I wander through the house fishing for “good night” kisses. It’s something I do every night on my way out to work. I catch the youngest, in his underpants on his bedroom floor in the middle of a Lego fantasy. He springs up like a jack-in-the-box and hangs on to my neck. The other two are laid on their beds reading. I collect my kisses and go in search of my wife. I find her in the kitchen on her laptop planning away for the weeks teaching ahead. I grab a kiss and head out of the door. It’s unusually dark as there is no moon visible and I am on foot as is my normal way to get to work and I walk around the house to the path across the picón that leads to the crossing and beyond into town. I am thinking about the recent news that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which has received mixed comments both criticising and applauding the award. Am I living in a peaceful Europe?
A police car passes on the road ahead just before I cross and head up the path again before taking a small short cut across an empty building plot between two houses on a cul-de-sac that’s not quite complete. Its quite treacherous underfoot, made that bit more so by the intense darkness. The light from the distant street lights is not quite making it this far. I’m not even a quarter of the way across the plot when fireworks burst into life behind me at the big four star hotel behind my house. I turn to look and the sky is awash with sparkling colours bouncing off the high cloud and disappearing in a million tiny specks of energy before another rocket shoots up and explodes its colour onto the scene.
As I turn back to concentrate on my footing through the building plot the noise behind me reminds me of a video report I saw of a fire fight in the middle east. What if? What if the noise actually was from a fire fight. A fire fight that’s going on close to my house, and I’m being forced to walk away from it and my family. It’s a horrifying feeling.
As I step over a pile of abandoned and now rock hard bags of cement the noise increases again, crescendos and coloured shadows dance on the white walls that surround me. I try to imagine the violence of the scene behind me. Grown men and young boys actively trying to kill each other. To end each others lives. The split second act that just ends an human life. A man with enough ability to grow from a baby, learn to read and write, meet his wife, get married and start to bring up a family and be part of a wider family. Killed, dead by a gun at the hands of somebody exactly like him.
Angry and afraid I fight to try to feel what it must feel like to be forced in the other direction as the gun shots get ever closer to my house, with my kids and wife all holed up and huddled together. The hopelessness, the futility of it. But it’s useless. I realise that I am unable to summon a even a fraction of the horror. The noise lessens, puttering and popping before erupting again, much louder now. The noise sends a series of pressure waves through the air and I swear I can feel it in my chest. Deep sub-bass thumps and forcibly moves the air as the display reaches its peak. All around me lights up and I try again to imagine the stench, summon the images of the dead and still dying all around me, but I can’t. For 46 years I have been shielded from any such kind of violence thanks to the sacrifices made two generations before me. They went through what I am trying to imagine so that I couldn’t imagine it. And they succeeded although at great personal cost.
The noise dies away and I hear a faint cheer from a crowd at the display and I’m back in the plot, walking to work and now I’m thanking those that went before me and those serving now for the fact that I have lived my entire life in total personal peace. And I’m sad. So very sad for those fighting and dying violently and without feeling in other parts of the world and sad that I am without even the ability to understand the depth of their despair let alone do anything to stop it. I can only talk about how wrong and horrible it is from the peace that is my world in Europe and add my voice of support to those trying in vain to find peaceful solutions to complicated political, religious and cultural differences that have no desire to yield to anything that alters their mindset.
I read recently of an old lady reaching the age of 116 and it really got me thinking very deeply about it. The consequences of reaching such a fantastic age deserves some thought, I think, and so here I go. Bessie Cooper is the worlds oldest living person. There are always many claiming to be older, but Bessie has proof in both anecdotal form and documentation. 116 is about as old as people can get. She was born in an age when anybody could consider themselves to be quite lucky to have ascended to the grand old age of 16 years old and is undoubtedly one of just a handful of people to be able to span three separate centuries.
Being a bit of a geek myself, I was interested to have a look back over the technological advances that were achieved during her lifetime and they pretty much include every form of communication made via a cable. She was five years old when Marconi made the connection across the Atlantic and she lived through every invention from commercial radio to cinema, silent movies, talkies, TV and ceefax, and of course the Internet. Somebody with the ability to use an iPad is still alive who was also alive before anyone could intentionally and in a controlled way, send a radio wave through the air.
When the roaring 20s ended she was slap in the middle of it all aged 24, and was almost 50 by the end of the Second World War. This is a really spooky thought, and one I have shared in amazement with my audiences on stage – when England won the 1966 World Cup, Bessie was retired and seventy years old. When the first female British Prime Minister came to power, Bessie was just getting her wiggle on in her 80s and by the time Mr Blair came to power dear old Bessie had had a letter from the Queen, presumably celebrating her old age and not out of concern for her country being in the hands of such a two faced wide boy after the Tories had imploded in a ball of sleaze, but I’m getting distracted.
116 is just such a long time to live and so much to have lived through. Reaching that kind of yearage requires an awful lot of luck and plenty of good will from the parts of the body that have usually given up long ago. Being that old is not for everybody though. I am so uncomfortable with many things in the world that at times I feel I am going to snap. My wife is not beyond skipping TV channels to try to shut me up, and I have only lived through a handful of world leaders. Bessie has had to endure the political bump and grind of no less than 28 British leaders and 21 US presidents – she can’t have agreed with all of them. The world she was born into didn’t even have tea bags in it or even a theory of relativity nor did she, or anybody else for that matter, have a bra until she was probably very much in need of one in her early 20’s. She was 34 years old before any of her birthday gifts were wrapped with Sellotape and would not have held a Biro until the age of 40, the age my wife is as I write this.
Breaking up her life like this, pinpointing the sheer number of things she has lived through is quite therapeutic in many ways. It truly humbles me to think of the things humans have been capable of inventing, even if a lot of those things were then turned on their fellow men and women in shameful and wicked ways.
Quite what she thought about the Internet entering her world aged 84 is not documented, but ponder this; High technology when she was young were those brass ornamented cash tills. Dvoraks New World Symphony really was new and Tchaikovsky had only been dead for three years.
So, what now after living through all of that. She has entered her 116th year, only eight other people have done that officially on record. She may be in her last year or she could go on. Medical science will be keeping a close eye on things for sure and if someone is not trawling her memories for tips on the feat she has achieved, then they should. I’m happy for her that she has got to such an age without too much medical attention and that she isn’t in need of too much care in the way somebody with major disabilities might require. I wish her well coming from an era without radio to one in which we are sending commands via radio to a robot we just landed on Mars. Bessie could be oblivious to all of this of course, but she damn well knew where the candles were on her cake even if she couldn’t summon the puff required to extinguish them.