have thought of that? Raised his middle finger to it with glee, I’ve no doubt. And I’ll take my cue from that. For me it’s about balancing quality of life with the recommendations of the health police. I’m sticking to the fourteen. I like a drink. I look forward to my four nights a week. I rarely go over my self-imposed limit and these days I feel better in mind and body for that. But cut back again….

Who knows? Had Bert abided by recommendations in his intake he might have lived another ten years and lasted till 105. 95 with his intake or 105 without? I know what Bert would have chosen. And at this moment, I’m with him.

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