Live Long and Prosper



If you want a long life, move to Okinawa in Japan, where they have the highest prevalence of people over 100 years of age. Failing that, and a bit nearer, is Sardinia, where the healthiest of Mediterranean diets is to be found. But seriously, their good fortune probably owes more to genetics and a simple positive outlook to life. Not altogether uncoincidental is the fact that both are essentially farming communities where life is slow, uncluttered and free from traffic polution.

There are alternative views of course. The old comedian George Burns, for example, (well into his eighties), was asked during a television interview, what his doctor had to say about a lifetime spent in heavy drinking, smoking cigars and inveterate womanising.

“Oh, he died years ago,” was his reply.

The announcement of the death of actor Leonard Nimoy this week started me thinking. “Live long and prosper” was his classic Vulcan salutation in the original Star Trek series, way back when. You don’t have to be a Trekkie, or into Sci-Fi to appreciate what a great greeting it was. It’s the kind of generous sentiment we often use to greet others. We wish them “Good Day”, and we ask them “How are you?” – that sort of thing.

The ninth amendment to the US Constitution granted its citizens “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, in acceptance of the fact that we all want a long, prosperous and happy life. It’s natural, and it’s universal.

How to achieve it, however, is another matter. For some it comes down to acquiring great wealth. For some it’s the love of a partner, fame, or celebrity. For others it’s pease of mind. Or a warm fireside and a cheering cup of cocoa. But all people aspire to some level of prosperity, no matter how they define it.

I well remember waking up early one Christmas morning in 1952. I was just two months short of eleven years old. It was still dark. We were a poor working class family of the Black Country. My father, a D-Day veteran had returned from France, not to a heroic welcome, but to a never-ending slog to find work. So, Christmas presents would never be many, nor big, nor expensive. There was the mandatory woollen sock, filled with nuts and a single tangerine. But at the foot of the bed, lying on the quilted eiderdown, a wrapping paper twinkled with stardust and a neat string bow held together a real present. It untied with just one single pull. I unwrapped it gingerly. It was a book.

I was regarded as a bright lad, and in the days before television, books were what you bought for promising boys. The hardbound cover opened to reveal the frontispiece. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson. I was overjoyed. Not because of its great value, but because it was mine.

I read that book over and over, and learned to love words, and reading. Within the year, that copy had innumerable hand-written margin notes. Whenever I came across a word that I didn’t know, I’d look it up in the dictionary and write its meaning in the margin.

I also wrote my name on the font page and followed that with my home address, (street, town, county – there were no postcodes in those days). Then I added as an afterthought: …“Europe, The World, The Galaxy, The Universe”.  So that, if it ever got lost or misplaced, the finder would have no doubt where to locate the rightful owner. A kid’s notion.

I still have my prized copy of Treasure Island. I’m a grown man, but even now, when I get a book, the first thing I do is write my name in it. Now that really is strange.

That small book was a priceless gift. The pursuit of my personal happiness was never to do with getting rich – but it was always about enrichment. And I suppose I have prospered. I have my warm fireside, children who make me proud, grandchildren I love and a wife that I adore. I was never wealthy – teachers have never made money, but I can pay my bills, don’t owe anybody a penny and have sufficient for my needs.

So that’s the prospering part dealt with. Now for the living long bit.

Charlie Chaplin, having reached the grand old age of eighty, was asked what were the benefits of advanced age. “At last,’ he replied. “I begin to feel at ease in the company of adults.” I knew exactly what he meant, for there is still a child inside all of us, no matter how old we are.

But I warn you, dear reader, that I intend to live to be a very old man. So watch this space.