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Monday, 1 June 2015

Longevity without 5-a-Day

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Today, Googling idly (or is it idly Googling?) I discovered that my father's elder brother William (Uncle Willy)  - on the right in the photo - died in 2009 at the age of 98 and not very far from where I now live. I last met him in 2002 at the funeral of his sister Florence (Aunty Kit) who had died aged 88. My father - on the left - had predeceased both of them dying in 1997 at the age of 85. But still quite a bit of longevity in this family, which I think passed through the maternal line - their mother ( a London - born child of the Veryards of Castle Cary) lived to the age of 94 on a diet of tea, sardines on toast and Guinness.

Uncle Willy was not a major figure in my childhood. I recall as a small child visiting his builder's yard where blue tiles were stacked - he built swimming pools. Later in life, he bred ornamental fish in his own swimming pool (this I only know from report). When portable tape recorders came on the market, he used one to record bird song - that I recall witnessing as a child.

I am a bit troubled by Uncle Willy's longevity, hence today's Blog. Until recently I had calculated my own life expectancy by summing my father's 85 with my mother's 71 and dividing the two, which yields 78 - a figure with which I was satisfied: not too soon and not too late.

In the past year or so, ill-health has prompted me to make a mental revision to my sense of life expectancy. On my mother's side, the men all died in their sixties and of the females, none - apart from my Auntie Nellie - got into their eighties. And from what I read, mother's life span is a better predictor than father's and Five a Day doesn't much come into it. 

So I've scaled back my expectancy to a few more years added to my existing 68, but preferably not tomorrow.

I find even the possibility that I could go on until I am 98 a bit alarming. Surely that means being a terrible burden on my children or outliving them. Surely it means ending up in an Institution of some kind or other - though I guess that Uncle Willy didn't. He was a very successful self-made businessman and when I spoke to him at my Aunt's funeral when he was 91 he enthused about a new property development he was planning.His eyesight was failing but his walk was that of a much younger man - fast and nervous and without a stick.

Both he and my father had materially and (I think) emotionally impoverished childhoods which marked their later behaviour. My father rarely spoke of his childhood. I recall him talking of being sent down the shops to buy a penn'orth of broken biscuits and not much more. 

Both he and his brother alienated their wives and (at least for some of the time) their children. Both were charming, energetic and talented - but (if what I was told about Willy by my mother was true) both were bad tempered and worse. My father was eccentric and awkward and Willy may have been.

(One story about my father: in later life, he allowed the Council to prosecute him for unpaid Rates on a garage. Asked in Court for his defence he replied, "I don't own this garage". The Judge, seeking to dismiss the case, asked if there was anything further needing to be said. My father piped up, "My Bus Fare". It was found most convenient for the Clerk of the Court to reach into his pocket and pass a coin to this vexatious litigant. My father told the story with relish)

Anyway, I discover Uncle Willy lived to 98.

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