‘About Time : Growing Old Disgracefully’ *

This is the title of a new book by the journalist Irma Kurtz who has been an agony aunt on the magazine ‘Cosmopolitan’ for 36 years. I am grateful to R.R. for drawing my attention to an interview with the author in a recent edition of’ The Times’ of London.

Kurtz says, ‘we really are pioneers. This generation of old people, there’s never been anything like us before. We live in the present. It has to do with us and now, not us and our memories. Oh, we take them with us and we’re made by them, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t exist now and have an effect in the present. We have to find ways of staying in life. We, the aged, must remain curious and able to change our minds. It’s as important as a flexible spine. More, maybe.’

‘In the long run you do have to work at being alert. You have to not give in to being old.” Her generation, she says, is different from their predecessors because they are healthier, more energetic and experienced, more educated, likely to live longer, and if they’re not always prosperous, they are less often hungry.

You must be yourself, she urges. “The only way to grow old is your way. You have to not knuckle under and become a statistic.”

Being old, she says, can be difficult, ‘because we’re being pushed out – you’re past it. There’s no recognition of how much we had to do to get here and how much we’ve learned. A lot of older women start to feel invisible and they’re very miffed…but I’ve seen behaviour I could never have witnessed before because people don’t care I’m watching’. Sometimes, she admits, she feels an intense melancholy, a passive kind of depression that she thinks all old people experience, but there are shafts of lights as well.

She enthuses about having had a child, because its a very lonely thing, getting old’.

And being a grandmother is another unexpected joy. ‘It is no longer a state to be taken for granted, she says, though for her it is a final passion at a time when she wasn’t expecting another one. And she is devoted to the art of indulging the young! When she is alone with her grandchild she has been known to give him chocolate, contrary to his parents’ instructions. ‘Now I wasn’t supposed to give him ice-cream was I? Oh what! It’s traditional to have secrets but it’s true that the disgraceful way to grow old is to refuse to grow old in the corner where the younger generation would tend to put you. Don’t do it’.

*the book is published by John Murray