Earlier this week I had lunch with an old business colleague, whom for present purposes I shall call Peter, in what might formerly have been termed either my ‘manor’ (that’s certainly how Arthur Daley would have described it), viz. London’s West End, specifically the area around Soho and Covent Garden.
Said cove is a lawyer who occasionally acted for me in business situations. We’re of a similar age – let’s call it our early sixties – and outlook upon life. I can say that with confidence because, way ‘back in the day’ (i.e. from our late twenties to early thirties), we played for the same City rugby club team, along with other similarly-minded reprobates whose primary interests by then had become the drinking end of the rugby culture rather than the playing. I don’t know if my readers of a non-sporting bent would ‘get’ this, but it’s the kind of thing that prompts a life-long bond.
Both being ‘team players’ but also natural mavericks, neither of us went perhaps as far as we might have in our careers for similar reasons – mine an anathema to the office politics that others were prepared to play, his an aversion to the networking required in legal circles to bring in new business.
The process of catching up after such a gap was fascinating. Our kids are of a similar age and, once we’d ‘done’ family issues, we moved on to how we viewed things generally at our stage of life.
Peter was concerned about how he’d fill his time once – in a few years’ time – he’d retired. I was able to assure him that he’d find himself as busy as he had been at work, only dealing with different things.
He’d noticed how, between their late 40s and early 50s, executives who had hired him had gradually reached their natural career ‘sell by’ dates. We agreed that this was a perfectly normal phenomenon, just like finding ourselves sticking with our favourite popular music genres and simultaneously becoming less interested in keeping up with the latest trends and fads as embraced by the generation(s) coming after us.
All this was a natural aspect of human ageing. We all ‘connect’ best with the way of life we grew to know and love in our 20s and 30s and thereafter, over the course of time, gradually lose contact and interest in the inevitable onrush of advances in science, society and fashion – mainly because we prefer to ‘stay’ with the tried and trusted that seemed to work for us.
Last year, Peter next confided, he’d had a semi-serious health scare. Like me, he’d known a few contemporaries who had endured similar (and/or even died) and we agreed that sadly this was little more than ‘par for the course’ at our time of life. It was a reminder that the human hold upon immortality was tenuous and that life was to be lived because you just never know what might be around the corner.
Peter said that he’d developed a weird theoretical ‘life after retirement’ plan. In it, those who reached pension age would be guaranteed a generously-healthy annual income for life, but the quid pro quo would be that life would end in a painless form of euthanasia at a set age (say, for the sake of the example, one’s 75th birthday).
I immediately ‘connected’ with this, telling him that I’d once developed a fictional drama, set at some point twenty or thirty years into the future, along similar lines.
In it, those reaching retirement age were given a spanking new super-car, an enormous amount of annual cash income and access to as many nubile young ladies as they could manage, thereby enabling them to live the life of Riley … the only drawback being that they then had to report for their ‘end’ at a given date.
Peter immediately chipped by raising with the issue of what might happen if, for example, you reached the age of say 73 and decided that, on balance, you didn’t feel ready to report for your agreed ‘planned exit’ from this world.
My instant response was “Eureka!” (or some similar exclamation). I explained my outburst by revealing that, in my fictional piece, this was the exact theme that had complicated or ‘set up’ my story. The main character had decided he wasn’t ready to die at his supposed appointed hour and the action thereafter centred upon his attempts – and indeed those of others of like age and mind – to ‘break out’ and defy the Big Brother solution that Society had imposed by law. They had banded together in guerrilla groups and set out in vaguely terrorist fashion to fight for the right to be different …
After our thoroughly-enjoyable lunch, which took but two and a quarter hours and involved only a gin and tonic and half a bottle of fine red wine each and no dessert (but expresso coffees), we parted in good spirits, vowing to do this again in the near future and regularly.
(It did not go unnoticed by either of us that in our heyday – roughly 1990 to 2005 – a similar lunch might have lasted four hours and involved the consumption of significantly greater quantities of food and booze).
That’s life, I suppose.