We are living longer but old age is still a privilege

Had you to ask anyone of the younger generation today what they know of a singer called Vera Lynn, you would probably get a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders.

That would be perfectly natural as she was a part of another era and of no significance to their busy modern day lives.

In fact, go to any church bazaar or charity shop these days and you will find any number of old vinyl records and tatty old cassettes of her recordings.

But to the diminishing number of World War 2 veterans and many others around the world, Vera Lynn was a symbol of hope and encouragement during those dark days and her passing in her native London recently at the age of 103 would have brought grief to many who remember her with great affection.

WE WILL MEET AGAIN: Vera Lynn’s songs inspired an entire generation
Picture: ERIC KOCH/CREATIVE COMMONS

Beautiful inspirational words such as “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day …” motivated countless soldiers, sailors and airmen going into battle.

Among those saddened by the demise of this great war-time patriot are my English wife Naomi and I who were children of war-time parents – worlds apart, she in Hampshire, England, and me in Natal, SA.

Both of us, now married 57 years, were early teenagers in those turbulent years and remember well Dame Vera’s uplifting songs.

Now being members of the Octogenarian Club we still, when the mood takes us, listen to old Vera Lynn tapes in the solitude of our little flat here at Berea Gardens, and permit ourselves a little wallow in nostalgia.

Another of our favourite entertainers was the wonderful Max Bygraves, a contemporary of Vera’s.

Remember him, the cockney lad who delighted millions with his song and dance routines?

This beloved British artist passed away at 89 in, of all places, the Australian Gold Coast where he lived the last years of his life, as far removed from the sounds of London’s Bow Bells as it is possible to be.

Many older East Londoners will remember the occasion – gosh it must be more than 50 years ago now – when Max performed to a packed Colosseum Theatre in Caxton Street.

A line in one of the numbers he belted out that evening asked “will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?”

Had Max revisited those lyrics today, I’m sure he would have been delighted to have surpassed that figure by quite a distance.

Regarding old age, I read a recent survey which revealed the average person wants to live to 83 and that a quarter of us wouldn’t mind hanging on until 100.

About 25 years ago, Alan Bennett, in his play An Englishman Abroad, wrote: “If you live to be 90 and can still eat a boiled egg, they think you deserve the Nobel Prize.”

Today he might want to increase the target figure by 10%, as well as maybe setting a more demanding challenge!

Personally I would like to see a survey on a related subject: at what age do people start reading the obituaries in their newspapers first?

I reached that landmark a few years back – not only to check if any old friends or acquaintances had recently shuffled off but also to look at the ages achieved by the departed and speculate on how much longer I might expect for myself.

Advances in medicine, of course, are a major factor and various triumphs in the careers of my now wide-spread family help keep a spring in my step but would I like to live as long as 100?

I think not.

The compensations of growing old though, do much to soften its disadvantages.

Certainly one advantage is that I no longer feel bound to conform to a code of conduct. But 100?

Ask me again in 2025 if I’m still around!

And another old saying today’s youngsters might like to keep in mind is: “Don’t mock old age, it’s a privilege given to very few.”

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