What is old?

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This was written on the last day of my 2014 -15 trip (March 26, 2015) in the paradise called Ubud in Bali where I had been watching the rice grow in the newly planted fields.

 

I am off to Bangkok tomorrow and then to England to visit my mother who is ninety-three. Ninety-three, you say. Yes, and very much compos mentis although she doesn’t get around as well as she used to. Long gone are the days when she left hospital at the ripe old age of eighty-two after a second quadruple by-pass in time to be home to cook the Christmas dinner. My sister remonstrated but Mama would brook no interference. The meal, as usual, was excellent.

 

Diana AthillI’ll turn seventy-one in a few weeks. Needless to say, age has been somewhat on my mind, heightened by a couple of books I’ve read recently, all by relatively ancient female British writers. Diana Athill’s book, Somewhere towards the end, published when she was ninety, made me sit up and take note. She claimed that seventy marks the beginnings of advanced old age. I read this a few weeks before I hit the biblical norm plus one and was not ready to accept that I had already crossed the threshold into ‘advanced old age’. For those who do not know Diana Athill (and I didn’t until I heard the CBC podcast), she worked for the publisher Andre Deutsch and edited many of the famous writers of the twentieth century.

 

P.D. JamesI also read Time to be in Ernest by P.D. James, the queen of mystery writing. It’s a sort of memoir of her activities between the ages of 87 and 88. The dizzying pace of her life exhausted me. How she kept up with lunch dates, book launches etc. is a mystery. She used these daily events to look back over what had happened on those dates earlier in her life. Seems to me she might just have become more ‘creative’ and ‘productive’ after seventy than before. What a woman! I might just have to venture into a genre foreign to me – mystery novels – to see how she spent her time.

 

Writers and CoI didn’t go looking for ancient British women writers. In a way, they found me, courtesy of a Writers and Company podcast produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) hosted by Eleanor Watchel. Watchel’s great gift, apart from picking very interesting writers who also speak well, is to ask an open-ended question that invites the author to talk. Then, Eleanor sits back and lets the author riff. The best go off on a verbal ramble of uncommon insights, interesting anecdotes and penetrating asides. This program is always interesting, even when the writers aren’t ancient British women whose imagination and creativity belie the fact that they are ‘somewhere towards the end’.

And no, I don’t think I am somewhere towards the end. In fact, this year marks a beginning for me. I have finally decided (reluctantly) to give up my consulting work with international schools and to focus on the other things I want to do – writing and photography. (If you are interested in what I did professionally, you can look at www.janetbwebster.com). I suppose realistically seventy-one is closer to the end than the beginning but I suspect I have a lot of life left in me. I anticipate that people look at my silver hair and my well-padded frame and conclude that I’m a little old lady. (This reminds me of one of my favourite short stories by Carol Shields called Mrs. Turner cutting the grasshttp://bit.ly/1gCdXjA – about how outward appearances can be so deceptive.)

But I’m still seventeen (inside) with a whole world to explore. Eventually, the dark night summons all of us but I intend to depart with a bang and not a whimper. I am anticipating many more years of travelling and I’m bound for Patagonia in January 2016 with a friend who is four years older than me. I’m counting on genes being on my side: after all, my mother in her tranquil village in Dorset is only ninety-three.

 

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