Winter Sunshine

Brian Aldiss, the distinguished poet and author of many pioneering Science Fiction novels has been writing in The Guardian about what it is like to be 80 years old. Good, in the main it seems, and with few reservations and many advantages, such as not having to do what you don’t want to do. ‘You do not have to go out to dine if you can’t be bothered; a phone call in a whiney voice, a burst of sympathy at the other end, and you can stay in snugly and read Tolstoy’.

In the mornings he tends to wake up at about four or five, and instead of ‘lying there whingeing about it, I shuffle downstairs and make myself a mug of tea. Sometimes I switch on the TV and discover a world that does not exist in daylight hours. The riches of Istanbul, a chap making friends with a crocodile, someone climbing the Himalayas in a wheelchair..’

He has advice to share. ‘A tip worth passing on is not to go out looking miserable even if you feel lousy and the in-growing toenail is playing up.

Look cheerful. Keep your back straight. And lo and behold, there’s a good friend having a coffee at the patisserie up the road. Not that it matters if you can’t remember his name. He can’t remember yours.’ Its good idea to get out and about. You need exercise. And it feels so pleasant when you arrive home again. There are many foodstuffs you can buy which never existed once upon a time.’

There’s encouraging news for people who have the capacity and need for frequent siestas. Brian Aldiss says that he requires ‘spasms of sleep during the day. I will be sitting in an armchair, perhaps watching television or perhaps reading…and fall asleep. At least, that’s what I call it. But like those unfortunates caught on the wrong side of the Sittang Bridge when it blew, I find myself on the wrong side of consciousness. I have entirely blanked out’ One day, he says he will have blanked out for good and ‘this marvellous, unique lifetime will be over.

But what an easy way to go….’

‘Many people’ says Aldiss ‘feel old at 30. I still feel young in spirit. And there is a great abounding reason for that, though she has begged me not to mention her name. She is just the most empathic, intelligent, adorable woman I have had the luck to meet. My winter sunshine’.

B.R.