On occasion, I take lunch at the gentlemen’s clubs of the city.
The food is that of the 19th century British boarding school, corned beef and fish pie.
The accounts are settled with whisperings and a pencil.
Jackets and ties are worn at all times in anticipation of a surprise incursion by the headmaster, even though he’s been gone for half a century and the use of the strap is no longer tolerated.
One shares a table with nodding acquaintances from the world of the law, insurance, banking and bookmaking.
The conversation wandered, recently, to the French concept of viager.
If you are a cash-strapped 70-year-old with a house in Paris or Nice, you can strike a deal on a bet.
Your house is worth €1 million and you can receive €300,000 as a down-payment, called a bouquet.
Further to this, you will receive a stipend of €2000 per month for as long as you live.
When you no longer need the house because you are no longer breathing, it becomes the sole property of the one who gave you the bouquet.
Simply put, you’re making a bet on how long you’re going to live.
Jeanne Calment, the world’s longest living person, died at the age of 122 years and 164 days having conclusively won the bet.
In 1965, at the age of 90, she received a bouquet and continuing stipend.
Thirty years later the purchaser, the potential owner of her apartment, died having paid double the apartment’s value and the purchaser’s family continued to pay the stipend.
Such is the well-established contractual code of the viager.
As Jeanne Calment observed: “In life, one sometimes makes bad deals.”
The luncheon proceeded with a modicum of modestly overpriced wines, both local and imported.
It was noted that variations on the viager model were already coming into being in this country.
The children have already left home after draining the pool with their costly educations and now the capital is all tied up in a lavish but empty spread of rooms in a desirable and expensive suburb.
A deal can be struck. A bouquet can be garnered and the children can fight over the spoils.
Over sherry, the bookmaker and the actuary laughed over the notion that horse racing would be simpler if you bet, not on speed, but endurance.
The race keeps going until the last horse standing, then there’s only one horse to pay out on.
At this point, I must confess my guilt.
My mind rarely seeks practical solutions.
I’m a what-if sort of person who ignores the numbers when joining the dots to see what other pictures are possible.
In some parts of Europe, voluntary euthanasia is granted on grounds other than infirmity, inevitability and pain.
You can choose non-existence on a psychological whim. “I’m not happy. I’d like to leave.”
I am guilty of extrapolating to the alternative consequences of this idea to a table of lawyers, bankers and bookmakers.
What if, in exchange for your house, you could agree to voluntary euthanasia with a corporate administrator who would provide a bouquet of $500,000 and a stipend of $10,000 a month?
You could cruise the world, be welcomed to the Captain’s Table and never look to the right of a menu.
In return, the corporation with whom you have struck the deal could decide for themselves when the contract – and the contractor – could be terminated.
It could be a day or a year. Don’t worry. It would be a surprise.
The actuary and the bookmaker nodded enthusiastically at this idea.
With a thousand clients, you could whittle a few away early to save money and preserve some for promotional purposes. Then you could rework Jeanne Calment’s observation.
“In life, sometimes you make good deals.”
You will be offered this deal in a year or so. I offer my apology in advance.
Can I also advise that what is written here is a fiction based on the science of numbers.
As Margaret Atwood said: “Science fiction is really about now.”
Red Symons is a musician of the ’70s, TV vaudevillian of the ’80s and ’90s, radio voice of the new millennium and a sprinkled condiment in the theatre and print