When we were in our early thirties and had been reformed smokers for several years (I quit on September 6 1983), David and I amused ourselves one night — when we were missing the after-dinner light-up — by saying that when we turned sixty, if we were still hale and hearty, we'd take up cigarettes again.
Sixty seemed such a long way off then, and the sort of age when decrepitude and senility were just around the corner anyway, so seeing out our remaining few years with a hacking cough and an antisocial smell about us seemed an okay way to go. Of course, now we're in our fifties, sixty is fast approaching and hey! We'll be old! Isn't that strange? I , for one, am still waiting to think of myself as a grown-up ...
Being about to turn sixty is what prompts Maria Sharpe, the engaging heroine of Virginia Ironside's fun book, No! I don't Want to Join a Bookclub, to start a diary.
While Maria embraces her age with mixed reactions, the desire to remain 'young-at-heart', or to take up a new lover or weird pastimes is not among them. Instead, feeling mature, confident, and endowed with experience and intelligence befitting her years, she looks forward to relaxing into her old age with acceptance.
'The great thing about age,' said the therapist [at a dinner party with Maria and friends] ... is that it's never too late. You can do so many things. Take an Open University degree, go bungee-jumping, learn a new language ...'Of course, there are drawbacks to being old. Like Maria, we have to learn to deal with the infirmity and eventual deaths of friends and others who have been close to us all our lives. But this can be balanced by the joy of grandchildren and a brand-new phase of family-hood.
'But it is too late!' I argued. 'That's what's so great about being old. You no longer have to think about going to university, or go bungee-jumping! It's a huge release! I've been feeling guilty about not learning another language for most of my adult life. At last I find that now, being old, I don't have to! There aren't enough years to speak it. It'd be pointless!'
'... I find, approaching sixty, that the real pleasure is that so many things are impossible ...'
I've loved Virginia Ironside ever since I read her columns when I was a teenager in England and envied her that extraordinary name - so strong-sounding! Last year, when I shouted myself to a subscription to the Oldie, I was delighted to find her name among those of this UK magazine's other illustrious columnists and regular contributors.
This is a crisp, funny book that is sentimental at times without ever resorting to the maudlin or wussy. Maria is acerbic, intelligent, a warm and loyal friend, and an all-round excellent woman. Recommended.