Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Concerning fat and fatheads

I find it hard to decide which gave me greater pleasure last week: Cambridge University announcing that there is no link between consuming saturated fat and heart disease, or George Osborne delivering his well-deserved kick in the teeth to the annuities industry.

George: clearly more familiar with banks than Banks's

It has long infuriated me that I might one day be required by law to hand over my carefully saved pension fund to an insurance company prepared to take a bet on how long I will live.

Gambling is for mugs because the house always wins. As we already know from any dealings we have ever had with insurers, who happily take our money for years and then invariably point out some obscure exclusion clause in our policy when the time finally comes to make a claim.

Mr Osborne’s announcement was made even more glorious by the initial tutting from the Opposition benches that it might be unwise to trust people with their own pension money. Why, they might go and spend it! This seems unlikely to be a massive problem among those who have been sensible enough to save for their old age in the first place.

Added to which, receiving a lecture about financial prudence from Labour is a bit like buying a half in the pub and being treated to a dreadful, slurred warning about the dangers of alcoholism from the cross-eyed, broken-veined drunk in the soiled trousers slumped in the corner.

The challenge in planning for old age is the regrettable absence of a “best before” date stamped on our bodies. None of us knows exactly how long we are going to live, though if Mr Cameron and his EU chums keep ratcheting up the anti-Russian rhetoric over Ukraine, the likeliest answer is “not very long at all”.

But putting aside World War III, another Noah’s Flood, an alien invasion or an asteroid strike, the odds are that we are going to keep living longer. The number of people in the UK aged over 100 has increased five-fold in the last 30 years.

My only worry is that we seem to be rather better at extending the end of life – the bit we spend sitting in a circle in the day room, placing mental wagers on who is going to be next to hand in their dinner pail – than the middle bit that is active and enjoyable.

I don’t particularly want to prolong my life in order to enjoy some additional years of infirmity and confusion.

Well-meaning people keep telling me that I could improve and extend my current spell of modestly active middle age if only I ate and drank less, and took more exercise. I fear, however, that this might merely make life seem longer.

I have not entered a gym since the wonderful day in 1969 when it ceased to be a compulsory part of my schooling, and I am certainly not about to go back.

So I celebrated George’s good news on my pension with a full English breakfast, which I enjoyed so much that I had one the next day, too. I tried to banish from my mind the fact that my aunt, who is the fittest 89-year-old I know, always brushes aside hotel menus with “I never eat a cooked breakfast” before ordering a slice of dry toast.

If you have an idle moment and need cheering up, do take a look at one of the obituaries of Madeline Gins, poet, painter and “visionary architect”, who died earlier this year. No, I’d never heard of her either.

Gloriously, she and her husband concluded that the key to achieving immortality was to construct buildings that were hideously uncomfortable to live in, with uneven floors and electric switches where you would least expect to find them. The idea was that these constant irritations would sharpen up the minds of the occupants and so stave off their deaths.

Obviously, because we all know how old folk can benefit from regularly falling over.

Madeline Gins was 72 when she died. I bet she never ate a cooked breakfast, either. Though I suppose that, believing she was going to live forever, she might well have invested her pension fund in an annuity.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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