Ian McMillan: Picturing myself enjoying my later years

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All over Yorkshire, when families get together and new boyfriends or girlfriends are welcomed to the fold or long-lost cousins from Tring turn up unexpectedly, there’s always a moment, after the kettle’s boiled and the slices of cake have been shuffled onto a plate, when the biscuit tin of old photos comes out.

Oh, I know we’re all living in the 21st-century now and we keep our photos in something we call The Cloud, but there’s always space in our hearts for the biscuit tin full of out-of-focus black and white snaps of someone you can only identity as Keith’s Mate or Him from the Top Street. There are certain recurring images: the baby on a cushion who turns out to be your uncle, the kid up a tree, the mam in a scarf on a windswept East Coast beach. And this one, the one I’m holding in my hand right now: Grandma in the car.

You know the photograph I mean. There’s an old lady in the back of a big 1960s family saloon. Her face is twisted into a rictus grin. She’s looking out at the camera like those pandas in Edinburgh Zoo gaze out at the people gazing at them. It’s Grandma, in the car. She’s been taken for a drive by the rest of the family. She hasn’t got out of the car because her knees aren’t what they were. She’s happy to sit in the back of the car and gaze, like the Queen Mother used to.

Well, let me tell you, the other day I became that Grandma. We’d gone to see my mother-in-law at her caravan in Cleethorpes and we decided we’d go out for fish and chips. We got ready or rather I got ready. Shoes on, coat on, into the car and ready for off, dreaming of mushy peas. And I sat there, and sat there. Then I sat there some more. I was like Grandma on the photo or I was like those ridiculous blokes you see sitting in cars in supermarket car parks while their wives go shopping because shopping’s not for them.

I quite liked it, to be honest. I had a vision of me in old age being taken out for a Sunday afternoon drive by my adoring extended family. They’d drive me to a beauty spot and they’d all get out of the car and they’d ask me if I wanted to come and I’d say “I’m all right here, thanks. I’ll just watch you lot having fun.”

Every now and then somebody would come out of the caravan and I’d think we’d be off but then they’d go back into the caravan because they’d forgotten something. Sometimes two people would emerge through the door and then go back in together. At one point somebody came out of the caravan and pointed at me. I put my thumb up and smiled, like I will when I’m very old.

The sun was shining through the car window. I watched seagulls whirling in the air. A child wandered by kicking a football. It was idyllic. I was sitting in my coat and I felt pleasantly warm and drowsy. The whole family then came out of the caravan, paused and went back in again. I wasn’t sure I wanted fish and chips anymore; I was like 
a meditating monk sitting in his room.

Somebody should have taken a picture of me just before I fell asleep. That would be one for the biscuit tin.