A short story in the form of a letter from an elderly man with a rather unusual proposal.
A Letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer
Gunther Rowbotham esq
112 Leicester Street
Mr George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer),
Mr Chancellor, firstly let me commence by stating - I am not usually in the habit of writing long letters. Unlike most elderly people I pride myself on my conversational ruthlessness. For example this is a letter I wrote my dear wife Annie just this morning:
Good Morning. We are out of eggs.
Gunther (Your husband)"
I think you'll agree that is very to the point, in a manner that can only be described as conversationally ruthless. Once I've found the bush, I intend not to beat around it, if you rather catch my drift.
However, in this letter I plan to cover several more complex problems than that of the great egg shortage debacle of this morning. Thorny, multifaceted issues which will require every tool from my persuasion toolbox.
Let’s begin with my desire for you to authorize the mass murder of the elderly.....
Yesterday evening whilst in the bathroom preparing for bed (side note: After an excellent dinner of poached eggs, Annie came through for me as she so often does), I was endeavouring to hear of your changes in this year’s budget. So there I was, in my flannel pyjamas (side note again: that detail added only for posterities sake, it has no bearing on the actual story) listening to the BBC news on my wireless receiver. I was trying to pay attention Mr Osborne, really I was, but in the end I caught only a few select highlights since I was grappling violently with the toothpaste tube. It almost empty yet, tantalizingly, offering the promise of yet more toothpaste hidden in its plastic depths. We grappled, I contorted it into an ever smaller ball and after just 4 or 5 minutes of hard physical labour on my part, there was a tiny expulsion of air from the end of the tube and out plooped an unsatisfying small amount of toothpaste. You don’t mind if I use the word plop, do you?
Tired from all that exertion I sat down upon the toilet and promptly fell asleep. I'm not sure how long I was out but when I woke up I was very tired, no doubt worn out from all that sleeping. So I shut my eyes and slept a little more. Once I'd recovered from all this napping I felt awake enough for a short power snooze and it was during this power snooze that I had an outstanding idea, a real breakthrough that led (via another nap) to this letter - the government should kill everyone over 75.
That might sound a trifle overdramatic at first glance. Like juicing an orange with an elephants foot. But, Mr Osborne, a smart man that you are, you must see we're in a bit of a pickle. On the one side people, being what people are (bipedal dogs on heat), keep multiplying. On the other side, medicine, being what medicine is, keeps keeping us alive longer. We've a serious overpopulation problem that threatens us all! Coupled with a massive pension deficit. What links these two thorny issues? The hot potato in this picnic, so to speak? The elderly. Like the last guest a party, we just won't leave, no matter how large the hints. We live on costing everyone more and more in healthcare, pensions, housing. Healthcare we don’t have enough of. Pensions we never had enough of to start with. Housing we keep having to slice thinner and thinner like cranberry cheese in war time, just to cram everyone in.
Nonsense you are probably thinking. Why the elderly are fine members of society, contributing greatly with their wisdom and experience. To that I say - pure baloney.
Sure, maybe in times now distant the elderly were revered, and rightly so. I'm talking about hundreds of years ago when we were the wise village elders. When people didn't travel, information wasn't recorded and in general, people were just much more gullible and trusting. Back then we had a real role to play. People only lived for about 15 minutes, kind of like Guinea Pigs today. Once you were older than 10 minutes you could tell younger people all kinds of nonsense and then if they looked disbelievingly at you, you’d just tell them that you know because it happened before. Only it was a few minutes before they were born and no you didn't write any of it down because you hadn't invented the pen back then, but they should definitely believe you or you'll do one of your mystical dances and put a death curse upon them.
The world didn't change that much back then over an average person’s lifetime. You lived in a cave or a hut like construction. You spent time hunting and being hunted and trying to start a warming fire. Maybe a tree got a little bigger or someone’s baby got eaten by a mountain lion. But in general life was shorter and less eventful. Now the world marches forward with such frightening speed that my experiences are little more than the trinkets of a forgotten time. I’m like one of those time capsules children used to bury in their garden before we had computer games. Only I’m alive and taking up a seat on the bus. The elderly are just not relevant to today’s modern world. Sure, I can tell you the wage I earnt as a chimney sweep in 1923 (sixpence a day), or how much bread cost in the 1950s (threepence fifty sliced, threepence unsliced). As the young folk say - Big Whoop.
So Mr Osborne, or may I call you George? I feel as this letter has progressed that we've come to know one another and George would now be acceptable. George, as we've established the elderly offer nothing. If we were having this conversation down the pub you might counter that with a heartfelt “well, so, they’ve done their time and as long as they’re having fun – what’s the problem?” But we're not having fun George, because being elderly is no fun.
Old people need to face reality. We're the owners of a product that no-one wants. No matter how grandly we renovate. We're mere sun dials in the age of the digital calculator watch. Imagine being a small child at an amusement park. Imagine you look up at a big red rollercoaster. Excited and a little nervous you approach to see many people riding it and having a jolly great time. You advance to the front of queue where you pass a "you must be this tall to ride this ride" sign. Only you are not that tall. Not even close. You cannot ride the big red rollercoaster. So you watch through the railings, crestfallen and alone.
That's what it’s like to be old, George. Life is the rollercoaster. Only instead the sign states "you must be under 50 to ride this ride".
Sure there are activities reserved just for us but have you ever tried to complete a puzzle? It is the highpoint of all tedium. If I came round to your house, took down off the wall your favourite painting, pulled out from my undergarments a travel hammer, and proceeded to smash it into tiny pieces, carefully scooping them all up again into a box, then handed it back to you and said there you go, that'll be a fun way to spend your Thursday afternoon now won't it? Would you be pleased? Would you revel in your new found recreational possibilities? No, I rather think you wouldn't. Yet this is the sort of leisure activity reserved for us elderly.
It’s not that my life is without pleasure. Like any self respecting old person, I get great enjoyment from being belligerent. I've got my way and no matter how hard you come at me with improvements, advances, innovations I'm going to laugh in your face and do it exactly how I've done it since 1931. I also get great kicks inconveniencing young people. Always rushing around drunk on their own importance. I enjoy walking very slowly and deliberately blocking them on the pavement as much as the next OAP. But it's not really a hobby. Neither is pretending to be deaf when you're in the front of any queue:
"What would you like?"
"I said what would you like today?"
"Err. How can I help you?"
"Flu? Who's got flu? Well it is going around. Not Mavis again I hope, she only had flu last month and she's fragile ever since her Ted passed away, god bless his soul. Did I tell you I was in the war?"
But, George. It's not enough. Not enough to counter the 5 minutes it takes you to get off your chair because you have to wait for every bone in your body to stop creaking and popping and you grunt and moan like a Sumo wrestler. Not enough to counter having to get up three times in the night just to release your bowels. When that happens, sir, the terrorists have already won.
Although the solution I propose is drastic, I think in principal it would benefit all of mankind to know the exact date they will die (assuming it’s not to happen earlier by random circumstance, squashed by a falling piano etc etc). It would be motivating. It would help keep life in perspective. Should I trim the hedge? To hell with the hedge. Let it grow as wide as Zimbabwe for all I care, I've only 27years, 3mnths and 12minutes until I die goddamn it. Annie – make me a cocktail.
The date of your death is life's great uncertainty. Uncertainty tends to be rather unmotivating, don't you find? Should I write that book? Should I look for a better job? Should I approach the neighbor about coitus? No. No because you have the illusion of indefinite time, it's easy to put off these things, you'll get to them in a year or so, plenty of time. After all you're in a good spot now, best not rock the boat.
George. Think though. If we took down the safety net of uncertainty - all that would change. Watches wouldn't count forwards like they do now, they’d count downwards from 75 years. Seeing the exact number of hours and minutes left to get things done, it would be like a firecracker under the ass of even the biggest of life’s loafers. We’d have more space. We’d have more money (no retirement equals no reason to save for retirement). We’d have a health system that means you don’t have to wait three months to see a doctor. We’d just have to sacrifice a few million pointless old people.
Incidentally I haven't considered yet the method that death would be administered to fogies. But I’d imagine a simple death pill or large mallet to the head should be fine. I've given you the frame here, you and finer minds than mine can paint the final picture. If straight mass murder seems too barbaric then I've one other creative solution...
As someone who already survived fighting one world war, I can't shake the feeling there are still some old scores to settle. How about we call up the gang and have another longer lasting World War? Only this time the only people allowed to fight are the over 75s? I can't imagine a more dignified way to die than very slowly (gummy hip) advancing upon my foreign enemy and dying in anonymous glory for my country, the country that neglects and belittles me. Most of the action would happen very early in the morning anyway, since this is the preferred hour of my people. It shouldn't inconvenience the normal coming and going of you younger folk too much and would provide an opportunity to die with glory, a glory not offered by wasting away in a nursing home having ones bottom wiped by a stranger on minimum wage. I didn't want to be blunt about it but there you are.
Everything in life has an expiry date George. It's time we acknowledge that to stand an Eskimo’s chance in hell of getting out of our overpopulation problem, people have expiry dates too. I’m over mine and I’m not the only one.
Yours in urgency,
Gunther Rowbotham esq.
PS. I am in full possession of all my marbles. This letter is deadly serious, well apart from the bit about hitting us oldies with a mallet, that bit was a joke, the rest is deadly serious.