Christine Tongue: Nobody loves you when you’re old and use a stick – or do they?

Not the ideal date

When you’re getting on in years and use a stick you’re fair game for anyone who feels like being patronising.

I’ve been reacting to it since I was invited to a Christmas party for “victims of polio” in 1953. I was eight. I didn’t feel like a victim and hated everything: the present, the jollity, the grinning Santa , the other kids with their calipers and wheelchairs – what did we have in common except problems in getting around? But, above all, I hated the great and the good of my town who’d organised it to make themselves look like saints and expected us kids to be humbly grateful. It was like being in a Dickens novel.

Nowadays I usually tolerate a bit of patronising from well meaning young people who don’t know any better. They’ll learn in the future as they lose their own abilities.

And I have some investment in the future in spite of it getting shorter – like me.

That’s why I planted five trees last year! I wouldn’t have minded hanging the drunk I met at the station today on one of them – coming from the dentist after yet another filling had fallen out.

“You must have been a stunner in your day!” he said. “My day’s not over yet!” I snapped. “Have a beer” he said, reaching in his bag, “or a coconut mushroom.” “I can’t eat for an hour after a filling,” I snapped. “Do you fancy me?” “I don’t fancy men who are drunk by lunchtime!” Not strictly true as it happens but you can’t say: you look horrible, have something white hanging off your mouth and smell, can you?

And you can’t run away because your legs don’t work. So you have to deal with it.

“Do you ever get depressed?” he asked.

“No, I get annoyed easily”

Turns out he’s depressed because his partner split with him and he can’t see his kids. “Was it because of your drinking?” I asked. “I really like you, do you like me?” “I don’t make decisions about whether I like someone in five minutes waiting for a train.”

Poor sod, but thankfully the train arrived then! I even resorted to telling him to go the local church and felt a bit ashamed that my sense of community doesn’t extend to old soaks who make advances on rural railway stations!

But my front tooth is whole again – for the time being, and there’s a least one person in Thanet who –  in spite of the bad temper and the walking stick – thinks I’m lovely! And didn’t patronise me!