Now I’m 64: my tips for a happy old age

On my 20th birthday, I locked myself in the bathroom of my bungalow in­­ Billericay and cried. Having achieved my dream – becoming a published writer – at the tender age of 17, I thought it was all downhill from there. Yes, some of this had to do with marrying the first man I had sex with; the idea that I was only ever meant to do the deed with him alone appalled me beyond words. But there was also a general feeling that my value was in some way intrinsically bound up with my extreme youth. Fast-forward to the day I turned 60, when I woke up in an

Deeply moving but bleak: Plan 75 reviewed

Plan 75 is a dystopian Japanese drama about a government-sponsored euthanasia programme introduced to address Japan’s ageing society. Aged 75 or over? Agree to die and we’ll give you $1,000 to spend as you like in your last days! With a collective funeral thrown in for free! Actually, it’s not sold aggressively like that, as this is an understated film. But, despite the hopeful ending, it is so sad and bleak that if you didn’t feel minded to take $1,000 before, you may feel like taking it afterwards. You could spend it on a spa break and a deluxe sushi platter, which is one of the options, if that takes

The small NHS failings that let down patients like my mother

I would be the first to admit that the NHS has done a lot for my mother this year. It gave her the emergency blood transfusion that undoubtedly saved her life, followed by several iron infusions and umpteen scans and tests. It has treated a series of infected leg ulcers and provided consultations with senior medical figures and countless more outpatient appointments. It has supplied her with swanky new hearing aids and nursed her through Covid. During her four months in hospital, in two separate stays of nine and seven weeks, it came up with three meals a day, not all of them involving ravioli, mash and gravy, and a

When does ‘middle age’ end and ‘old age’ begin?

I was a bit irritated by all the millennials saying the Superbowl half-time show made them feel old. The 15-minute musical extravaganza at Sunday’s game was a tribute to the golden age of hip hop and featured Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and Dr Dre. The reason it made so many people in their thirties and early forties feel a bit long in the tooth is that all artists are now candidates for the Hall of Fame. Dr Dre is 56 and Snoop Dogg turned 50 last year. Seeing their idols thickening around the waist and sprouting grey hairs was a mementomori for people who came of

It’s no surprise younger voters are losing faith in democracy

There is an idea of the state that argues that the role of government is to act as a benevolent social planner, redistributing resources for the benefit of the population as a whole. British governance has more in common with Mancur Olson’s concept of the stationary bandit, a tyrant with a captive population and a desire to maximise the wealth he can extract. The only twist is that rather than a group of warriors seizing wealth by force, Britain works to the benefit of a large number of elderly pensioners thanks to their tendency to reliably turn out at the polls. To very briefly recap, years of austerity cuts combined

Why Mick Jagger is an insult to rock

New York Orthodox Easter Sunday came late in May this year, and I spent it at an old friend’s Fifth Avenue home chatting with his young relatives. During a great lunch, I thought of those calendar pages one sees in old black and white flicks turning furiously to represent the passing years. It was the three generations present that brought on these reflections. My host George Livanos and I have been friends since 1957, and he and his wife Lita have five children and 15 grandchildren. Not all of them were present, but there were enough youngsters to remind one of the ballroom scene in The Leopard, when Prince Salina

We Lumas have the weight of the world on our shoulders

In the introduction to an anthology of his jazz record reviews, the poet Philip Larkin imagines his readers. They’re not exactly full of the joys of spring. He describes them as ‘sullen fleshy inarticulate men… whose first coronary is coming like Christmas’. Loaded down with ‘commitments and obligations and necessary observances’ they’re drifting helplessly towards ‘the darkening avenues of age and incapacity’. Everything that once made life sweet has deserted them and their only solace is the memory of the music they once loved. I first read that passage 35 years ago and didn’t think it would apply to me one day. Admittedly, the men Larkin conjures up are more

The upsides of dementia

My 91-year-old father-in-law has always had a terror of hospitals. This dates from his time as a Royal Marine when, just after the second world war, he was infected with polio by a contaminated needle. The first he knew of it was when a visiting dignitary came on board ship and he was unable to lift his arm in salute. Ever since, he made it very clear that he doesn’t want to go to a hospital under any circumstances, ever. But last week he was admitted to A&E with a high temperature and I didn’t fret for one moment that he’d be alarmed. Why? He’s got late-stage dementia. He’s forgotten

Age-old wisdom

In her cover story last week, Camilla Cavendish argued that we could keep mentally fit in old age through ‘physical exercises, social contact and new challenges’. The ancients reached a similar conclusion 2,500 years ago. When the Roman poet Juvenal (2nd century ad) reflected on what a man should pray for, his first suggestion was a healthy mind in a healthy body. That had already been standard doctrine for 600 years. The historian Herodotus (5th century bc) noted how many different peoples saw a connection between diet, drink, exercise and lifespan; and it was Greek doctors who argued that mental health also came into the equation. Others then joined in.

Mind games | 9 May 2019

‘Beep!’ This is one of the most maddening computer games I’ve ever played. I’m tracking a flock of birds, and when I hit the right one, it explodes with a satisfying ‘phutt’. But as I get better at spotting them, the birds scatter ever more wildly across the screen, and I hear that unforgiving ‘beep’: you missed. Frankly, I feel like giving up. But many players don’t dare. For this is HawkEye, a brain-training programme that claims it can sharpen my brain beyond simply getting faster at mouse-clicking. Trials have found that older people who play enough hours of this particular kind of game have fewer car crashes — and

High life | 15 November 2018

New York A little Austrian count was born to my daughter last week in Salzburg, early in the morning of 9 November, becoming my third grandchild. Through modern technology, I was flooded with pictures of a blond, fuzzed and pink baby boy less than a day old. The mother of my children, who was flying in from Gstaad, did not make it on time, which was just as well. Like most women, she tends to overreact where babies are concerned. Unlike us tough guys, who tend to hit the bottle and celebrate instead. And speaking of the fair sex, Lionel Shriver is some columnist, the best American writer by far,

Should he stay or should he go?

This remorselessly slow-moving, hazily allegorical drama about ageing and xenophobia is Jim Crace’s 12th book, and the first to appear since he announced his retirement from writing in 2013. Like much of his other work, it lays its scene in a topographical and temporal bubble of the author’s own devising, where recognisable aspects of society and geography are almost imperceptibly twisted away from true. The place is a nameless seaside community that isn’t in France, Italy, Malta, Greece or seemingly anywhere, but where people are called Dell’Ova and Busi and Pencillon and Klein; the period falls hazily between the invention of the phonograph and ‘the chilling advent of packaged frozen

Life expectancy is on the rise. Is that something that can be invested in – and if so, how?

‘We are all going to live longer, so why not invest in it?’­ seems to be the premise of Jim Mellon and Al Chalabi’s new book, Juvenescence – Investing in the Age of Longevity. Mellon and Chalabi forecast that within the next 20 years, the average life expectancy in the developed world will rise to between 110 and 120. As Mellon explains: ‘The increase in life expectancy is due to environmental factors, the rise of universal medical treatment, antibiotics, improved diet. The next step [in science] is going to change the fundamental biology of the human being, by genetic editing, stem cells, pharmaceutical intervention, as well as tissue regeneration.’ Hooray,

Low life | 7 September 2017

‘Have you ever thought of having some colour put in, love?’ said Julian as he shaved my neck with a razor and performed other small finishing touches with his scissor tips. I was sitting on a kitchen chair in his half-finished kitchen extension and while he worked I bowled underarm tennis balls to the schnauzer puppy. Julian was referring to the sides of my head, which, freshly shorn, were bright silver. Over my dead body, Julian, old son, I said. Old men with dyed hair look ridiculous. One can always tell at a glance whether a man has dyed his hair. My friend Trevor dyes his hair himself, I said,

Down – if not out – in Paris

Virginie Despentes remains best known in this country for her 1993 debut novel, Baise-Moi, about two abused young women who set off on an orgiastically murderous road-trip round France. In 2000, she became notorious when she collaborated on the hardcore film of the book, which ran into certification problems, with Alexander Walker fulminating about the complete collapse of public decency. Despentes has now published some 15 novels altogether, celebrated in France as grunge or ‘trash’ fiction — and a polemical, erratically feminist, memoir, King Kong Theory, describing her own experience of rape and prostitution, and calling for a new aggression in female sexuality. When she was 35, Despentes (a pseudonym,

Barometer | 23 March 2017

Princes among men British DJ Mark Dezzani was hoping to be elected prince of Seborga, a self-proclaimed independent state in Italy. Some other self-declared nations not recognised by others: — Hutt River in Western Australia declared independence in 1970 after farmer Leonard Casley complained he hadn’t been granted a large enough quota for growing wheat. He later proclaimed himself Prince Leonard but abdicated last month in favour of his youngest son, Prince Graeme. — Sealand, previously known as Roughs Tower, is a gun emplacement built to defend the Thames during the second world war but then abandoned. In the 1960s it was occupied by businessman Roy Bates, who ruled as

The one thing that really gets better with age

On the London Underground last week the carriage was crowded. No seat. No problem. I’m only 67 and content to stand. But a younger man offered his seat, and, having some way to travel and a book to read, I accepted with the appropriate grunt and nod of gratitude. Later, approaching my station, I noticed he was still there. Should I thank him properly before alighting? But he was in another part of the carriage. It might look silly to elbow my way over. Let it pass. Then a voice in my head spoke, a voice that over the decades has become so familiar. Don’t misunderstand me: this was not

Diary – 27 October 2016

I have never met Donald Trump, but I knew his parents. A fact that makes me feel about 100 years old. Which was actually nearer the age Fred and Mary Anne Trump were when, as a teenager, I made my first trip to New York. I remember riding backwards in their limousine on the way to lunch with the extended Trump clan and the lovely Mary Anne apologising that her son Donald would not be joining us. ‘You know about Donald?’ she inquired. I nodded, and recall her adding rather wistfully, ‘He’s always been the outgoing one.’ One of the great pleasures of life, I now realise — and a

Long life | 20 October 2016

‘Welcome, Mr Chancellor, to the Age UK community,’ said the voice. It was a warm, friendly woman’s voice, but bearing a chilling message. At 76, I willingly accept that I am no longer young, but I don’t want to belong to a club for which old age is the only membership qualification. I don’t want to cross the Rubicon into an alien, exclusive territory. Ageing doesn’t strike suddenly. It is a gradual process that starts very young. I remember, when I hit 30, how keenly I felt the loss of my youth, and it really did mark the beginning of decline. By the time I reached 40, I couldn’t read

Diary – 4 August 2016

I was born in 1958 and turned 58 in June, so for the next five months my age coincides with the year of my birth. Does any significance attach to this pleasing symmetry? If you were born in 1904 then the numerological rhyme would be achieved at four years old, before you were in any position to appreciate it. If you were born in 1990 then the chances are you will never manage this brief docking of age and year; of course the odds are better than they would have been if you were born in 1890 but it’s unlikely you’ll feel some pivotal moment has been reached. Which is