Tuesday 21 August 2012

Facing up to that overwhelming sense of time running out

I once found it ridiculous that nearly every mention of anyone in a newspaper should be followed by a bracketed reference to their age. Why on earth did that matter?

Today, Keith Hann (58) is completely nonplussed in the rare instances when this detail is omitted, because age provides the essential context for my reaction. An accidental death at 19 is almost always going to seem sadder than at 91.

Though if the 91-year-old met their end surfing on top of a train after downing a case of alcopops, it does make for a more unusual and arresting story.

I remember being mildly amused by the fact that my parents’ first port of call in their Journal and Evening Chronicle was always the “deaths” column; but it has now been mine, too, for many years.

I cannot recall exactly when death changed from being a vague, theoretical possibility to the central consideration of my life, but I suspect that it was somewhere around the age of 40. Perhaps it comes later for women, because Mrs Hann just laughs when I try to explain that some element of her forward planning is of limited relevance to me because I won’t be around to see it come to fruition.

It does not seem so long since I found myself similarly frustrated when suggesting improvements to a family property and being met with indifference on the grounds that “it will see me out”. Though in that instance the pessimists proved correct, as pessimists so often do.

Right now, Mrs Hann and I are juggling my desire to live and die in rural Northumberland with our work commitments elsewhere, and the knowledge that where we are living this December will determine where our older son starts his first school next September.

Buying a new home is not the simple option it once appeared, when a 25-year mortgage would run until I am 83 or, on the evidence of 300 years of Hann family mortality statistics, long dead. A fact that is evidently not lost on potential sources of such finance, judging by their marked reluctance to provide it.

The revolutionary iCoffin: surely the perfect last word for a PR man? (With acknowledgements to onceuponageek.com)

I have no life insurance, because what was the point of spending money on that when I had no wife or dependents to benefit from it? (Added to which, I hoped that more distant relatives and godchildren might greet the news of my demise with unadulterated sorrow, rather than as the harbinger of a lucky windfall.)

While my pension provision, thanks to the feeble performance of the stock market as well as my own improvidence, makes my retirement seem a more implausible fantasy than my three-year-old’s current concerns about the ogre that apparently inhabits a tree in our garden, or the tiger that regularly takes up residence beneath his bed.

The bottom line is that I find myself with responsibility for the future of two small boys and a strategy for their housing and education almost entirely based on winning the National Lottery.

Or, after 40 years of mainly scribbling for a living, suddenly coming up with the latest answer to Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey. Realistically, I think we have far more chance of winning the Lottery.

But, as you read this, I will be sitting at my desk with my phone off the hook and my email inbox disabled, staring at a blank screen as I try to start the short book that someone recklessly commissioned two months ago, and which now needs to be delivered in just five short weeks.

I will be breaking off only for my long deferred annual check-up at the doctor’s tomorrow, which can surely only add fuel to my slow-burning fire of fatalistic gloom.

My book? Oh, it is a supposedly humorous short guide to opera, about which I know a little. Though my main hope, if I get it done, is naturally for a follow-up commission on my specialist subject: trying to work out how much time I have got left.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Sounds like a case of built up anxiety over
getting this book project done.

You will survive, get it done with your usual
wit and aplomb and live to see your grandchildren. :-)

Good luck!!