Age

They say that we have an ageing population. I don't know whom 'they' are, or on what basis 'they' make this sweeping proclamation, but I'm inclined to believe it. I think I read it in the pages of 'Celebrity Gossip Weekly' and if that isn't a direct artery to the frontiers of medical research, then I don't know what is. I must say, however, that I haven't noticed a marked influx of wrinklies at my practice. Perhaps this isn't surprising since life expectancy in my neck of the woods is particularly low. Or at least it has been since I moved in.

Good morning. My name is Doctor Adolphous Bongo, still remembered as one of the most promising pupils to pass through St Augustines College of Medical Arts in Jakarta. It was here that I learnt the quick way to cut up a cadaver under the watchful eye of the well-known microbiologist Professor Lazarus Briton. My personal best was a time of three minutes ten seconds - that's from still warm to nicely stowed away in a series of carrier bags. That fortune subsequently gave me the opportunity to fulfil my potential is beyond doubt, and I will personally damage anyone who dares to suggest otherwise. Sadly, Lady Luck never took the time to smile as kindly on my tutor, Professor Briton, which is why he spent the rest of his career teaching junior doctors to chop up bodies, and never received the recognition that he felt he deserved.

Other people's tragedy is always a source of great mirth, which is why I volunteer twice a month to help out at the Happy Endings Community Home for Retired Gentlefolk. It's not because of the sense of fulfilment that I get from giving these remarkable old timers advice and companionship. Neither is it the inspiration that I glean from helping these venerable old fogies go about their daily lives. It's more to do with the very deep and satisfying glow that I get in the knowledge that these decrepit old farts will soon pass from this world, while I remain young and vigorous and still in control of my bowels. And if you think that's cold and heartless of me, than I will have to concede that you're very probably right - but I'll wager that I'm only giving voice to the same sense of relief that most 'normal' people feel, but keep to themselves. 'Look to the mote in thine own eye', eh? That's a quote from the bible, I think. Or it could be Led Zeppelin.

Of course, had my erstwhile mentor Professor Briton been successful, old age would be a thing of the past, rather than an impending inevitability in all our futures. The Professor believed it possible to reprogram our bodies at a molecular level to enable us to live forever. Unfortunately, the daft twat also thought that we could be made to grow wings, breathe fire and live without food, operating on a combination of solar and tidal power. Who's to say that he wasn't right? The problem he had was that whenever he approached possible investors with these madcap schemes, they invariably started to lose confidence as soon as he got to the bit about turbo-assisted knees. As a result, Briton found himself unable to properly equip his laboratory, and had to make do with a handful of second hand test tubes, a hairdryer, a couple of boxes of paperclips and whatever else he might be able to pilfer from the college's stationery cupboard. Despite this, he claimed a breakthrough - maintaining that he could extend the life of cottage cheese to three weeks beyond its sell-by date. Impressive though this might be, it's still a long way from immortality.

And anyway, immortality is not necessarily such an attractive proposition. Take a look at the people around you. Go on, do it now. Ask yourself: do you really want those people hanging round forever? Fair enough, everlasting life is all very well and proper for important achievers, great men of vision and certain doctors, but I certainly wouldn't want to share eternity with the same detestable rabble that currently dogs my every step. If you want a vision of the future, just you step over the threshold of the Happy Endings Retirement Home and try to convince yourself that you've not just walked onto the set of some apocalyptic zombie movie. The yards of loose, sagging skin, the sunken, yellowing eyes, the haunted look of living death. I've heard people talk about dignity in old age, but it doesn't manifest itself here. People who are filthy, disease-ridden degenerates in youth have a tendency to become filthy and disease-ridden degenerates in their dotage. Only shorter.

The fact that the whole place smells like the monkey enclosure at the zoo, three weeks into a zookeeper's strike, robs the visitor of any illusion of prestige just as surely as it will deprive him of his sense of taste for several hours afterwards. No, I'm very much afraid that despite our best efforts, the process of ageing remains Mother Nature's most effective way of clearing up after herself.

And if ever I am in any doubt, I visit the Happy Endings Retirement Home and search out one of the newer residents, admitted shortly before I made a habit of visiting. I mentioned his name earlier - my old mentor Lazarus Briton - though the old codger doesn't seem to remember me now. As I look into that tired old face - a face once pink and lively, now cracked and wrinkled and dark - sometimes I see a flicker of light and maybe a fleeting glimpse of the towering personality I once knew. I think, if I'm patient, and persistent, I might finally get through to him.

...I'll get the old bastard to put me in his will if it kills him.

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Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2012

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