At our age, it’s more funerals than weddings -

both equally good for catching up on gossip

although now more usually about whose suffering

from what than who’s sleeping with whom - whose hip

joint is ceramic, or whose by-passed heart

pumps as well as the one they were gifted at the start.

Then the big C-word - the weird one-upmanship

of comparing which particular body part


is caught in that disease’s pincer grip,

and calculating the chances of survival.

We note when memory begins to slip -

a first sign of Alzheimer’s? The removal

chapter by chapter of the storied self,

a death before a second death, by stealth.

Yet there’s always the occasional daredevil

boozing and smoking, and still in robust health . . .


But courage should mean a brutally frank appraisal:

life’s just an actuarial calculation

and there’s only one direction for our travel -

towards, surely, complete annihilation.

It’s strange that such farewells are called a wake

when friends go out forever, and daybreak

won’t bring them back, or herald their salvation,

or comfort those who loved them, for whose sake


we offer words we all pretend can ease the ache.



First published The Spectator 1 April 2017