I was just in the Co-op, where I managed to nab myself five fresh leeks and a tub of cous cous for a grand total of 97p. Throw in the leeks with a couple of tins of ALDI potatoes and some home-made vegetable stock and I'll have myself a nice vat of soup to last me a good few days. But that's not even what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about the front page of today's Daily Express, which looks like this:
To anyone reading from outside the UK who may not be familiar with our obscene publications, the Daily Express is a tabloid newspaper at the right-wing end of the disconcertingly mainstream part of our political spectrum. While it does stray frequently into the realm of the overtly bonkers - this article from January about a scientist who isn't really a scientist discovering alien micro-organisms that aren't really alien, and which "may be carrying out covert surveillance on Earth" but almost certainly aren't - being one good example among many, many others, the Daily Express' first love is for unsubstantiated sensationalist claims about the latest cure for age and lifestyle-related illnesses that are probably a genuine concern for a sizeable majority of its readership. Already this month its headlines have announced a cure for Alzheimer's "at last" in reference to a drug that hasn't has finished the clinical trial stage yet and "could be available in five years", as well as the shocking claim losing weight through exercise might be a way to prevent diabetes, an illness that absolutely everyone already knows is related to being fat. The Daily Express also shares an enthusiasm with the equally ludicrous(ly popular) Daily Mail for paranoid reactionary nonsense in relation to immigration, the exact number of penises that belong in a marriage, and general contempt for anything new or interesting that has happened in Britain since Queen Victoria died. In short, if it was published in America, it would support Donald Trump without the slightest hesitation.
This is the context in which we can understand today's headline: "WORK IS THE KEY TO A LONGER LIFE". Is it? The key? There are no other factors to consider? Wow. Should I go back to work after all? Let's investigate.
The web version of the article, which I 'm assuming is identical with the print version but may not be (I don't care) does at least refer the work of actual scientists, whose work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal - so well done there Daily Express for fulfilling an absolutely basic requirement for reporting scientific facts. That's about as good as it gets. Quoting a co-author of the study, stating, "our findings seem to indicate that people who gain active and engaged gain a benefit from that", the Express goes on (without, apparently, asking a single follow-up question in response to this almost meaninglessly vague statement) to grab a few quick quotes from the director of Saga, current government Minister of State Pensions Baroness Altmann CBE and the director of the International Longevity Centre, a UK-based "think-tank" that focuses on population demographics and related economic issues. All three apparently welcome the implied conclusion that the government's plan to raise the state pension age to 66 for men and women from 2020 is a great idea. I'm particularly fond of Longevity Centre director David Sinclair's analysis that, "we have to find ways to help people live better in mid-life so that they can have the opportunity to work longer". Not live longer - work longer. Thanks David. I knew there was a reason to go on living. It's this kind of uncritical assumption that work (and, aside from the odd passing comment about volunteering, the context of the article makes it quite clear that by "work" they want us to think mainly of paid employment, regardless of how dangerous, meaningless or degrading that employment might be) is intrinsically good, more or less no matter what, and which you will find pervading all debate about the value of work and material wealth, which really, well, pisses me off. I could go on, but I won't. It sounds too much like hard work.
Ha, ha, ha - but then right at the end of the article comes a statistic that more or less makes my point for me. 1.2 million people aged over 65 work in the UK, we are told. Interestingly this is exactly the number of people in 2014/15 who were suffering from a work-related illness according to the Health and Safety Executive. I'm sure that's just a coincidence, of course. Make of it what you will.