Jul 2010 Journal

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In praise of … old age

Many years ago, a humorous poem by an anonymous author circulated among Continental Britons. Its title was Über das fröhliche Alter (The Joys of Old Age) and it started and finished with the line ‘Wer achtzig wird, ist selber schuld’ (It’s your own fault if you live to 80). I was then a youthful seventyish who still climbed mountains - well, perhaps they might be more truthfully described as hills - in the Swiss and Austrian Alps. Even at 80, I still managed the Höhenweg from Hofgastein to Bad Gastein (which may mean something to the Journal’s Austrian readers) - a pretty steep two-and-a-half hours’ walk. Nowadays, I begin to flag after I’ve walked for just an hour.

Because, you see, a little while ago I celebrated (if that’s the right word - but of course it is!) another ‘round’ birthday - no prizes for guessing which. I have to admit that my memory is letting me down at times: I forget, mislay and lose things, which sometimes turn up in the most unexpected places - and sometimes don’t. And names escape me not infrequently and, on occasion, embarrassingly. Also, well, my hearing isn’t as good as it used to be and small print presents a little problem. But who is complaining of those minor inconveniences? Think positive! Think of all the benefits that old age brings.

I won’t even mention the Freedom Pass, which allows us to travel free on public transport anywhere in London and as far as Ealing in the west and Bromley in Kent, because youngsters of 60 share this privilege with us. But what about the generous heating allowance and the free TV licence? And, when I applied for a new passport last month, I discovered that it was free for the over-eighties! (They probably don’t expect us to last the full ten years of a passport’s validity.)

But let’s forget about the financial rewards. It’s people that count. And people are endlessly kind. You are everyone’s ‘love’ and ‘darling’ and constantly admonished to ‘Take care!’ I never have to worry about getting a seat on a crowded bus or train because someone will always jump up for me. (If they don’t, I stare them into submission.)

The other day, when I held out a £1 coin at my local market, the stallholder, pointing at a fast-receding figure, said ’That gentleman paid for you.’ I stared after him and resolved to send a cheque to Cancer Research. Do I really look such a nebbish that perfect strangers feel moved to treat me to a bowl of fruit? Even more bizarrely, when I recently tendered a £10 note for an espresso at one of the coffee shop chains, the girl behind the counter said ‘It’s on the house, love.’ I’ll never know if she couldn’t be bothered to find the change or just felt sorry for me. ‘Can I help?’ are the words I hear all the time, or people, wordlessly, when they see me struggling with a trolley or a suitcase, lift it up or down for me. This is particularly useful at airports when I wait for my luggage by the carousel. (Mind you, I always make a point of standing next to a burly young man.)

Old at 90? Rubbish! Far be it from me to compare myself to these two glitterati, but just look at George Weidenfeld and Doris Lessing, still active and creative at 90! (I did a quick check on the internet to make sure they’re still around.) Why, life begins at 90! Oh, and I’ve just come back from my brother’s centenary celebration in France. And he still plays bridge four times a week.

Sorry, you were saying? That damned hearing aid’s gone dead again. You want me to read this? What have I done with my glasses?

Edith Argy

previous article:Vote, vote, vote for Clement Attlee?
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