Most of us, I suppose, spend the first part of our lives being immortal. We feel ultimately unthreatened, invulnerable. We do things we know are stupid anyway because we also know we can't really be touched.
There's a great fake pic out there of an iPhone app called the Roof-Jump Danger Analyzer. The idea is that you get in position, point your camera at the ground, the app analyses the distance and likely health damage, and tells you to do it anyway.
Approximate height: 15 feet.
Damage estimate: Broken ankles likely.
Conclusion: Do it man, it'll be awesome.
And it's an approach that works for most of us for a while.
Then a few years pass, and perhaps we see a few casualties, or the knowledge we've always had that we're not really immortal starts to take on a little more significance, and we ease off a bit. We stop smoking, cut back on the alcohol, maybe take a bit of exercise now and again. Or we at least convince ourselves that we're doing these things, because although our sense of mortality is now just a little more solid, it's still also quite theoretical.
I'm thinking of bringing out my own app for that stage, the Middle-Age Risk Assuager…
Intent: Evening in front of telly, bottle of Rioja, two half Coronas.
Damage Estimate: Well… a bit, maybe.
Conclusion: You're a stone lighter than last year, you haven't bought a packet of fags since 1998 and you can walk home from work on Monday. You'll be fine.
I think it might sell.
Eventually, though, comes the mortality shock. Maybe not for everyone, maybe some people can remain in Middle-Aged Risk Assuagement for the rest of their puff. But I suspect that for most of us the full acceptance and understanding of inevitable mortality must either creep into fruition as the incidental carnage around us mounts, or hit us sharply in a single event.
For me, it was the latter. Not back in October, when I briefly revived Tiswas's Dying Fly on the office floor, nor even last month when I was told I probably had a brain tumour. There were still 'probably's in there, that was still theoretical. No, the big moment was at around 3am last Wednesday, when I realised I hadn't made a will.
It was a cold electricity which stabbed me awake in the middle of the night and left me lying there, sweating. The flat is mine. Clare and I aren't married. I could conceivably die on the table, and I'll have left her no guarantees of anything at all.
Not that she needs anything from me. And, as I have stressed repeatedly here, I didn't think I was going to die; these operations are as straightforward as brain surgery can be, they do them every day, and they did, and I didn't. But in that cold hour the idea of mortality suddenly wafted out of the realm of the theoretical into the real as a huge, ragged loose end that I'd left just flapping.
So on Wednesday morning, once Clare had gone to work, I wrote a will. I am no lawyer, I have no idea if what I wrote down was in any way legally binding. It certainly wasn't witnessed. It was simply a letter of expressed intent, appointing my father as my executor or administrator and instructing him to make sure that Clare got everything barring a few sentimental family items, as if we were legally married. I then added a quick proviso that, should there be a circumstance under which not being married might be some kind of legal advantage, then I would want her to have her cake and eat it. Then I signed it.
Then I realised that my world is a digital one full of passwords and cloud-stored information and online-only banking, and had to write a second, much more complex, document explaining how to get at all that stuff, with details of what bits of junk I've picked up over the years might actually be worth something down to what to do if the wi-fi router went down. Then I realised that I had written a data thief's wet dream, so I printed that one out and destroyed the electronic originals, folded the hard copy inside the will, and sealed it in an envelope. Then I realised this wasn't perhaps the most calming parting present to hand to my beloved as I popped in for a quick cerebral scrape, so I put a quick message on it explaining that it was just some stuff she'd need if something went a bit wrong, and then hand-wrote something a bit more personal to wrap round that, on the assumption that it was all going to go right, and then had to seal all that in an unromantic Manila envelope because it was the only thing short of a Waitrose bag that was bloody big enough to take it. She likes Waitrose, but it didn't seem appropriate.
Then I went to the pub and had some lunch and a pint, and felt a lot better.
The thing is, why would I have made a will? For most of my adult life I have been a self-contained unit, needing little from others and with others needing little from me. It was something I'd filed vaguely on the One Day pile, but no more. Until October's sideways hopscotch on the office carpet tiles, I was never even ill: to the extent that when I last went to see my GP, about five years ago with a bit of a back twinge, it turned out she'd retired, the junior partner was now the senior partner in the practice, and they weren't entirely sure who I was because my records were still on paper in a shoebox somewhere in the basement because I hadn't been in for some 15 years and they didn't think I was coming back.
Why would I make a will?
Well, to avoid feeling that howling wind of omission again, for one thing. I need to know that Clare will simply get my stuff, no buts, not because she needs it, but because it's mine and I've worked hard for it or at least chanced my way into it, and I want her to have it or control where it goes when I don't need it any more. And I want this to happen without having to be joined in an institution of which we don't approve (mostly Clare) before a god in which we don't believe (mostly me) just to make it so.
I suppose I should go and see a lawyer. That'll be nice: there's a certain appeal to be had in meeting people whose profession is nearly as roundly loathed as one's own on a scale from traffic warden to cannibal.
Must get that on the To Do list.