Awful Warnings by Richard King

Story type: Essay

Old Age is bad enough, but a dyspeptic Old Age–that surely is fate hitting us below the belt! For with advancing years the love of adventure leaves us; the “Love of a Lifetime” becomes to us of more real consequence than our pet armchair–but the love of a good dinner, that, at least, can make the everyday of an octogenarian well worth living. Young people little realise the awful prophecy implied in that irritating remark–“Don’t gobble!” There is another one, almost equally irritating to youth–“Go and change your socks!” But, if the truth must be told, you regret the “No” you said to Edwin when he asked you to “fly with him”; the louis you failed to place en plein on thirty-six, which you felt was coming up, infinitely less than that you still persisted to “gobble” when you were warned not to, and you failed to change your socks while there was yet time. Now it is too late, alas! How true it is, the saying–“If Youth knew how, and Age only could.” The trouble is that, when elderly people would warn youth, they rarely ever give concrete examples. They always imply some moral loss which will happen to young people if they do not follow their elders’ advice. But youth would be far more impressed if age drew a vivid picture of their own physical and digestive decrepitude. But, of course, age won’t do that. Why should it? No one likes to think that their “every movement tells a story.”

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Personally, I can foresee a new profession open to those elderly people who are the victims of their own early indiscretions. Why should they not tour the country as a collection of awful warnings! Fancy the joy there would be in the hearts of all those who, as it were, stand bawling at the cross-roads that the “narrow path” is the broader one in the long run, if they woke up and saw on the hoardings some such announcement as this:–

Coming! Coming!! Coming!!!

FOR ONE WEEK ONLY!

The Awful End of the Man who
Gobbled his Food!

Mary of the Hooked Figure; or, the Girl who Wouldn’t
Change her Wet Socks!

A Picture of Living Vermin; or, the Man who
Never Washed!

The End of the Girl who Would Take the
Wrong Turning!

Parents, Free. Children, One Penny. Schools and
Large Parties by Arrangement.

It would ease the burden of parenthood enormously. It might even “Save the Children.” Maybe they would thank their mother from the bottom of their hearts because she took them to see these living examples of youthful folly instead of lugging them to a dull lecture on hygiene. For half the silly things we do, we do because we don’t realise the consequences. The man who knows everything would gladly give up all his knowledge if he could turn back the hands of the clock, and, instead of studying the origin of Arabic, learn to recognise a pair of damp sheets when he got in between them; while a Woman of a Thousand Love Affairs would forego the memory of nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine of these if she could return to the early days and drink a glass of hot water between every meal! For, as I said before, Love leaves us and enthusiasms die; but Old Age which can sit down to a good dinner and thoroughly enjoy it without having to have a medical bulletin stuck up outside its bedroom door for days afterwards, is an Old Age which no one can call really unhappy. To eat is, at last, about the only joy which is left to us. The “romantic” will shudder at my philosophy, I know; but the “romantic” have generally such a lot to live for beside their meals. Old Age hasn’t. That is why elderly people who can begin to look forward to their dinner–say at five o’clock in the afternoon–can be said to have reached the “ripe old age” of the Scriptures. If they can’t?–well, over-ripe to rottenness is the only description.

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