IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The remains of the day

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 4, 2014

I retire in June, when I turn 65.

I joined the newspapers when I was 25, so it's 40 years in the trade. They have been enjoyable years, and there is a lot to look back on. But I can't afford to sit back and reminisce. With the assurance of a monthly pay cheque no longer there, I will have to seek work as a freelance writer and editor.

Sixty-five is actually old. Recently, I re-read the biographies of PolishAmerican writer Jerzy Kosinski, whose books are romances of terror, and Alan Watts, who was instrumental in spreading Zen Buddhism in the West.

Kosinski committed suicide when he was 52, and Watts drank himself to death at age 58. Yet, they lived such abundant lives, making me feel if I deserve to be 65.

At my age, I wish finally to have a woman by my side. As the veteran British correspondent tells the earnest but naive American officer in Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1955): "I've reached the age when sex isn't the problem so much as old age and death. I wake up with these in mind and not a woman's body.

"I just don't want to be alone in my last decade, that's all. I wouldn't know what to think about all day long. I'd sooner have a woman in the same room - even one I didn't love...

"Wait until you're afraid of living 10 years alone with no companion and a nursing home at the end of it. Then you'll start running in any direction... to find someone, anyone, who will last until you are through."

But it is rather late in the day for me to go running around finding someone. And I must admit I would still prefer a young lass, someone like Phuong in The Quiet American, the Vietnamese mistress of the correspondent Fowler who lights his opium pipe every night.

I had women in my life, but I just could not commit. What French actress Catherine Deneuve said in a Vanity Fair magazine interview years ago resonated with me: "When I see a couple who relate only to each other, it strikes me as rather strange - too limiting. I can understand the concept of spending your whole life with one person, but I don't think you can do without relationships with others. I cannot take on the whole job; I cannot be the woman a man can't live without."

And I had always lived by a quote by Milan Kundera from The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1984): "He understood he was not born to live side by side with one woman and could be fully himself only as a bachelor."

But now the ageing bachelor has no one to last him through.

So I shall soldier on alone. It is not easy, given that my interests have narrowed. I don't go to the cinema anymore because the movies are almost all geared towards kids and arrested adolescents.

Once in a rare while comes a film like Ilo Ilo, but then it came and went before I could catch it. I will have to wait for the DVD. Television does not provide stimulation either, with its plethora of so-called reality shows.

I must count on my friends. Fortunately, I still have some close ones, and I do not have to have their company all the time. Like the poet Philip Larkin, "I find the idea of always being in company rather oppressive; I see life more as an affair of solitude diversified by company than an affair of company diversified by solitude".

I like a quiet evening with a friend or a small group of them, lingering over a three- or four-course dinner, with wine and good conversation. I meet my Raffles Institution mates once or twice a year, often over fish-head curry at the coffeeshop on the corner of Purvis Street, and our gatherings have never been less than boisterous.

Literature keeps me going. I re-read old books, and find new ones recommended by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, such as The Golden Finch by Donna Tartt, a Dickensian story with two interesting protagonists and an assortment of characters, and The Empty Chair, two dovetailing novellas that explore the world of Buddhists, gurus and pilgrims who can be as guilty of hubris and egomania. I have yet to read the second novella, but have ordered it from Books Kinokuniya.

And oh yes, I have gone back to swimming, though not during the recent festive period when it rained almost every day. I go to a hotel pool near my home and swim for half an hour before lunch two or three times a week. There are few hotel guests around at that time of the day, and if there are any, they are usually sunbathing on the deck chairs rather than exerting themselves in the water. So I often have the pool to myself.

The size of the pool - about 20m in length - and my swimming alone in it, remind me of my time in the second condominium that I bought in the early 1990s.

My third-floor unit overlooked the pool, and it was my dream come true - to live in a condominium apartment looking down on a swimming pool. And I usually swam alone in it after work.

Several years after I had moved out of the apartment - but what possessed me to do it? - the condominium was sold en bloc. It may not be polite to say this, but I could have made a respectable bundle and not have to worry about working after I retire. But as they say, no rest for the wicked.

ricklim@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 4, 2014

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/