Thursday, 12 January 2012

Who Wants To Live Forever?

My grandad once said to me “Don’t grow old. It's a pain in the arse.” That advice has stuck in my head and I've practised the “live fast, die young” mentality accordingly ever since (although admittedly I have only successfully fulfilled half of that at the time of writing).

The thought of being surrounded by other dribbling old folks staring vacantly into space just does not appeal to me. However I do quite like the idea of moving doolally residents' bookmarks back a couple of chapters every day. Hopefully I will have an evil beneficiary to finish me off with a pillow when I get decrepit anyway.

It is estimated that 1 in 6 of us will live to be a centenarian. Woody Allen once said, “we can all live to be a hundred if we give up the things that make us want to live to be a hundred”. While I have my quoting boots on, Dennis Wolfberg quipped that “There's one advantage to being 102. There's no peer pressure.” (What do you do when one of your friends tells you not to give into peer pressure though?). We might look back on that quote when we are all in our hundreds and laugh one day. He won't though as he died at less than half that age.

Medicine is advanced enough that we can do what we want when we are young and take a pill to correct many of the problems when we are older. My dad has a pillbox that would make Charlie Sheen envious. Quite often oldies have their medication categorised into a massive 7 x 4 compartmental pillbox - breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime pills. It is good fun moving the laxative 'morning' pill alongside the 'bedtime' sleeping pill. Not such good fun clearing that up though as they are not natural bedfellows.

The UK population will be galloping up towards an overstretched 100 million in 50 years. Who knows how many millions will be in need of a care home then? The numbers may be alarmist but perhaps they don't take into account that many are not financially prepared for a lengthy old age. Stress caused by poverty, combined with a poorer and cheaper diet will account for many. A massive war or killer epidemic would certainly be a boon in thinning numbers, creating more Zimmer parking spaces.

Many care homes will be privately funded but the government will have to chip in heavily too. People will be taxed more and have less money stashed under their soiled mattress for their old age. There is no doubt that the retirement age will gradually increase and be in the 70s by the time many of us are allowed to retire. This means many more of us will die while we are still at work. Anything to make the day more interesting.

It is estimated the world's first person to live until 150 is already alive, although chances are they are probably not English. Considering that only one person has ever lived to 120, that's quite a progression but we do potentially have 149 years and 364 days to find out.

We are relatively early in the technological age, and advancement in stem cell therapy, genetic engineering, advanced bionics, nanotechnology and rejuvenation therapy will mean the boundaries of human existence could be pushed well beyond 150 years, just hopefully not heads in a jar like in Futurama. Old folk's homes are gonna be chocka. How will we cope? Bunk beds don’t seem feasible and there are only so many angry Nigerian nurses to go around.

Life expectancies of well into the hundreds may be pretty commonplace by the second half of the century. When so many are living so long, it is going to be expensive retiring half way through your life. Slow and steady wins the race but is the prize of a tortoise-like age worth having? I'm going to stick my neck out and say no.

It's going to be a pretty depressing existence to live-slow-die-old especially if surrounded by other like-minded grumpy individuals who haven't budgeted for their longevity. Assisted killing will be legal by then so people will be able to purchase 'speedy boarding' to check in with their maker. Euthanasia is not a continent I have visited but I'm sure Saga would do great deals there.

It would be a radical move but a cap on living until 100 could be very beneficial to a country's finances. Using a cricketing analogy it would be a bit like reaching your maiden century, waving your bat to the pavilion and being bowled next ball. I'm not sure of the best way to put old people down but I probably wouldn't put Jeremy Clarkson in charge. Can't have them being executed in front of their families.

So how will life be when we are old and knackered? We currently have a cosy impression of pensioners - carpet slippers, dressing gowns, crocheted blankets over their laps in a rocking chair. But many of those images are bound to die out way before we will. I wonder whether the comfy slacks and cardigan of today will be replaced by hoodie and jeans hanging off the arse? Aptly enough, the latter is a style which they stole from old people.

Internet rooms aren't particularly heaving hubs of action in OAP homes. Perhaps in the future when our hearing is gone we will be chatting online to the person in the next chair. That's assuming our eyes aren’t shot and the RSI from 90 years of texting and typing hasn’t crippled our fingers.

The telegram for century-makers from the Queen may well have stopped before she reaches her landmark. It's doubtful she would send herself a birthday card though. She has been known to send herself Valentine's cards, but Prince Philip isn't the jealous type anyway.

The Centenarian Clerk at Buckingham Place may develop printing cramp as more and more people reach their centenary. A little known fact is once 105 is reached, an extra telegram is sent every birthday, although less than ten percent of centenerarians reach 105. It will be interesting to see when and if they change the congratulatory telegram to an e-card, Facebook message or Tweet. A telegram for today’s youngsters is a very outdated sentiment. STOP.

I used to work for an alternative telecoms company and when customers hadn’t used the service for a few months they would be sent a marketing letter saying “We miss you and we want you back!”. Funnily, from the point of view of this anecdote (not so much from the point of view of his wife), this letter inevitably went to an old fella who had died. His hysterical wife rang up, wanting to know how we could be so heartless in our Lazarushian invitation.

The oldest living person is 115 years old now although it is common for the record to swap around a couple of times a year as they keep dying off. It seems no one wants the title. Emma Tillman in 2007 held the title of oldest living person for just 4 days before the pressure finally got to her. Perhaps she partied a bit too hard in celebration.

In Ireland, centenarians not only receive a letter from the president but €2540 'Centenarian Bounty'. Perhaps the government hedges their bets when people are edging into their late nineties and nip down to Paddy Power to get some crappy odds on the nonagenarian ticking over into a centenarian.

The generosity of the Irish government probably won't last too much longer as the country already gives money away like a paedo does sweeties. Ireland currently pays over thrice what is paid to the unemployed in England. When the Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010 disrupted air travel, benefit claimants nosedived as the out-of-towners were unable to get back into Ireland to bleed it dry. This served as a huge wake-up call to the country but everyone had already fecked off cos the country was already on it's arse.

Alec Holden is a man who deserves a mention with regard to a longevity bet. In 1997, when he was 90 years old he was offered odds of 250-1 by dopey bookmakers William Hill that he would reach 100. He claimed £25000 in 2007 and probably the job of the odds compiler who massively miscalculated the odds. The true odds would have been closer to 5/1. An unbelievably perky Mr. Holden was quoted as saying, "I've been very careful about what I've been doing in recent months. If I saw any hooded groups from William Hill standing in the street, I avoided them." and even claimed that the Queen delivered his telegram personally on a bicycle. I am surprised his heart survived the journey home with 25k stuffed into his pants.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, I have a 13.6% chance of reaching 100, whilst someone born today would be twice as likely to blow out 100 candles (or die trying). As a natural born worrier I am sure I will not make it. I know the stress of reaching 92 and knowing that my odds of waking up the next day are the same as my odds of not waking up will certainly cause me not to wake up sooner rather than later. So I am quite happy to disappear anonymously in the night sometime. Or a blaze of glory if the opportunity arises. Whatever.

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