Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter


Anyone feeling glum about the sight of another grey hair and dejected about the rapid approach of old age could do no better than read Diana Athill’s latest collection of musings on life, experience and age.

Athill is in her 100th year and this is her ninth book. She had a long and distinguished career as the unacknowledged power behind Andre Deutsch’s eponymous publishing company and worked there for four decades as a brilliant editor on a rather miserly salary. Her loyalty may have led her to sometimes act against her best interests, but her resilient and stoical disposition gave her more joy in life than she could have gained in struggling for her rights.

As we see in these short pieces, she has always been a free thinker, quite against the conventional norm of the longing for love and children ascribed to women. She always wanted to be free, she liked having a full sexual life, but on only one occasion did she contemplate having a child. Her frank and fascinating account of this period in her life is the title story in this collection.

She speaks of her rekindled interest in clothes:

As middle age began to slide towards being old I started to make some unexpected money by writing. By the time I was in my eighties, mail order…began displaying real clothes.

But she goes on to say that while she enjoyed that period of her life, one’s ‘idea of luxury shifts away from clothes.’ Here is a lengthy quote from her book describing what we have to look forward to.

…when one has become very old, which I take to mean over ninety-five, one’s idea of luxury shifts away from clothes… my main luxury is now something many misguided old people dread: the wheelchair. They think submitting to it is humiliating, and they are wrong. Nothing could be more deliciously luxurious than being pushed around a really thrilling and crowded exhibition in a wheelchair. The crowd falls away on either side like the Red Sea parting for the Israelites, and there you are, lounging in front of the painting of your choice in perfect comfort. I shall never forget the first time I fully realized how marvellous this can be. It was in front of Matisse’s red Dance, and I have never enjoyed a great painting more intensely.

 To read more inspiring stories about the achievements of the very old, go here

to read about Australia’s oldest man who spent his declining years knitting tiny pullovers for Phillip Island baby penguins injured in oil slicks.

Or here

to read about the 100-year-old model who is the face of Vogue for their centenary.


Age is only a number. Don’t worry, be happy.


11 thoughts on “Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter

  1. When I was nursing in our local hospital, in the town where we lived, there was a woman who was 116 years old. She was still able to take care of her activities of daily living, but she resided in the hospital. She only spoke French. Her large family of children had died off leaving only one son, who was in the hospital with her. He was in bad shape compared to his mother. She kept saying that God had forgotten her.

    1. Sometimes life becomes a bore. A friend’s mother has just died at the age of 94
      and she was adamant that she didn’t want more treatment for her pneumonia, but she and her family had to be quite firm with the hospital to get her wishes honoured.

      1. That has happened several times in our family. They were in their 90’s and at a certain point they had had enough and stopped eating and drinking. They refused to go to the hospital and refused any further care except for the most basic. The usually passed within two weeks. They had time to say their good byes and were at peace with the world and the family accepted their wishes.
        We are going through Doctor assisted suicide. I can’t say I agree with that.

  2. I was wondering recently whether Diana Athill was still alive as i loved previous writing of hers so am glad to hear that there is more to enjoy. loved the video of Bo Gilbert also.

    1. Thank you Jacqui, the link seemed to work, but then not, but it inspired me to go to Youtube where there are many interviews with her. How wonderful to hear her voice and see her vibrant way of expressing herself. Just as I imagined.

    1. Just looked her up and found she’s not just famous for being old. Started her painting career at the age of 78 and such gorgeous work. There’s loads of time for you to pursue many other artistic fields.

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