The Vexations and Pleasures of Old Age
so glad Im not young any more, sang Maurice Chevalier
in Gigi, though, as I recall the movie, his eyes sparkled
with joie de vivre as he delivered the line. A
survey of 2000 people commissioned by the healthcare group Benenden
suggests that a lot of us think living beyond eighty-three would
be a bonus, though a surprising number believe that they will do
well to reach seventy. One wonders of course how old these respondents
were. Seventy is a long way off when youre twenty, not so
far when youre in your sixties.
One thing is
clear. Whatever may truthfully be said about the miseries of old
age, and about the quality of care for the old and the anxieties
this may cause, old people are generally younger than they were
a generation or two ago. Grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles
mostly, as I remember, settled for being old, and accepted the restrictions
of old age, when they were younger than I am now. In some cases
that old age lasted a very long time; one of my grandmothers survived
to be ninety-nine, and remained in possession of her faculties pretty
well right to the end.
How long you
live doubtless depends often on how you have lived, but there is
no justice in this. Being health-conscious doesnt necessarily
prolong your life, and being careless of your health doesnt
mean you die earlier. The novelist Compton Mackenzie took little
exercise, smoked heavily he wrote a book called Sublime
Tobacco and wasnt averse to a glass of whisky;
he lived to be eighty-nine. The last volume of his autobiography
was published the year before he died.
Going on working
is surely one way to live happily into old age. Artists of all sorts
are lucky; they practise a trade with no retiring age. Many of course
mismanage their lives and die young, often because of drink or drugs.
But if they escape such a fate, their old age can be rewarding,
partly because its not necessarily much different from what
went before. V S Pritchett once told me that he grumbled every morning
as he climbed the stairs to his study, but was happy as a lark as
soon as he settled at his work-desk.
Many in other
walks of life arent so fortunate, and many indeed greet retirement
from the daily grind with pleasure. But I would guess that most
who make a success of retirement do so because they retain other
interests or find new ones. I have known old ladies who were kept
going happily into their nineties by their love of gossip. Curiosity
may have killed the cat, but it can help to prolong human life.
My father-in-law declared that he was determined to live till his
grandchildren were all through university and settled in their course.
This was a good ambition and he fulfilled it.
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© 2012 Daily Telegraph