Many famous men and women have been celebrating their 60th birthdays lately. I want to put in a good word for being 80.
True, there are disadvantages to being so old; the great thing is to count the advantages. When you are 80, there are all sorts of things you donâ€™t have to do. You do not have to go out to dine if you canâ€™t be bothered; a phone call in a whiney voice, a burst of sympathy at the other end, and you can stay in snugly and read Tolstoy. Things that might seem like disadvantages when you are young - say 70 â€” can be transformed into pleasures.
I tend to wake up at four or five in the morning. Instead of lying there whingeing about it, I shuffle downstairs and make myself a mug of tea. Sometimes I switch on the TV and discover a world that does not exist in daylight hours. The riches of Istanbul, a chap making friends with a crocodile, someone climbing the Himalayas in a wheelchair, the last orangutangs in Sumatra, dining off durian fruit. Itâ€™s wonderful! They didnâ€™t have TV at four in the morning in my young days. In fact, they didnâ€™t have television at all.
Many people feel old at 30. I still feel young in spirit. And there is a great abounding reason for that, though she has begged me not to mention her name. She is just the most empathic, intelligent, adorable woman I have had the luck to meet. My winter sunshine. In case it might appear that I wallow in the bright side of being 80, I had better end on a cautionary note. Donâ€™t become 80 if you can avoid it; but remember the alternatives are even worse.
I require spasms of sleep during the day. I will be sitting in an armchair, perhaps watching television or perhaps reading â€” at present it is the TLS and John Heilpernâ€™s magnificent biography of John Osborne â€” and I fall asleep. At least, that is what I call it. But, like those unfortunates caught on the wrong side of the Sittang Bridge when it blew, I find myself on the wrong side of consciousness. I have blanked out. Perhaps I come back to myself after half an hour. I reflect that a time may come when I blank out for good, there in the armchair, Heilpernâ€™s book unfinished on my knee. Be warned, darling! This marvellous, unique lifetime will be over. But what an easy way to go...