Let us this week consider the story of Mr Douglas Hosking, of Holland on Sea, Essex. He is 86. That alone should make him an object of veneration in this secular age when longevity is the highest achievement to which humankind may aspire.
That Mr Hosking has already exceeded the current life expectancy of a male by some 13 years is an inspiration and an example to the great sweating army of joggers and dieters whose chief purpose in life is to prolong it. That he is by all accounts fit and well as he nears his tenth decade may in a small way bring comfort to the breast-examining, prostate-pondering hypochondriacs who scan the health pages of the popular prints in search of new illnesses to match old symptoms.
No doubt Mr Hosking has been asked many times to what he attributes his impressive age. Regrettably, the answer is not on record. It would be good to suppose, however, that, since he was born in an age less knowledgeable and therefore less fearful than the present, he has thrived on red meat, stewed vegetables, dairy foods, English ale, Scotch whisky, and Virginian leaf. It would be good, too, to believe he has submitted his frame to no more than mild exertion and has never given a thought to the condition of his colon.
Of course, if all that were true, far from being an icon, he would be an undeserving infidel whose case history should be suppressed in the interest of preserving the orthodoxy. Indeed, and here we come to the point of this illuminating story, there may be reason to suppose that Mr Hosking is being persecuted by the apparatchiks of the health politburo of Essex.
For last week, Mr Hosking rose from his bed – unaided, one hopes – and with the sprightly tread of a protein-fed octogenarian sped to the doormat to see what the postman had brought. Bending freely from the waist, he scooped up the mail with supple fingers and prepared himself to peruse its contents over the kind of breakfast that holds no fears for one who still has all his own teeth.
But what’s this? His fingers tremble. The apple glow departs his cheek. Beads of sweat break from his brow. He holds in his fluttering palm a letter from the Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust informing him that he is pregnant. Moreover, because of his age, he must report for a scan. Had Mr Hosking been born 70 years later and still been resident in Essex, he would no doubt have described his feeling as “gobsmacked”. Instead, he used the word “astounded”.
We can only guess at the emotions and conjectures that flooded through his mind on that dreadful morning. How had he, a man, come to be pregnant? At the age of 86 it is not easy to follow the tumultuous, headlong progress of science. No doubt Mr Hosking had heard of genetic engineering, surrogate motherhood, test-tube babies, fertility drugs, deep-frozen sperm, 50-year-old mothers of twins and other unnatural horrors. Who can blame him in his confusion for concluding that his condition was due to something they’d put in the water?
But if the why was mysterious, the what next was appalling. Not everyone in their 80s can cope with sleepless nights, early morning feeds, nappy changing and trapped wind. Should he paint the spare room pink or blue? Was morning sickness as bad as it sounded? Why this craving for Sanatogen?
Could you combine a state pension and family allowance in one book of vouchers? And what of the longer term? By the time his child attained the age of legal maturity, he would be 104 and possibly less agile than he is now.
Quite what happened next is not recorded. Perhaps Mr Hosking turned up for his scan and it proved negative. At any rate, much to his relief, it all turned out to be a mistake. The healthcare trust later admitted that “human error” was responsible for the letter that caused the alarm.
But that is simply not good enough. Mr Hosking needs counselling. Can you imagine, the shock, emotional distress and mental anguish caused to an elderly man by the news that he is to give birth? Unequipped by nature or upbringing for such a task, he would have been traumatised and hurt by the news at any stage of life, let alone in his 80s. Nor is it satisfactory to argue that in a humane, non-judgmental, multi-cultural society it is the right of anyone to give birth regardless of age, gender, or sexual proclivity. Mr Hosking is clearly past it.
He would be well advised to consult a personal injuries lawyer and to sue the health authority for substantial damages. Skilled counsel would argue that he had suffered not only emotional hurt but also the pain of dashed financial expectations. For there can be no doubt that, had he gone ahead with the pregnancy, he could have expected to be paid substantial sums by the tabloid press. Not that the money itself is important. No amount of damages could compensate one for the disappointment of not, after all, being interviewed by Lynda Lee-Potter. The point is that Mr Hosking has been through an ordeal. Someone is to blame and someone must pay.