In a determined if doomed attempt to make everyone behave in a grown-up fashion, there is to be a website designed to help the young and middle-aged prepare for their pensioner years. An organisation called The Centre for Ageing Better is to spend £50m on providing pre-crusty guidance, collating statistical data so that people as young as 30 can answer key questions about their older selves.
What is my healthy life expectation?
Have I got enough friends now not to be lonely later in life?
When should I give up tennis?
The person behind the scheme, Lord Filkin, hopes that people in the thirties and forties will start planning for the future, adjusting their lives – diet, pension plan, circle of acquaintances – so that their old age can be “enjoyable and meaningful”. The new website, he says, will prove “a gold standard of ... wellbeing in later life.”
It is a sound, well-intentioned idea, but it is not without flaws. For example, who, when relatively young, would actually want to consult a website in order to discover how many plans will turn out to be pathetically optimistic fantasies, or the precise effect on later life of today’s compromises, tomorrow’s defeats?
Indeed, any 30 year-old who seriously considers changing the way he or she eats or socialises in preparation for what might possibly happen 35 years down the line is in serious danger of the chronic complaint of excessive sensibleness, a condition which can often lead to premature ageing.
Looking too much into the future can be as harmful as dwelling pointlessly on the past. The trick is to live as well as you can in the present. With that in mind, the Filkin Ageing Better website should have a page dedicated to the psychological impact of age, aimed at those who are about to hit one of life’s great, and often hidden, changes.
The site would advise you to realise that, when the world begins to see you as old, you are no longer a contender in the way that you were in your middle years. The advantage of your changed status is that people are more relaxed in your presence. You are no longer a rival to them. You represent not the slightest threat to their own sharp-elbowed progress.
There is a flip side, of course. At this point in life, you will be patronised. In meetings, you will get the odd and discomfiting impression that eyes glaze over when you begin to speak. It is not that you are boring (at least no more boring than you were before), merely that you have ceased to be a serious player.
Gender politics change. Flirtation, even when you feel flirtatious, is out. What might not so long ago have been cheeky badinage is now mysteriously inappropriate. You are, so far as the decent outside world is concerned, sexless. You have more views on everything than ever before, and you will be tempted to share them with others. Ration yourself. Avoid rants: they become more absurd, and less effective, as you get older. Grumpiness and age, whatever feeble TV programmes may tell you, make an unattractive combination.
You appreciate things more: kindness, good jokes, trees, the company of those who matter to you, a brilliant book, animals, comfortable shoes. These daily causes for gratitude make the gloom of the daily news more bearable. In fact, Lord Filkin might consider an alternative website – one in which the old, with the benefit of their years, offer “a gold standard of well-being” to those facing the rather rougher challenges of middle age.
Farewell. It’s been a pleasure
Almost 16 years ago, I wrote to Simon Kelner, then the editor of this newspaper, to ask whether he would consider me as a columnist. Since then, I have contributed my opinions, serious or light-hearted, to these pages once or twice a week, sometimes more often. Sadly, that duty and pleasure is now coming to an end.
The great joy of writing for The Independent has been that, probably more than any other British newspaper, it values the individual voice of writers. That freedom – the opposite of columns sounding like well-trained harmonies around the same tune – has made writing in these pages a challenge and a pleasure. I shall be contributing to the paper in the future, but on a less regular basis, as well pursuing writing and musical projects elsewhere.
It has been the readers from around the world who have made my years as a columnist so enjoyable and interesting, reacting to what I have written with passion, humour, rage, intelligence, eccentricity and, surprisingly often, generosity. For all those opinions, criticisms and thoughts, and for the friendship of strangers, I offer my heartfelt thanks.