Thursday, 30 December 2010

Why would anyone want to live to be a hundred?

Yesterday evening,  I stuck a fork in our toaster to extract some vertically-challenged slices of bread. It was only when my wife let out a shriek and an arc of electricity shot between the fork I was holding and the metal at the side of the slot I was poking around in that I realised the machine was still on. (My wife had started it up again because the toast wasn’t quite done – she claims: if I die in a seemingly humdrum domestic accident in the near future, would anyone reading this please contact the police.)

While the toaster has been consigned to the bin  , I’m still here (although – who knows? – I may be dead in a parallel universe). It fair shook me up, it did, and I had variety of dreams about death last night, interspersed with waking speculations on what might have appeared on my tombstone: “He’s toast” was my favourite, with, “I think I’m done now” a close second.

This morning, I woke up to the news that, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, 17% of Britons currently alive will reach the age of 100 (barring a successfully detonated Al-Quaeda dirty bomb in London, a nuclear strike against the UK by Iran, wholesale floods resulting from the melting of the polar ice-caps, or one of those silly government-inspired health scares actually turning out to be genuine).

The big question is: why would anyone want to live to be a hundred?

Not me, that’s for sure. I very much doubt I’ll have any choice in the matter: given my medical history, and the fact that I’m big (not an aid to longevity, apparently), the chances of making it past 80 are, I reckon, slim (unlike myself). In fact, some days, 70 seems quite a long way off.

I’ve heard it said that sons often unconsciously assume they’re not going to make it past the age at which their fathers died: mine went at 60. This may account for my inability to imagine the future with any clarity: it gets sort of misty after 2012. (No idea if it’s the same for daughters – if it is, my wife has another 38 years to look forward to.)

Like many of us, I suspect, I’m far more concerned with the manner of my passing than the fact of it. Being a confirmed coward, I have no desire whatsoever to suffer any more pain than is strictly necessary: I have decided that, should I be stricken with, for instance, cancer, I will not be viewing it as an enemy to be defeated, but rather as God’s way of telling me I’ve had my innings  - and I will not be asking for a new-fangled test cricket-style review. (When John Wayne told his son, Patrick, that he had what he called “The Big ‘C’”, Patrick initially thought he meant the Clap.)

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against medical intervention – when I became ill in my early 30s, I definitely didn’t want to die and would have done almost anything to survive. And I’ll be well up for hip replacements and eye surgery and anything else that allows me to keep on doing what I most enjoy doing for as long as possible. But approaching 60, putting up a scrap when faced with a usually fatal condition begins to seem both impertinent and ungrateful.

Apparently, death-hacking start-ups are all the rage in Silicon Valley (hat-tip: Alex Grønmark), as mega-rich thirty-something over-achievers turn their attention to defeating the aging process (read all about it here). 

I suspect the ability to extend life – with or without undue pain or decrepitude – will produce a very different reaction amongst us ordinary
folk. If medical science and its health fascist cohorts are going to keep us all alive longer, I can’t help recalling Evelyn Waugh’s novella, Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future, in which the “welfare weary” citizens of a socialist state flock to euthanasia centres to escape a safe but dreary existence. I’m pretty sure that as death recedes further into the future for many of us, the State will bow to the pressure of those demanding access to “termination” nearer to their “natural” span (as it says in the article I linked to in the previous paragraph, our bodies begin to wear out around the age of 80) by making voluntary euthanasia available on the NHS (of course, the NHS currently practices large-scale euthanasia – but there’s nothing voluntary about it!).

Having said all that, I’m truly delighted I’m not spending today lying on a slab in the morgue. 


  1. If I were Mrs Gronners, I would think my husband had some sort of death wish. Unless the toaster is completely disconnected from the socket, you have a pretty good chance of a shock, although it is likely to be fatal only if you have chosen a bath full of warm water as the preferred location in which to prise free those hard to reach toast remnants.

    Having had an almost fatal (not toast-related) accident in my 20s which took about three years out of my life and a Big C scare a couple of years ago, I am rather keen to stick around for a bit longer. I think there is a world of difference between sensible measures to preserve your health and a B list celeb-style obsession with reversing the ageing process. I would settle for 100 if I could still hear well enough to enjoy music, watch cricket and get angry about the Government.

    Let's hope my death-hacking start-up makes enough money to fund the next 42 years.
    Thursday, December 30, 2010 - 07:28 PM

  2. I should have added a thank you for a lot of pleasure from a blog that is an intelligent exposition of unfashionable political and cultural values in a medium that is more interested in the ephemeral.

    All the best for 2011. I think there are lessons to be learned going forward from here....
    Thursday, December 30, 2010 - 07:36 PM

  3. Glad to know I haven’t just escaped death! I’m hoping I have a few close shaves left in the credit column. I’m not looking forward to death – it’s just that everything after 60 strikes me as bunce (if you have another 42 years, your father must have lived to a ripe old age! As I said, I’m sure this fundamentally alters our outlook on life.) That must have been some accident, Ex-KCS – and I’m sure a Big C scare is another major outlook-alterer: one which – touch every piece of wood in a hundred-mile radius and thanking God with enormous enthusiasm - I haven’t yet been through. If I ever do get diagnosed with cancer, I’d prefer it to be a strain with a 98% chance of recovery or one with 0% chance of recovery (preferably the former, obviously).

    And thank you for your kind comments on the blog – they are very heartening and much appreciated. Having spent over a decade ruthlessly suppressing my own views while writing news and current affairs scripts, I can’t tell you what a relief it is just to be able to say exactly what I think (within the law, of course), and what a delight it is that anyone should feel moved to respond!
    Friday, December 31, 2010 - 03:44 PM