March 12, 2024

Old normals

A good chunk of current terrestrial TV adverts seem to be about taking out a life assurance policy to help your family with funeral expenses ‘should the worst happen’. The adverts mostly show fit, mentally acute white-haired couples making sure their offspring don’t have expenses to inherit.

It seems perfectly normal for elderly people to worry about this. But back in 1936, when my father-in-law was born to a working class family in Woolwich, it wasn’t elderly people making provision for their children. It was mothers taking out cover for their own expenses, in case their newborn child died young.

Because back then, in that kind of working class area, before the NHS, a child dying before the age of 12 was perfectly normal. Normal enough to make selling this kind of insurance profitable.

Another old normal: In 1941, for his 21st birthday, my father had all his teeth taken out and replaced with dentures. Not because he had bad teeth, but so that his teeth would never become the unaffordable expense they were to most ordinary people. It was even more normal for women to have this done on marriage, so they their teeth would never be an expense to their husbands.

Another: Before 1947, the highest rates of suicide were among the elderly. Unable to earn, parents killed themselves when they became ill, to avoid being a burden on their children.

This was less than 100 years ago. In what was the hub of an enormous empire. A ‘wealthy country’. More accurately ‘a poor country, with a few wealthy people in it’.

Watch out for the old normals. They’re creeping back.

And of course, in some countries, ‘wealthy’ or otherwise, they’ve never gone away.