In two days time, I will have stood at life’s glorious batting crease for half a century. In cricketing terms, I’m at the very least due a round of polite applause, depending on the state of the game. One dare not hope for greater praise. So I shall, with as much grace as I can muster, turn fifty on Sunday 26th February 2012, if I’m not removed from the planet before then.
I don’t believe I’m being unduly sombre by stating the possibility of my not reaching fifty – after all, I didn’t think I would reach thirty because of the likelihood of nuclear war, and so reaching forty was a total surprise which I duly celebrated with friends and family as if it was the last birthday I would ever have. Ten years on finds me more inclined to weigh up potential outcomes with a far less dramatic frame of mind.
Possible surprise deaths at forty nine years and three hundred and sixty three days would have to begin with the obvious road traffic accident, though for several reasons this most usual of untimely deaths is quite unlikely. I’m not driving a vehicle these days, I live in a quiet town in the south of Norway where the snow and ice has just thawed, so a life-ending collision with metal traveling at speed would have to be a stupendous truck-mounts-pavement affair and is as such, in this land of relatively well-educated and carefully regulated citizens, highly unlikely.
There is also the fact that I’ve had some basic medical checks recently - one of those things I pushed myself to do, just to check that the old frame wasn’t about to let me down - during which I learnt that I have very mild farsightedness, albeit a fraction of that “my arms are too short” presbyopia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyopia) which normal condition occupies so many of my same-age peers. Thus, the truck of death would have to be not only utterly silent and but also get within a foot of me and be moving at terminal speed for me not to see it before it smashed me into a pulp.
Of course, I could be shot. Norway has plenty of hunting, quite high gun ownership and some only recently tightened loopholes in gun control, but fortunately it doesn’t suffer the great madness of rampant gun crime. So for death by bullet to happen, I would have to be dressed in animal skins, moving through terrain inhabited by wild edible fauna in the hunting season (which isn’t February) and within range of a trigger-happy hunter with worse eyesight than mine. Or, I could become involved in some illicit mafia-style activity, or I could enrage some complete maniac. None of these scenarios are realistic.
I have read ’The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and thus I know how important it is to deal with the highly improbable, which bring me to crushed by an object falling out of the sky. Pianos, jet engines, satellites, meteorites are all possible objects which, by plummeting to earth and landing where I happen to be standing, or perhaps perambulating, might end my days before I am able to lift my bat and accept applause for surviving fifty orbits of the sun.
There is in fact some major building going on by the river, large girders looming promisingly in the soon-to-be-spring skies. I’ll make sure to avoid these sites, though the workmen seem perfectly competent, and being Norwegian are well trained and motivated to report problems in the workplace rather than, like some east European countries, or merrie England, pretend they don’t exist to avoid getting the sack.
I could trip and fall in the river which runs all through and about these parts, which brings me to the ever-present risk of drowning; but I can swim quite well. I’ve even been practising again recently in the clean and serviceable municipal pool. Even with clothes on in zero degrees, I’m probably strong enough to get to shore. Pneumonia or subsequent infection from the strain of hypothermia could be an issue, but the hospital is only five minutes away, the Norwegian healthcare system is quite efficient, and I have thrown off all the colds, influenza and gastric upsets that have attempted to hitch a ride in very quick time over the past few years, so I am forced to concede I have a good possibility of surviving an unwanted dip in the Glomma.
As for other medical perils that may be awaiting, over the past five years I have had heart, blood, lungs, throat, mouth all looked at and found to be acceptable. This year I’ve had some subcutaneous lumps scanned and found to be benign, blood taken and tested for half-a-dozen things including thyroid, liver, kidneys and prostate, and the results have been a clean bill of health. So unless there’s a hidden, unknowable weakness lurking somewhere in my body, some unscannable artery wall in the brain waiting to burst, some untreatable rare condition which is just waiting like a cobra for the right moment to inject venom, I’m apparently fitter than most forty nine year olds, and look set to continue much as I have been.
That really only leaves my mental state. I am happy to report that I’m neither depressed nor suicidal, and although as ever I do persist in fantasies regarding my own ability to write, produce, and make art to a high standard and by doing so win fame, fortune and the adulation of millions, I have cultivated a more balanced view of my ambitions and seek only to make enough bread to eat and feed those close to me, with maybe just a little put aside for carbon-footprint boosting exotic holidays once in a while. Furthermore, I am to my great surprise in love, which is a beautiful way to enter the next decade of my existence. This state is delightfully romantic and deeply rewarding, while being inevitably sometimes disorientating. But even though it confers a tendency to stare dreamily out of the window, sigh more that usual, and be focussed on kissing, Love won’t kill me, at least, not right now, and it actually promises to extend my life by giving me what I really, truly need.
So that leaves the one thing to which everyone always compares possibilities of death: lightning strike. Apparently, one’s chances of being hit and killed by the bolt from the blue or whatever colour the heavens are offering that day are one in 80,000 over a lifetime.
The weather this weekend is predicted to be sunny with a chance of fog. I think I might make it.