A worthy but somewhat smug celebration of growing old

PUBLISHED: 10:51 09 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:27 07 September 2010

By BARRY REYNOLDS aged 54 and a half LATE YOUTH edited by Susanna Johnston Arcadia, £8.99 READING this book is like being in some bizarre 12-step programme meeting. Except that the participants are invited to indulge in their addiction rather than tr

LATE YOUTH

edited by

Susanna Johnston

Arcadia, £8.99

By BARRY REYNOLDS

aged 54 and a half

READING this book is like being in some bizarre 12-step programme meeting. Except that the participants are invited to indulge in their addiction rather than trying to rid themselves of it.

"Hello, my name is Barry and it has been 24 hours since my last thoughts of dotage." Round of applause from people with Zimmer frames, clapping with arthritic hands.

This volume of short essays starts off worthily enough as a celebration of older age, with a part of the profits from the sale of the book going to the Book Trade Benevolent Fund.

Susanna Johnston has attracted a lot of contributors, from Jilly Copper and Melvyn Bragg to Paddy Leigh Fermor. Some have taken the request for a piece about age quite lightly and some have given it a great deal of thought. But while some are trite, none is as ridiculous the one sentence from interior designer John Stefanidis. "Whereas I benefit from the wisdom of my maturity, I cannot write about getting older, as in my heart I am but 30." Maybe he should look in the mirror when he's shaving.

Books about growing older are the surest sign yet that the majority of baby boomers are starting to feel their age - and want everyone to know about it. Even when they say they feel no different from when they turned 40, they have a newfound respect for the aged they never had when pleading to die before they got old.

The unrelieved seriousness from people far too pleased with themselves was made bearable by the short, pithy contribution of Australian artist Jeffrey Smart. "There are no rewards. The dignity is more about walking very carefully to avoid tripping up and the consequent hip job."

Smart's biographical note will have amused Dame Edna Everage, another contributor. According to it, his paintings adorn, among other places, the "Opera House in Melbourne". As a lifelong lover of the capital of Victoria, Dame Edna will be delighted with this mistake - the Opera House is in Sydney.

Books about growing older will become more prevalent as most of the population reach a certain age and find the need to turn a necessity into a virtue. It is a pity the editor did not include a few lines from Dylan Thomas to inject passion with his poem about the death of his father. "Old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light.


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