I am certainly not going to start saving for my funeral - I would rather have my corpse boiled down into glue

I have to confess that I'm not someone who spends much time reading the personal finance pages of newspapers. I know that this is immature and that, when I'm 65, I'll be a squeegee merchant, while my contemporaries will be like those old couples in television commercials for pensions, going on round-the-world trips for ever and ever.

Those commercials are part of the problem. For some people, even pensions aren't enough. Being a freelance writer, I watch television during the day and I frequently see a commercial in which an actor who was in some famous programme about 20 years ago is sitting by a stream with a fishing rod. He is trying to persuade you to start a savings scheme to pay for "those final expenses". It takes a little time to work out what he's on about, but then you realise that he means expenses that are even later than final, namely your funeral. While watching this ad, I thought two things: the first was that I would rather have my corpse tossed on to a dunghill or boiled down into glue than start saving for my "final expenses"; the second was that I would also rather be shoved on to a bonfire in the garden or left out for the birds to peck at.

But, last week, my attention was caught by the cover story of the "Cash" special supplement of the Observer, which was titled "Roaring Forties: make the most of the prime of your life". Like Madonna, who was pictured on the cover, I'm in my forties, but "roaring" is not necessarily the adjective I would choose. "Tired" maybe, or "bitter".

The forties are clearly not a good time for most working people: "The most worrying thought, though, is that 46 is now the average age at which senior managers are likely to find themselves made redundant." But if somebody wants to fire me from a job, they're going to have to give me one first.

However, Sarah Cunningham, the author of the main article, pointed out that not everything about being in your forties is bleak: "Dealing with the good news first, your earning capacity in your forties is probably as good as it is going to get. You may also be in for some family inheritance."

This is the good news: from now on, you'll be earning less. Oh, and your parents will probably die.

The supplement also provided some case histories. Nicola Foote, 42, "has two sons, now 11 and nine, and was taken aback to find out, two and a bit years ago, that she was expecting a third child. 'A surprise, but a very welcome one,' says Nicola, an actuary based in Leeds."

As it happens, for reasons too tedious to explain, I have been doing some research about the insurance industry and I've been reading a brochure about careers in insurance. Do you know what an actuary actually is? I didn't. According to my brochure: "Actuaries are financial statisticians and strategists whose task is to predict the overall financial changes that will take place to policies, pensions and funds, to forecast the way the liabilities (or risks) will develop, and to judge how investments will perform: ie, whether the company and its clients will make or lose money. For example, actuaries must calculate the probability (likelihood) of a particular insured event occurring and then triggering a claim."

Sounds bloody difficult. But if you can do all that, can't you avoid getting pregnant by mistake? But then, this is clearly a British disease. Last week, I was reading a magazine that featured an interview with a man who had got his partner pregnant without intending to, and he was trying to explain his emotions when she told him: "My jaw just dropped," he said.

You might expect this irresponsible person to have been interrogated about whether he had been ignorant about contraception or just careless; but given that it was Tony Blair, the subject was not followed up. If actuaries and the British prime minister can't control their fertility, then what are we meant to expect from 14-year-olds on council estates?

As for the advice about finance for my forties, it seemed - as always, with me - to have come too late. I remember when, about 20 years ago, a dental hygienist said to me: "When I'm 95, I'll still have a perfect set of teeth and you won't."

"But you'll be dead," I said. "What's the point of a skeleton with perfect teeth."

Unfortunately, it came out as "Os uuh oin a ereon i eair eee".

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy