Saturday, 3 July 2010

Living for today

Learning of Beryl Bainbridge's death I was reminded of a diary item written by AN Wilson a couple of years ago:
I could see, as Beryl tucked into her fried bread, fried eggs, and greasy bacon, that there was something different about her appearance, not least that her arms were covered in purple bruises.
'Oh, lamb - I had a heart attack.'
Apparently, after one of her breathless fits, Beryl was taken to hospital where they told her she had indeed had a heart attack. They next tried to find a vein - hence the purple bruises - into which they inserted 'stents,' she said proudly chewing a sausage. 'Look it up in a dictionary.'
I just have - 'a tube implanted temporarily into a vessel' is sense one, and sense two is 'an instrument of torture'.
'Did it hurt?'
'It's all right while they are shoving it up your tube thingies, but when it reaches your heart it hurts like hell.'
'Did they tell you it was OK to eat fried food after the heart attack?' I asked.
'I didn't ask,' she said, as she swallowed the last mouthful of cholesterol. 'But honestly, pet, I have never felt better in my life. All my depression is gone. I came straight home from hospital and cleaned the house, and today I am going to write an article, and then get on with my bloody novel. You haven't got any ciggies on you, have you?'

These people are brave aren't they? I say 'these' as this devil-may-care attitude has surely been shared by Christopher Hitchens, whose diagnosis of oesophageal cancer we've recently learnt about. This is a cancer that's almost certainly caused by drinking and smoking too much.

I used to smoke, and I used to drink a little immoderately, but I stopped the former and cut back on the latter. I didn't want to contribute excessively to my chances of dying too soon. Those who persist despite these fears are worthy of some admiration, I think.

There's a tendency to medicalise the whole thing, to think of it solely in terms of dependence. This is reductive. Why not believe it when Alex Massie says he smokes 'for enjoyment'?

It can all become very patronising and I can't think of less suitable subjects for that treatment than Dame Beryl, The Hitch and A. Massie. Rather, they have demonstrated a pretty serious commitment to living for today, one that deserves some respect.

5 comments:

Brit said...

Yes and no. You've got a young family so 'living for today', ie. endless self-gratification, wouldn't be so admirable. Many admirable things about the Hitch; his attitude to family apparently not one of them.

Gaw said...

I guess that if you deprive yourself of a longer life it might be thought straightforwardly brave. But if in doing so you remove your presence from those others who would significantly benefit from it then you might argue self-indulgence over-rides.

But then can we guess the views of the bereaved? Perhaps only they can tell us whether they regard the deceased as brave or self-indulgent. And it may be there is no general rule at all in this area. Isn't it often the case that people who liked a fag and a drink (as long as they weren't unpleasant drunks) tend to be fondly remembered rather than resented?

Vern said...

The Scots must be the bravest people in Europe after all, and perhaps Mr. Massie's Scottishness has something to do with his habits, & possibly his 'Geert Wilders as a brunette' hairdo. Certainly he doesn't belong in the same category of anything as Christopher Hitchens, other than 'male human being'...

Mark English said...

A complex issue obviously. I think it's got a lot to do with whether one values the sort of life in prospect for the (healthy) old. I want to stay healthy and alive for as long as possible - others (unless they are just being irrational) somehow value youthful life but not ageful life and don't mind if their lifestyle leads them to an earlyish death.

Gaw said...

Vern: I'm guessing you don't think much of A Massie. Why's that then? His haircut, whilst egregious, doesn't seem to be a sufficient reason.

Mark: Hello there. In this area, it seems there are so many exceptions that rules, as soon as made, fall over. For instance, one would think that the bookish would appreciate ageful life more as retirement can consist in, if one wishes, an awful lot of sitting around, reading. And yet my three examples of the devil-may-care are highly bookish. Humans, eh? Terminally mixed-up.