Let’s project forward to my own later years. A lot has changed since the time I was caring for Mum, and I have to say – despite how painful the process has been – most of that change is for the better.
The first virus was a warning, though nothing happened overnight and the first response was a desperate attempt to get back to the way things had been before the outbreak. But the sea level rise and the dreadful migrations first brought the World Council into being because only a universal force could police events. The wars over resources were truly terrible, until the Council deployed sanctions and finally force of arms to protect the rainforests and the arctics. We were slowly learning to act in everyone’s interests, not just the few, not just the greedy and the powerful, and that changed the way we organised. When I think now how close we came to catastrophe with climate change, it still makes me shudder.
When the pensions ran out, we all had to compete for jobs that didn’t exist. Many fell victim to first world poverty. Our children couldn’t buy houses because we owned the property, they couldn’t go to work because childcare was too expensive and we couldn’t get care because our offspring were too busy earning a living and looking after children. It didn’t take a genius to work out there must be some synergies that could be exploited to create our own family-based circular economies, but it did take a lot of imagination, and a good deal of strife and legislation. It’s not done yet, and it doesn’t suit everyone, but it’s the best model we have, as the ancients and the indigenous knew long ago. But the struggle was long and hard. What we needed was radical change, and that meant representation. So we lobbied hard to get it, taking to the streets where we didn’t. The second pandemic took so many of us with it, more even that the first, that a new militancy was inevitable and with action came political influence.
If I was there in the vanguard with many others because of my experience as a carer for Mum, I also reaped the benefits. And when I felt I had done my bit, I handed on most of my small resources to my children to green their home with a Ponics basement and shelter, and to build the living pod. The teenage grandchildren have that now. I could have lived in the pod, but I chose to spend a couple of years on the road with the Nomads, travelling where the wind took us, making our voices heard where we thought we could make most impact, but mostly exploring, ourselves, and the quiet places the world still had to offer. For us – the Spirit Gen they started to call us, with heavy irony and not a little envy – there was a real job to do in re-imagining later years as anything other than loss. That was the first and the most critical battle we had to fight. To convince ourselves and everyone else, that age and ageing are part of life, maybe the best part. While I was on the road, sitting out at night under the stars, I planned my big trip. My last trip in this lifetime. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, of course. Africa.
When I came back eighteen months later, I had my own place waiting in what used to be a dying town centre with boarded-up shops. The government finally saw the logic of using existing infrastructure and adapting. They called them Safe Zones, but none of us love the name. The mix is old and the very young, those who need some assistance in daily living for whatever reason, and people who are new to our country and our ways. The mix is eclectic and vibrant and feels full of life, so we prefer to think of ourselves as living in ‘the hub.’ The old multi-storey car parks are now hydroponics farms, some specialising in exotic fruit and veg, and we can all buy produce direct from the growers by just going up four floors in the glass lift. And though we take stick for it, we’re serious about the spirit thing, each in our own way. The Non-Dom, as my friends call it, is there for all faiths and a meditation centre for those who, like me, are more interested in astrophysics and the new breakthroughs in the quantum world, or for those who just want to sit and stare. It is marvellous that all the research into dementia gave all of us new pathways to our own memories, meaning we can now access so much more of our own experience, even if it is with a pill. It even works for me.
There are cafes and restaurants, artisans and integrated schools, so now the world comes to us. Naturally, the care is shared, with family and social services and especially us, the beneficiaries, working together so we get to make our own decisions. We also take on the community roles, pastoral concerns that used to be the business of churches and social services back in the day. The under-fifties manage the robots that make the material goods my father used to worry about so much, and manage the resources for all. It’s a circle, or a square, but in the beginning is the end and the snake eats its own tail, which is as it always should have been, we just lost our way for a couple of generations. We take, we use, we augment, and we give back.
Take my situation. I teach language and culture at the new arrivals centre and I help out with reading skills for the young ones at the school. I mostly cook for myself and the health visitor pops in once a week to check on me. The arthritis breakthrough made all the difference, and at seventy-five the doctor says I have no right to be so healthy, given the bad old years of wine and cigarettes. I know there’s an integrated care service when I need it, family and pros working together. The family hotels dotted nearby mean the grandchildren come and stay and they tell me it’s a lot more fun here that it is in the suburbs.
Of course, we lose friends and that’s sometimes sad, but the hospital is right here too, so we can visit to the end and more often than not, those making the transition can choose their time. No one is surprised my own plans include something of party, but I am keeping the Cuban theme under wraps. And for those chasing the dream of extended life, or worse still, a tawdry version of immortality, more fool them.
But I’m getting worthy. Fun, laughter, these things matter too. And though we’re all used to having the robots around, messing them up is a national pastime with its own game shows, and now a whole channel. Sitting outside a café, it’s not unusual to find a domestic bot in front of someone with medications in hand. It’s never happened to me because I always turn Cato off before going for my aperitivo, though like his namesake, he is getting wise to it and finds ingenious places to hide. Does anyone even remember Peter Sellars and The Pink Panther?
There are love affairs and good friends, fallings out, and a chance to gossip and share stories, and the occasional scandal. Living life to the full is the ambition, and if that means deregulating the electric scooter and holding an illegal race, that’s what it means. Not that I would do such a thing, though I do officiate from time to time.
Sometimes, I think about the old days, about taking care of Mum alone, about how things used to be, about the second virus, the one we were expecting, but that still flares up today, about the end of fossil fuels and just how close we came to disaster. I think about how long it took us to finally learn to live with less stuff and no borders, and I remember the rich hiding behind walls in their ghettos until even they realised that inequality had put them in prisons of their own making.
But all that’s history now, the bad old days, and besides, I have to go. I’m meeting Genie at Dante’s café in the town square. She still goes out to Africa and she’s still saving rhinos, but she comes back again, and recently, we’re spending more and more time together. It’s good. But she says I’m always keeping her waiting. Pots and kettles to my mind. Still, I’d like to surprise her for once.