Brian Viner: Sprightly Pan shows us true love is ageless

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The Independent Online

Last Friday, in Wenzhou in south-eastern China, an 81-year-old woman called Chen got married, reportedly unperturbed by the 25-year age difference between her and her groom.

It would be reasonable to assume from this story that the groom, Pan Xiting, is 25 years her junior. But no. The aptly-named Pan is a hale and hearty 106, and thus becomes the world's oldest recorded groom, eclipsing one Harry Stevens, who was a mere 103 years old when he married 84-year-old Thelma Lucas in Wisconsin in 1984.

I am always hugely heartened by stories of geriatric newly-weds, such a triumph of hope over the Zimmer frames. And it is even more heartening when they take a sense of humour up the aisle, or whatever passed for an aisle at the Wenzhou civil affairs bureau.

Pan reassured guests that he intends to stay married until death does them part. Not for him and Chen the easy option of a quickie divorce if things don't work out; they're in it for the long haul. He denied, however, that it had been love at first sight. But for the cataracts, I suppose it might have been.

Anyway, reading this uplifting tale reminded of something the indomitable Joan Collins once said, when being asked for the umpteenth time whether she was mindful of the age difference between her and her husband Percy. "If he dies, he dies," she said, with a theatrical shrug. Percy, I should add, is the younger of the pair by 32 years.

Maybe it's because it's my birthday tomorrow that age is on my mind. One minute I find myself worrying about the relentless march of time; the next, I congratulate myself for reaching 46 with a full head of hair, few of them yet grey, and weighing the same as I did 30 years ago (albeit that at 16 I was the shape of a 46-year-old).

Whatever, this oscillating take on the ageing process is something I ascribe to my date of birth: 25 October is the anniversary of one of England's greatest military victories – the Battle of Agincourt – and also one of the nation's most devastating military defeats – the Charge of the Light Brigade. Historically, it's a peculiarly schizophrenic date.

As for the ageing process, it is, in more ways than one, a relative phenomenon. When my stepfather, Norman, died last year at the age of 84, he was considered by some of his family to have succumbed at least a decade before his time. His father, Phil, had lived to the ripe old age of 102, and at a party to celebrate his 100th birthday made a robust and hilarious speech, yet was upstaged by his little sister, Anita, then aged 94, who brought the house down.

Anita is gone now, but Phil's youngest siblings, twins Mick and Blanche, are still fully functioning at the age of 98. How many 98-year-old twins can there be in the world?

And they weren't Norman's only living aunt and uncle, either, as he moved towards his eighties. It was always a delight, visiting a septuagenarian on his birthday, to find more than one card on the mantelpiece with the embossed message "To A Dear Nephew" over a picture of a boy fishing.

Of course, with there being no genetic connection between my stepfather's family and me, I cannot yet start thinking about my telegram from the Queen (Queen Kate, that is). But I have decided to embrace the positive tomorrow, and to think of myself as embarking on the second half of my three-score-years and 30. In the meantime, I wish Chen and Pan many years of happiness together.

A lesson in the art of walking tall

That comedic giant Ronnie Corbett, was on Desert Island Discs on Sunday, saying that his diminutive height never caused him the slightest concern even during his Edinburgh boyhood. Corbett should be an inspiration to those short men whose size seems further reduced by the burdensome chips on their shoulders.

Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone is another role model, and so is Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under President Clinton.

Model is very much the appropriate word. Reich once wrote to this newspaper saying that although he was only 4ft 10ins tall, he did not object in the slightest to Clinton's crack that he could live in a Lego version of the White House.

* Even if you're Rugby World Cupped out, bear with me for one more mention. In my sports column on Saturday I praised Will Greenwood, the former England player, for his quirky contributions to ITV's coverage. This drew a sharp e-mail from a Mr Price, who lambasted me for being amused by Greenwood's analogy between Jonny Wilkinson's accuracy with a penalty kick, and Lee Harvey Oswald's accuracy with a rifle. "How would any member of the Kennedy family feel?" he asked. "It was unbelievably poor taste."

I duly apologised to Mr Price, but asserted that the assassination of JFK has moved beyond the simple tragedy of a man dying in his prime. It is the ultimate reference point for all sorts of things, from conspiracy theories to the where-were-you-when-you-heard-the-news?, and I'm not sure that making light of it deserves the same censure as making light of, say, the Madeleine McCann case. I'm not saying it doesn't; just that I'm not sure.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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