Howard Croft column: Boosted by energy and optimism of the young

Getting the day off to a good start with two olives in a breakfast Martini.
Getting the day off to a good start with two olives in a breakfast Martini.

A well-known poem attributed to Shakespeare begins “Crabbed age and youth cannot live together” and goes on to list the many supposed incompatibilities of the two states. This is a poem I was obliged to learn by heart by my English master when I was a callow youth; I didn’t agree with Shakespeare’s analysis then, and now that I am a crabby old codger I still don’t.

During the past few months I have been feeling rather under the weather and I was visited for a weekend by two of my young grandchildren – pre-schoolers, they are now termed, and their energetic presence gave me quite a lift. In spite of the punishing schedule to which they subjected me they left me feeling energised and in tip-top fettle generally.

More recently we were visited by two of our nephews, brothers, who are in their twenties, one about to graduate from York University, the other a junior doctor in a busy London hospital; both of them I have always regarded as grandchildren. The effect on me of these two young men, and the girlfriend of the younger one, was pretty much the same as that of my infant grandchildren; I was boosted by their energy and optimism. The young doctor took a while to achieve lift-off, having arrived clearly exhausted straight from his night shift after a busy week and it was interesting to see him decompress as the weekend progressed. I am very lucky to have these people in my life. They are lucky too; when they were children I gave them each a bag of obsolete coins – pennies, half crowns and so on – and recently one of them discovered that his bag contained a farthing now valued at £2,000. He should buy lottery tickets and let me know his numbers.

During the weekend my mind kept turning to disadvantages of old age – arthritic fingers and defective hearing, for example, and many more. The only plus I could come up with was all that wisdom we hear so much about, but I saw no sign of these young bucks wanting to access it or even being aware of it. Thankfully, there was no mention of my baldness, which so amused them when they were children: “why does your forehead go so far back?” and “how do you know where to stop washing your face?” were among their less than hilarious remarks, accompanied by shrieks of delight.

A few days after our guests had departed we heard the good news – decidedly that, excellent news – that Michael had passed Part II of the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London (MRCP) at his first attempt. This is a famously tough examination, and he is a bit on the young side to have got through it. I gather that there will be some sort of graduation ceremony, but knowing such ancient institutions there is bound to be some rigmarole involved. Wafting of incense, rose water dabbed behind the ears, rolling up the left trouser leg, that sort of thing. I look forward to hearing all about it.

This young man’s grandmother, herself a member of a royal medical college, sadly did not live to see her grandson’s latest achievement, having died three years ago in her nineties. During his training at medical school he additionally took on study for a BSc in pathology, which he passed – a First, of course. His granny’s reaction? “Well, in my day they didn’t give you another degree just for doing a bit of pathology. If he is not careful he will have trouble getting all those letters after his name on his Harley Street notepaper.” Her day, of course, was during the Second World War and much has changed since then, but I am sure that she would have been delighted; quite how she would have expressed her delight I am less sure of.

Still on medical matters, we are now advised by some branch of government that five portions of fruit and veg are no longer deemed adequate and ten is now the order of the day. As always anxious to be compliant and keen to get the day off to a good start I have got two portions in early in the form of two olives in my breakfast Martini. Now it will have to be two Martinis. Has the Chief Medical Officer considered this unintended consequence of fruity inflation, I wonder?