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Jul 11

Day 11 – Last of the Summer Wine

Tyred and Emotional

We walk at Olympian speed and soon we are staggering through a derelict bog set on the side of a cliff. I now know why we have’t seen another walker since the Lakes. They have more sense.

When we arrive at our lunchtime rendezvous there is no sign of Richard. We wait at least an hour with the best of the day dribbling into a rictus of impatience. I question Richard’s intelligence and then his parenthood. Where can he be? We are out of contact for there is only internet text or internet facilities in the boondocks. But then a text message trickles through and Richard has had a puncture. Apparently a huge nail had done for us. Richard is forgiven. He manages to change the tyre so we have to abort the afternoon’s walk and fit another.

We discover that the nail through the tyre had wrecked the wheel as well as the tyre. The specialist at the tyre centre told me that, in his experience, he had never seen more damage. So, what with the Mercedes that backed into us and now the nail, we have suffered more car damage in three days than in all our other four walks.

Last of the Summer Wine

At my 65th birthday party, our daughters amused guests with the following observation: “There are five topics that no decent Englishman ever talks about in polite company: money, politics, religion, sex and death. These are the only topics Dad ever talks about.”

Of course they are right – these are the only subjects worth talking about! The rest is yap. And if readers think my repertoire is a tad repressive, it has a wider range than that of the poet W.B. Yeats (who only ever talked about sex and death).

Vicars and Knickers
Death and sex are two issues that make us acutely fearful. This is the reason that these topics form the basis for so many so-called “jokes”, whereby anxieties regarding both subjects are subconsciously relieved. So the next time someone tries to tell you about the three vicars and the hand in the knickers, remember that he – and it’s always a he – is deeply anxious: be sorry for him and please pretend to laugh!

As I grow older, I find myself present at an increasing number of funerals and memorial services. Usually congregation members shift uneasily as they look at watches, mobiles and the ceiling – anything rather than look at the coffin. It’s all so grim that you have to deal with it with a good dose of black humour. My favourite death joke comes from the American comedian George Carlin:

“The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A death. What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work 40 years till you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, get laid, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back to the womb, you spend your last nine months floating… you finish off as an orgasm.”

No Solutions
One of the saddest and cruellest side effects of our “sophisticated” modern-day society is the way in which we have perfected brilliant ways of keeping people alive, long after any pleasure or meaning has vanished from their lives. Society has not yet embraced euthanasia but this subject will not go away. “There are some problems,” said Enoch Powell, “to which there are no solutions,” and I suggest that this is one of them. I suspect as the Christian view of life becomes an increasingly minority perspective, we shall become more and more open to allowing people to take their own lives with dignity when they choose to do so. In Imperial Rome, assisting at someone’s suicide was considered a merciful act. So whether you like it or not, I predict this radical change will occur at some time during the next decade.

When I Was a Boy…
As we grow older, we must guard against complaining that everything is going to hell in a handcart or how awful, greedy and unmannerly the new generation is. The miasma of miserable complaint from oldies towards the young runs down the ages like a sniffling nose. Over 2,000 years ago, the Roman poet Horace captured the characteristics of the eternal Victor Meldrew: “Our parents’ age (worse than our grandparents’) has produced us, more worthless still, who will soon give rise to a more vicious generation”.

The best antidote to this sort of misery is for us to recall our own foolishness and errors when we were young. Kindness, tolerance and magnanimity should be the stamp of old age, not mean-mindedness and resentment that sours us and rightly bores the young.

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