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.
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.