Magazine article The Spectator

The End Is Nigh

Magazine article The Spectator

The End Is Nigh

Article excerpt

The average age of the residents in our village here on the south Devon coast must be up in the seventies. Every time I answer the door the person standing there is panting and leaning on a stick.

There was a murder in the village a couple of years ago. This man battered and stabbed his blind wife to death as she lay in bed, then killed the cat. He was 88 years old. His wife was 87. I don't know how old the cat was.

He was the oldest man to be charged with murder in English legal history. He pleaded not guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility and the judge immediately set him free owing to his being too frail to be a danger to the public. That's how old we are in our village.

You can get fed up with everyone around you being so old and ill and, in spite of the odd murder, meek, credulous, apologetic and addicted to Noel Edmonds. I know it can't be easy to be old, when not only the police but also the popes look younger and younger. And the prospect of imminent death must be a constant worry. I'm reading Ken Tynan's diaries. Even in his hale and hearty early forties, Tynan admits to thinking about, and being terrified by, the prospect of his death on average about 30 times a day. And Tynan was fortunate; he was dead long before he was old.

Our house used to be a residential home for the elderly. For 15 years I lived in an extended family of 12 people, of whom nine were in advanced mental and physical decline and somebody was always dying.

As far as I can see, there is absolutely no compensatory advantage to being old apart from the possibility of not seeing another Christmas. After a certain age you are simply sitting around waiting to see what will give out first, the heart or the mind.

If it's the heart, you're lucky. Everyone over 90 who I knew, without exception, had had enough, thank you, and wanted to die.

The house is no longer registered with the authorities as a residential home, but it is still populated by the elderly, in the form of friends, neighbours and relatives. They all sit around drinking tea and comparing medications and saying how much better the world used to be, especially during the war. And whatever the ostensible topic of conversation, it is always really about how frightened they are, and how the country they once knew and loved has become unfamiliar. …

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