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Martin Roberts contemplates oblivion

You know how sometimes, quite by chance, you surprise yourself by suddenly contemplating one of the deep mysteries of existence?

You know the sort of thing – why am I here? Where was I before I was born? If the Big Bang was the start of everything, what was happening before – something must have caused it? And so on …

An instance happened to me yesterday.

I had a former business colleague and fellow ‘rugby tourist’ staying with me overnight and last night we walked over the bridge for a steak dinner.

In the late Nineties, he had suffered a major cancer scare and during the day he had been to Hammersmith Hospital for one of his regular check-ups. As I had recently had a jab for osteoarthritis in my hip, at our meal we began by comparing medical notes and then moved on to considering potential future rugby trips that we might make.

Suddenly, out of the blue, our conversation edged towards the subject of the human lifespan. Perhaps our earlier contemplation of the news of comedian Rik Mayall’s death at the age of 56 had something to do with it.

The slide into the subject began when my guest – no stranger to alcohol – admitted that he could not (did not wish to) drink like he had in his days of yore, ten or fifteen years previously. He mentioned that going on a British Lions tour as a supporter had always been one of his ‘bucket list’ items. As the Lions had been to Australia in 2013, we presumed the next two tours would be in 2017 and 2021 – to South Africa and New Zealand, in one order or the other. Another option would be to attend an overseas Rugby World Cup – the next two would be in 2019 and 2023.

Reviewing these, he commented that he couldn’t see himself going on the 2021 Lions tour, by which time he’d be 70.

This brought us to thoughts of personal mortality. We both knew contemporaries who had died or were now subject to major health issues such as strokes. As human beings, we’d long ago accepted that our days of playing sport seriously were behind us. But, as sports fans, we had always effectively regarded ourselves as immortal (because humans do, don’t they?). With Olympic Games and – in our case, Rugby World Cups and Lions tours – stretching out before us in four-yearly cycles, somehow contemplating the inevitable fact that one day there will be Olympics and Lions tours taking place that we won’t be able to watch, simply because we’ll no longer be around, is a weird, unfathomable, concept.

It shouldn’t be, of course, but that’s got precious little to do with it.

When you get to the age of fifty, logically, you ought to be planning the rest of your life in terms of (what?) … twenty years, thirty, forty years … remaining available to you.

Then you have to factor in both the potentially limitless number of things you might still like to do or achieve and the inevitability that, as night follows day, your physical – let’s not discuss mental – ability to tick those things off will gradually be decreasing. Plus, at any time, you might succumb to a major health issue and/or be hit by a bus anyway.

Strange days indeed.



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About Martin Roberts

A former motoring journalist, Martin lists amongst his greatest achievements giving up smoking. Three times. He holds to the view that growing old is not for the faint-hearted. More Posts