How it is

Penelope Lively is a well known novelist and short story author, she has written many books for adults but also for children. Her latest is called ‘Ammonites and leaping Fish : A life in Time’. Extracts from it are published in today’s ‘Observer’. She is 80 and the book is about being old. She writes ‘our experience is one unknown to most of humanity over time. We are the pioneers, as an established social group gobbling up benefits and giving grief to government agencies…By 2030 there will be 4M people over the age of 80 in the U.K.

Her spirit is still ‘game for experience, anything on offer, but the body most definitely is not…my mind seems to be holding out …Over the last years I have had surgery and treatment for breast cancer; hips and knees are holding out so far but my back gave in long ago: I have been in intermittent pain for 15 years – discomfort tipping into real pain. My sight is dodgy –myopic macular degeneration, which may get worse….

as for the rest of my continuing ailments, they seem more or less par for the course for an 80 year old ; of those I know in my age group, most can chalk up a few, or more, with only one or two that I can think of maddeningly unscathed.’

The body may decline, may seem a dismal reflection of what went before, but the mind has a healthy continuity, and some kind of inbuilt fidelity to itself, a coherence over time…attitudes and opinions may change, but most people, it seems retrain an essential persona, a caste of mind, a trademark footprint….You get used to it…acceptance has set in’, age ‘ has crept up on you, which is just as well, because the alternative – perpetual rage and resentment – would not help matters’.

If being old ‘sounds a pretty pallid sort of place, I can refute that. I am as alive to the world as I have ever been…I revel in the spring sunshine, and the cream and purple hellebore in the garden…the sound of a beloved voice on the phone brings a surge of pleasure.

With those old consuming vigours now muted, something else comes into its own… Spring was never so vibrant; autumn never so richly gold. People are of an abiding interest – observed in the street or overheard on a bus. The small pleasures have bloomed into points of relish in the day – food, opening the newspaper (new minted just for me), a shower, the comfort of bed. It is almost like some kind of end-game salute to the intensity of childhood experience, when the world was new.’