Howard Jacobson: Old age is coming, but where are my carers?

Beneath the show of senility, I remain the palpitating boy who never wanted a pension
  • @Independent

So at what age should you start salting money away for carers? You hope, of course, that all those on whom you've showered love will gather round at the last to shower it back, but what if you haven't showered all that much, or what if you would much rather, anyway, have strangers deal with the gibbering, dribbling satire on yourself you've been reduced to?

The state's no use. The state, we now know, sends around people with PhDs in heartlessness who can't understand why they're not on The X Factor or drawing salaries commensurate with their ineptitude, as bankers do. And who would want a banker or a Beyoncé manqué refusing to clean up your mess and deliberately forgetting which tablets you are supposed to take? I leave out such acts of routine abuse as locking you in your room and turning on the gas, or putting a pillow over your face while singing "Love on Top" – those being the upside of state care.

Private carers, with a little of the milk of human kindness left, for which one pays munificently, are one's only chance, but that means starting saving early. So how early? Eighteen, I'd say. You get the vote, you join the army, and you open a For Carers Account. A bit late for me. But I never did understand the principle of planning for the future.

I recall boys at school talking about their pension plans. The laugh's on them now, having lived their life with the sole aim of enjoying a plentiful retirement, and here they are with a garden they haven't the strength to dig and their pension pot empty. Seize the hour, boys, I told them during morning break. Don't put off until tomorrow any pleasure you can indulge today. Not that my way has left me any better off: I might have had fun but I still lack the wherewithal to procure the level of care to which, after a hard life of good times, I am surely entitled.

And I still find it difficult to admit old age is coming, let alone that, in the eyes of most people on the planet, it has already come. I am, by some margin, the oldest person in any bar or restaurant I go to. I watch fellow diners, who will have read in the Daily Mail that the elderly find it difficult to digest their food, marvelling at the size of the steaks and the number of glasses of wine I am able to consume. They surreptitiously take my photograph on their iPhones, either to pass among themselves in a spirit of youthful ridicule, or to show their grandparents what they're missing out on.

Though I talk incessantly about being old, a great deal of it is no more than inverse bravado. Beneath the show of senility, I remain the palpitating boy who never wanted a pension. But my bluff has just been called by the health food shop I frequent, not to get vitamin supplements (of which, let me tell you, I have no need) but because they sell good bread, dark chocolate, edible avocado, full cream yoghurt, manchego cheese and Italian wine. This is what you call a health food shop! In order to encourage people my age to keep shopping there they now offer a 5 per cent discount. Not much, 5 per cent, but after a couple of bottles of Italian wine, six pots of cream yoghurt, two pounds of manchego cheese and half a dozen ripe avocados, it mounts up.

The trouble is, you have to ask for it. I say the trouble is, though to be honest I wouldn't like it if they gave me my 5 per cent automatically. "Hey, old man! Don't forget your decrepitude discount." What you always hope when you mention your age to whichever person it is in your interest to mention your age to is that he will fall back in astonishment. "You? Never!"

You would even like it if he contested your claim, refusing to give you a discount until you showed him your birth certificate, or maybe your teeth. But failing that, I find I need to make elaborate comic play of the fact that I am asking. Last week, shopping for wine, cheese and avocado, I could only arrive at where I wanted to be by the most circuitously self-parodying route. "If it is no inconvenience to you," I said, "because I can see that you are busy and have better things to do than fuss about with old codgers like me, and I have probably asked you too late anyway – part of getting old is that your timing is shot to pieces, let alone that you become long-winded – but if you're up to it, or maybe, more to the point, if your till is up to it – I'd like to claim whatever discount it is you give – that's if you still give it – to the slow of wit and the debilitated of body, and if you could actually help me out of the shop with the bags – ha, ha! – or even down the street and into my apartment – only joking, I can manage, just – I'd be as grateful as anyone with so few faculties left can be. I'd say that all again if I could remember it – as Proust might or might not have said."

I received no answer. The words "OAP discount" came up on the screen. OAP. That's when you know it's time to call in the carers.