On death and ageing well


On death and ageing well

When you’re old, hair can sprout from your nose and ears, and you might wear sweaters with holes in them and slippers with zippers. Or even look like a stuffed sausage in Lycra and not give a damn, writes ADRI KOTZÉ.


I am not a fan of the television presenter Jeremy Clarkson. When my sons watch Clarkson's Farm or The Grand Tour or old episodes of Top Gear, I make a point of rolling my eyes so hard that they can hear them crack.

Perhaps it's because I suspect he is self-satisfied, bombastic, and a know-it-all. Maybe I'm just not a petrolhead. But this past week, Clarkson wrote so sensitively and thoughtfully in the British Sunday Times about growing older and his fear of death that a kind of haziness caused a blinking, and there was no chance of any eye-rolling.

Clarkson, on the eve of his 62nd birthday — an age at which he has outlived some of his closest friends and his father — did some self-examination. And he is funny (not in a pretentiously intellectual way), melancholic and painfully honest.

“What are you supposed to do in the autumn of your life when your body is held together by medical Sellotape, you need a pill for your penis and you can’t remember where you put your spectacles?" asks Clarkson.

“How do you fill your days when you know you’ve outstayed your welcome and that it’d be better for everyone, and the planet, if you weren’t around any more?”

Some people, he then answers himself, want to take one trip after another and see new places, smell new things, taste new food. But Clarkson doesn't see the point of it, because you only create memories you can never cherish.

The same goes for reading, because you fill your head with facts you can't use.

“Hilariously, some people try to combat the effect of age by adopting the speech patterns, clothing and views of the young. And some go even further by trying to get fit. They join gyms and walk about in the countryside with ski poles, looking like Theresa May. What’s the point? Do you really think that after a year of sweat and grunting you’ll emerge into the light looking like Chris Hemsworth? Because you won’t.

“At best you’ll look like a pipe cleaner in a ball sack. And you still won’t be able to run the hundred metres in 11 seconds or do pole-vaulting or swim a length underwater or win the Tour de France. People in gyms are chasing their youth but it’s gone. And it doesn’t matter how many downward dogs you do, it’s not coming back.”

But there are benefits to old age, says Clarkson, you just need to know where to look. It doesn't matter what you look like any more, for example.

“As a young person you need to be attractive so that you can have sexual intercourse, which means you are forced to put stuff in your hair and wear matching socks and chancellor-style Italian trainers with gold-foil serial numbers.”

But when you're old, hairs can sprout from your nose and ears, and you can wear sweaters with holes in them and slippers with zippers. And drive a Volvo.

Time is no longer there to be fully used or to make the most of. It's about wasting, about getting by. The question is, therefore, how much time we have left and what we'll be able to do with it.

Clarkson is 10 years older than me, so I'll keep trying to get fit. And it really doesn't matter much to me if I look like a stuffed sausage in Lycra or a tracksuit.

I'll also keep reading, travelling, dining out, tasting fish and going to the theatre, even if I forget everything I've seen, tasted and experienced. Bowling sounds more enjoyable to me now, but I don't see myself playing bridge, golf or bingo.

Jumping off bridges and out of planes is simply ludicrous, but perhaps I'll eventually gather enough courage to learn how to swim properly, better than the doggy paddle in the farm dam.

Meanwhile, tonight, I'll start planning my memorial service. There must be violins, a few drinks, lots of jokes, and plenty of tears and sniffling.

♦ VWB ♦

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