OH, I do like a new word. And valetudinarianism is a good one. In case you don’t grate a dictionary into your porridge each morning, it means constantly and morbidly concerned with one’s health. And, yes, I had to look it up.
Paxman used this word in his column in the Financial Times, writing: “At the reception desk of a hotel to which I checked in this week was a pile of free copies of Mature Times, which calls itself ‘the voice of our generation’. Oh God, I thought, the cheeky bastards are including me. Back off.
“For this must be the most unfashionable publication in Britain. Who wants to be called ‘mature’, like an old cheese? We all know that ‘mature’ means on the verge of incontinence, idiocy and peevish valetudinarianism…”
As Paxo is 66, this was presumably intended as a joke at some level. Either that or he just felt like being annoying by upending a bucket of bile on the elderly.
Whatever the case, his outburst brought the publisher of the Mature Times out in a nasty rash (there’ll be a cream for it somewhere, sir; just ask your readers).
Andrew Silk said Paxman was clearly in denial about his age and likened him to Jeremy Clarkson without the charism. Jeremy Clarkson has charisma; who knew? I have never met Clarkson, but suspect his Top Gear persona is a bit of an act. A hugely profitable one, mind, for if half the world thinks you’re a twat and the other half likes you, that is a good enough return. I have met Jeremy Paxman, though, and he was perfectly charming.
In his age-intolerant rant, Paxo also said that the elderly should lose the vote, as it wasn’t fair to “allow people to vote for a future they won’t live to enjoy or endure”. And he added that politicians were too frightened to confront the “whiffy vested interest” of old people.
Popping another pill from the insult bottle, he added: “They have every reason to laugh at the way government after government has skewed things in their favour. Yet the most striking thing about rooms full of old people is how very little you see them laughing.”
Well, the older people I know are nothing like the caricatured pensioners he summons up. And they do laugh, too.
Yet Paxo is good at provocation and if he had set out to be reasonable, no one would have noticed his column. And the publisher of the Mature Times would not have had his 15 seconds of fame (you don’t get so long nowadays; blame low interest rates or something).
Mr Silk wrote a rebuttal in Mature Times, saying of Paxman: “He is 66, so he obviously does not see himself as one of the people he wants to poke fun at, which is irrational. This could be his Gerald Ratner moment…”
Well, not really a Ratner moment, as unlike the businessman who joked that his company’s jewellery was ‘crap’, Paxman has nothing to sell. Apart from himself, and he did a pretty good job there.
Jane Silk, the editor of Mature Times, had a lively riposte in an opinion piece on the Guardian online, accusing Paxman of being puerile (the columnist’s sin, perhaps). She added a mouthful from her dictionary, too: “Well, I have a couple of long words for you, Paxman: gerascophobia and gerontophobia. He seems to be suffering from both a fear of getting old and of older people.”
Is that so or was he just being colourfully offensive for the sake of it? I am a few years younger than Paxo but do not wish to read Mature Times.
A few years ago, I hated finding that I was suddenly lumped into a greying mass called the “over-fifties”. This seemed to bring with it a supposed desire to take part in weedy keep-fit sessions and other dispiriting things. No thank you. I went off to play squash instead. And I still do.