When I was ten it was obvious that my two remaining grandparents weren't real people. A production line in a distant factory created old folk by the bus load (a mould of olds creating a cast of casts) and distributed them around the world to do old people things like drink tea and talk to each other for ever and ever about motorways. There was no connection between their slow, quiet ways and my non-stop zipping and dashing.
My mother showed me the black and white photos of twenty five year old Doreen and Jim that hung in the cool, dark hallway, but I couldn't connect them with the aged versions that gave me pretend pipes to smoke and let me help with the crossword. Nor could I connect them with me, twenty five was too far a stretch for my childhood imagination, it was an impossible lie that grown-ups over sixteen grew from us kids under twelve.
At twenty, one grandparent poorer, I could mentally rewind time's arrow and turn my grandad's friendly, lined face into that of the handsome man in the hallway portrait, could see that he had once been a young man like me. But I couldn't do the opposite and run life's videotape in fast forward to preview my appearance at his age. The breathtaking vitality of my peers, the smooth, glowing skin, bright eyes and oh so much laughter and fun protected us all from the possibility of aging, there was nowhere on the taut canvas of our bodies and faces to write time's marks.
Now the canvas has slackened, I am thirty and all my grandparents are gone. I've grown up enough to understand that age comes to all of us and to see where the future will fit on our faces. The eyes of my friends, still full of fun and laughter, are slightly crinkly at the edges where they were once smooth, the skin is slowly clouding. When I pinch my own hand, the flesh thinks twice before returning to rest. I feel strong and powerful, but my knees creak and I have to take care playing football.
It's unwise to fear something as inevitable and obvious as aging, and, although I'm slightly sad and slightly scared at the changes time has brought, I'm relieved to finally understand that my grandparents were real people too.