My aunt said it all in hospital

OVERHEARD in hospital the other day: “I can't believe it! It's disgusting!“Did you know that there are people over 80 years old in here having major surgery? I mean, what a waste of time and resources.

OVERHEARD in hospital the other day: “I can't believe it! It's disgusting!

“Did you know that there are people over 80 years old in here having major surgery? I mean, what a waste of time and resources.

“I'm sure the NHS has better things to spend its money on than keeping people going when their lives are effectively over already. What quality of life can they have by then? What is the point?”

The woman - a young one, of course - was sounding off to a friend she had come to visit. Then my aunt spoke up from behind the curtain screening off the next bed.

“I am 88 years old,” she said in her clear, strong voice. “I am recovering from major surgery for cancer.

“The staff have been very good, but I can't wait to get out of this hospital so I can get on with writing my book. My publisher and the universities are eager for me to get it finished.”

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One can only imagine what effect this disembodied voice must have had on the visitor. The response was silence. An embarrassed silence, I trust.

Back in the days when humans were hunter-gatherers, leaving the old and infirm behind to die was the natural, even the sensible, thing. There may still be times and places when it is tragically unavoidable.

This is not such a time or place. It is, in fact, a measure of human progress that people like my aunt, who still has so much to give despite her years, can be enabled to give it.

That, of course, is not to say that old folk should be kept alive beyond their natural term whether they want it or not.

The right to die in dignity at the right time seems to me one of the most important, and most sadly neglected, of all human rights.

But the right to live is pretty important too.

I WONDER if the donor of the liver that gave Brian Clough about 18 months of added life would have thought it was good value. I'm sure Cloughie did.

Unlike George Best, now scandalously wasting a second liver, Old Big 'Ead stayed off the booze after going into extra time. It was stomach cancer that got him.

There were bound to be tributes and memories galore when such a larger-than-life character left the stage. I make no apology for adding my own.

I was twice, briefly, in the great man's company. The first time, after a game his Nottingham Forest side had won, he ignored my request for an interview and simply elbowed me out of the way.

He wasn't the first or last football manager to do this. The life of a sports reporter isn't as glamorous as it might seem from the outside.

The second time, after a Forest defeat, Clough spoke to me.

“Have you got a few words for the visiting press?” I asked him.

“Aye,” he said. “F*** off. And have a nice journey home.”

Coming from a lesser manager, or a lesser man, such exchanges might have been simply forgotten. But, love him or loathe him - and most people's feelings, I suspect, were a bit of both - Brian Clough was somebody special.

His genius was to get ordinary, journeyman footballers to play as if they were something special too.

Players like John O'Hare, John Robertson, John McGovern, Ian Bowyer, Garry Birtles, Peter Davenport - the list goes on and on - were no better than average when they played at other clubs. Under Clough, they were winners.

He won the European Cup twice with players who would barely get into Arsenal's reserve team these days.

The flip side is that he was a disaster with players who were already top-class. His catastrophic 44-day reign as Leeds boss proved that.

It's why I never thought he would make a good England manager.

There was never a chance, anyway, of the FA putting such an opionated, outspoken egomaniac in the hot seat. He would have made life more interesting, though, than some of the dullards we've had in the job since.

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