RUSSIAN DEPUTY ANDREI SKOCH EARLY YEARS AND THE BEGINNING OF ANDREI SKOCH’S CAREER A.V. Skoch was born in 1966 in the Moscow region. He served…
TOM UTLEY: Who wants to live to 150 in this mad world in which killjoys seek to ban all pleasure and police our thoughts?
Cherry old soul that I am, I’ve been thinking a lot about death since I turned 70 this week, the threescore years and ten cited in Psalm 90 as the length of time we can expect to live on this Earth.
Indeed, I’m now firmly among the one in four of us who say we think about our own death at least once a week — or so says a new survey for the Christian think- tank, Theos.
I should say at once that even when Psalm 90 was written, well over 3,000 years before the dramatic boom in life expectancy since my own birth in 1953, some people lived considerably longer than 70 years.
The Psalmist himself acknowledged as much in the second part of his famous verse 10 — though he struck a profoundly gloomy note on the inevitability of death, whenever it may come.
As the sublime Authorised Version renders it: ‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.’
Indeed, I’m now firmly among the one in four of us who say we think about our own death at least once a week — or so says a new survey for the Christian think- tank, Theos, writes TOM UTLEY
But as for me, after a lifetime spent ignoring warnings about the lethal dangers of my chain-smoking, heavy drinking and love of unhealthy foods, I never expected to reach even 70
These days, the median age at death in the UK is more even than those fourscore years, standing at 82 for men and almost 86 for women (though the figures vary shockingly between rich and poor areas).
But as for me, after a lifetime spent ignoring warnings about the lethal dangers of my chain-smoking, heavy drinking and love of unhealthy foods — or delicious foods, as I prefer to think of them — I never expected to reach even 70.
My father, who had similar vices, made it only to 67, while both his parents died decades younger than that, long before I was born.
Yet here I am at threescore years and ten — a pint in one hand, a Marlboro Red in the other — in far better health than I deserve. As far as I know, I’m suffering from no terminal disorders (unless you count life itself), although I happen to have been feeling exceptionally sorry for myself this week, since I have a stinking cold.
I tell Mrs U that it could carry me off at any moment. But she just rolls her eyes and dismisses it as man flu, a fuss about nothing — and not for the first time, I have a feeling she may be right. It’s an insufferable fault that she shares with a great many wives: she often is.
Mind you, I reckon that not even the fittest and most health-conscious among us can reach the age of 70 without experiencing the occasional reminder of our mortality. In my case, such reminders have been coming thicker and faster as the years have gone by.
Like so many of us of a certain age, I find it an ever increasing effort to stand up again, once I’ve sunk into a comfy chair. I groan as I clamber to my feet, in a way that used to irritate me like anything in my youth, when my seniors uttered the same ‘oofs’ and ‘urghs’ as I do now.
Nor is my hearing half as sharp as it once was. I bless the day subtitles became available on the telly — and trying to make conversation in crowded, noisy rooms has become a miserable ordeal.
After a bit, I stop asking my fellow guests to repeat what they’ve just said, and simply nod, laugh or pull sympathetic faces at moments I judge to be appropriate. I have to pray that when I laugh, they haven’t been telling me that their beloved dog has just died.
Meanwhile, my teeth, never my best feature, have started wobbling painfully — those of them, anyway, that haven’t fallen out already. This makes eating anything that needs a good chew increasingly difficult.
I hasten to say that I haven’t lived anywhere near as recklessly as the late Shane MacGowan of The Pogues
Dr Henry Kissinger died at 100, after a life that could hardly have been more different from MacGowan’s
Worst of all is my failing memory. As I’ve boasted before, in my youthful days as a political reporter at Westminster, I could reel off the names not only of the entire Cabinet, but those of all the junior ministers too.
Today, I’d have to think long and hard before I could be sure of getting any of them right — and not only because they seem to come and go every 20 minutes.
As for celebs in other walks of life — actors and actresses, writers and singers etc — I’m almost completely at sea. I keep hearing myself saying things such as: ‘You know who I mean. Whatshisname. The bloke who wrote that book I liked… oh, what the hell was it called?’
Enough to say that as every month passes, and the humiliations of ageing pile up, I become ever more conscious that one day I’ll have to pay the ultimate price for a lifetime of neglecting my health. The only question, as for any of us, is when.
I hasten to say that I haven’t lived anywhere near as recklessly as the late Shane MacGowan of The Pogues (though we had some things in common, apart from our rotten teeth — including the surprising fact that he was briefly at my exclusive public school, Westminster).
I find it pretty remarkable that this druggy genius, who wrote and sang the brilliant Fairytale Of New York, made it to 65 before his sad death yesterday — in the very same week, as it happens, as Dr Henry Kissinger died at 100, after a life that could hardly have been more different from MacGowan’s.
But then you never know when the Grim Reaper will strike. Look at Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, whom nobody would describe as a model of healthy living, still going strong in the month of his 80th birthday. Or consider David Hockney, still chain smoking away (and producing wonderful work) at the ripe old age of 86.
While some of my fellow sinners live on, however, many who live supposedly healthier lives can be cut down well before they reach average longevity. Look at the former Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling — another of the Grim Reaper’s latest crop. He died of cancer yesterday, having marked his 70th birthday just a day before mine.
No, there’s very little justice in the moment fate decides our time is up. Only one thing can we be sure of: in the current state of medical science, the end will eventually come to us all.
I have to say that the prospect suits me just fine.
Look at the former Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling — another of the Grim Reaper’s latest crop
Look at Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, whom nobody would describe as a model of healthy living, still going strong in the month of his 80th birthday
Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the founders of Google, are pouring mind-boggling sums into research aimed at halting or even reversing the ageing process
Don’t misunderstand me. I have absolutely no wish to die any time soon. Death is terribly sad for those left behind, whenever it happens — and saddest of all when a loved one dies young.
But as the years take their toll on our bodies, isn’t there a grain of comfort to be drawn from the knowledge that one day the trials and irritations of this life will cease for ever?
Far more terrifying than death, I reckon, is the news that American multi-billionaires, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the founders of Google, are pouring mind-boggling sums into research aimed at halting or even reversing the ageing process.
If they succeed, say some scientists, this could mean prolonging life indefinitely, and so effectively abolishing death.
Leave aside the unthinkable consequences for such matters as the retirement age and the size of the population. What exactly are these billionaires afraid of?
Yes, it made sense to be frightened stiff of the inevitable, in the days when so many believed in an afterlife of eternal damnation for sinners.
But in these increasingly Godless times, when so few believe in Hell, what is to be feared about a state of non-existence? Our loved ones may grieve. But if the atheists are right, we ourselves won’t feel anything at all.
Meanwhile, how many of us really want to live to 150 or 200, in this mad world in which wars are raging everywhere we look, while at home, killjoys seek to ban all life’s little pleasures and police our very thoughts?
Eternal youth? You can keep it. Now that I’ve had my threescore years and ten, give me the certainty of death. But please, God, not just yet!
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