Oscar Wilde said that the tragedy of being old is that one is still young.
I am eighty-six, going on nineteen. Is this a record?
I’ve been pruning and wood carving with my chainsaw for years. There is no shortage of wood from the trees that I planted thirty years ago. The resultant grotesque heads are visible all around my garden (all wearing face masks – you must keep a sense of humour). Now they mock me.
In the week before Christmas I took out my chain saw to clear away two full-grown pine trees that had fallen on our oil tank.
Everything went well until I became ambitious. For the first time, instead of placing the machine on the ground with my foot on it, I tried to start it as they do in the movies: hold the machine in my left hand, push it down while pulling up on the starter with the right hand. That’s what the pros do. I had never tried it before.
The result was dramatic. There was a sharp crunch in my left shoulder, plus pins and needles in my hand. A month later that is still my painful condition.
On that day before Christmas I admitted for the first time that I’m old and it got me thinking about the disparities between age and youth.
Demographically speaking, we oldies will soon outnumber youngsters. This is because young females are postponing reproduction until their mid-thirties. The costs of childcare and housing are prohibitive, there is a lack of confidence in the future. Also, many want an independent career. It’s a first world scenario.
Women traditionally reproduced at about 25 years of age. Now it’s their mid-thirties and two kids are the ideal. However, since 1981 the worldwide replacement rate for us humans is down to 1.58 kids per woman. Ultimately that is not enough to prevent the extinction of the race.
Demographics is destiny
Thanks to modern medicine we superannuated oldies will soon outnumber fit young workers; the latter group’s taxes keep our health service going. We non-taxpayers (if you overlook VAT) will soon consume over 50% of health costs.
Will this trend continue? Probably. The young don’t vote enough. The seniors vote early and sometimes often. Governments know that older voters tend towards the status quo and shape their manifestos accordingly. This ensures that conservative policies preserve existing evils as distinct from liberal policies which wish to replace such evils with others. In the end the government always wins.
We used to worry about overpopulation in the world; now we are in reverse gear, or at least the wealthy West is. I’ve cooperated in the production of six children, so I can’t really be blamed.
But the centre cannot hold.
The gaps in the supply services, witnessed by the shortage of truck drivers during the pandemic, are a symptom of the new malaise. Older skilled workers are retiring with few to take their place. Employers are desperate for employees.
Don’t worry, I hear, the immigrants will eventually make up the numbers. Already they are the prime carers – for us, the oldies! Now a world of opportunity is there for immigrants (and about time too). Instead of denigrating them, fighting to keep them out, we will have to compete for their services, especially the skilled tradesmen.
How many of us can fix a puncture, replace a fuse, stop a leak, change a tyre, do any of the tasks that were once second nature to my generation? Very few. We have all become a dysfunctional, middle-class burden on the young and fit. Have we passed on these humble skills? No, the young have been too absorbed in their screens to learn such mundane tasks. Now we don’t repair; we replace with newer models which are programmed to break down after the guarantee expires. Thanks to the advertising industry the world of the consumer is chasing its tail. Everybody knows.
Is this an argument for despair? Not at all. Some oldies have opted for the Zurich solution but most of us will cling on desperately to the last vestiges of our functionality.
Unless euthanasia and trips to Zurich become mandatory…
Featured Images: Carvings by Boby Quinn: ‘De Profundis’; ‘After Brancusi’; ‘Me Worry’.