Of course, the problem is that you have to go through the illness before you qualify for the boasting part. And in case you're one of the handful of people who has so far remained untouched, you have a real pleasure in store. Its symptoms, you see, change daily. Over the past 10 days, I've had malarial shivering, yellow stuff gushing from the ears, red-hot marbles in the back, green stuff flobbing from the lungs, uncomfortable reminders of the contents of my last meal, a resurgence of the pustulating buboes they assured me were part of adolescence, maps of Africa appearing on my chest and a constant ache in my left foot. Okay, so the foot pain is more likely to be related to the shattered metatarsal within, but hissing like a stud groom and dancing like Peter Andre every time you stand up does little to enhance one's sense of well-being.
There's something worse, though. Every day of the past week, I've lain, Victorian style, on the chaise longue being soothed by Fisherman's Friends, though the fisherman has been making noises of late about wanting them back. And when I wake from feverish dreams in which Liam Gallagher and I are drinking whisky sours and discussing the genius of Ridley Scott, I am assailed by images designed to torment the soul - aged luvvies pushing stairlifts and funeral insurance, blimp-like Americans going "na'am-sane, Ricki, if she didn' wa' thuh responsibility, she shoodna laid down an' had thuh bay-by", special offers for photographic makeover sessions that give you a sneak preview of what you'll look like when you make use of that funeral insurance.
Most television is designed to implant worries in the viewer - the worry that you might be caught without your Canestan Combi, the worry that you might be kidnapped and impregnated by aliens, the worry that the coppers who arrest you for ram-raiding might be accompanied by Sue Cook and a camera crew, the worry that a Labour victory might result in a nationwide outbreak of lion mange. But the TV you watch when you're ill, and already fully aware of the hopelessness of human existence, is far worse - it's daytime TV.
It was via daytime TV that Peter Davis, the man from the Pru, entered my life. He turned up on the screen with his briefcase and said "If you're 25, I probably look like another boring businessman to you". That's fine. I'll never see 25 again, but indeed he did. And then he continued. "I'm not," he said. "I'm your guardian angel." This latter-day Clarence went on to talk me through my future options. "Thirty years from now," he said, "you could be living off a boat thanks to me. Or running that little cheese shop in the Cotswolds".
What? For a sweaty moment, I thought I had developed another symptom. What little cheese shop in the Cotswolds? Oh, that little cheese shop in the Cotswolds. Funnily enough, I did a straw poll only a couple of weeks ago among my 25-year-old acquaintances about their retirement aspirations. To a man, they went "Me? Well, obviously I want to run that little cheese shop in the Cotswolds." Come 2027, every village the size of Upper Slaughter will have its own little cheese shop. The wool trade may be a distant memory and there won't be any buses to Burford, but at least the citizenry of Guiting Power will be able to get a nice hunk of Gorgonzola.
And suddenly, I have a whole new worry. Taking my cue from Theodore Zeldin, who pointed out in the rather fab An Intimate History of Humanity that we spend far more on insurance now than we ever spent on indulgences before the Reformation, I've managed thus far to quell pension fear, long-term invalidity terror, PEP guilt. The green phlegm will probably get me before the end of the week, anyway. Like an alcoholic, I live day to day. But not anymore. I need an ambition for my sixties. Some planning is in order.
It's not going to be easy. I have, after all, got my life back-to-front. Consider the normal retirement options. There's taking up writing. Done that. Lying around. Do a lot of that. Going on holiday. Do that. Things are looking grim. While my contemporaries are opening their cheese shops, I'll be taking the first round of accountancy exams and saving for a deposit on a house. Oh, hell.
Bridget Jones returns next weekReuse content