A talk by Joan Bakewell on Aging.
'Three score years and ten,' Joan Bakewell says about her age, pointing out the biblical connection - the ominous biblical connection. Three score years and ten is equated with the end of life, she says, a preparation for death; but it should not be that. Dying is its own separate phase and for most of us it will, we hope, be a short one. Old age should not be viewed as a phase of decline but a period that should be welcomed in its own right. There are, after all, certain benefits to being older than the people around you : wisdom; a treasure house of memories; a free bus and tube pass if you live in London so you can wander at will'; sometimes a period of intense creativity (in people such as Verdi and Picasso who have spent their whole lives being creative as well as those who haven't and suddenly feel an urge to paint or write a novel); a love of learning for its own sake uncorrupted by career ambition; and, oddly, time. An older person has time to pursue interests and activities that a younger person has not.
Older people are more interested in their health she says, and it because of improvements in health and medicine that we are living longer - with drugs controlling chronic diseases and technological advances providing us with replacement parts (heart valves and hips). She seemed very optimistic about the possibilities of stem cell science - medicine is on the cusp of being able to provide us with a vast range of replacement parts. I do not think she is right about this. Although it is a view promoted by journalists the stem cell research scientists that I spoke to last year seem much more pessimistic about the chances of making body parts to order in the forseeable future.
Joan Bakewell, then, describes a very positive view of life post seventy. Her column 'Just Seventy' (a play on the name of the now defunct teen magazine which was aimed at the young teen market, 'Just Seventeen') in the Guardian is something that she suggested to the editor and a collection of these have now formed the basis of her book THE VIEW FROM HERE; a book which I am sure is just as 'exhilarating, funny and always thought-provoking' as Terry Jones says it is (on the cover). However there is, of course, a 'but' here. Joan Bakewell is healthy in body and mind. She is mindful of her health and when she felt her hearing was not quite up to par she wasted no time in finding herself a hearing specialist in Harley Street (an area of expensive private clinics), and when she found herself becoming a little forgetful arranged a series of tests for that too. Her hearing and mental condition, she says, were found to be fine - 'for a woman of her age' (she smiled at the qualification). This rapidity of expert treatment of course is a benefit of being wealthy. As I listened to this charming and attractive woman extolling the benefits of becoming older I kept thinking of some of the older people I know; the ones that are isolated, poor, ill, constantly wracked with mental and physical pain. I kept wondering if they would agree and felt sure that they would not. Old age is not a time to be poor, Joan Bakewell admits, coming around eventually to considering what some would consider to be the realities of life. There are sad times. Bereavement, particularly of partners, she says, is traumatic. Her voice grew quieter then, her as if she was remembering, but then it became determinedly brighter again. Bereavement, she says, can also herald in a new era. There is not the same sense of reward and partnership but there is a new style of life, There is no point in grief holding you down. There are different rewards that can be spiritually enriching.
This was my favourite part of Joan Bakewell's talk. I think because it shows the power of the human spirit. I am sure that successful (and by that I mean happy rather than wealthy) people are positive thinkers. They keep on going - in spite of loss they continue to grow, changing direction, accommodating the disadvantages of age, poor health and lack of wealth. Joan Bakewell's attitude is, above all, life-affirming. It is why I bought the book for my mother (who has also proved herself to be determined over the past eleven months and I am proud of her for that) and why, after she has finished it, I am going to borrow it and look at it myself too.
The talk was sponsored by the 'Friends of the Chester Literature Festival' which organised the Stratford trip in September and provided 'Bakewell Slices' to go with the pre-event drinks which I thought was funny (they tasted very good too). Joan Bakewell was very ably introduced by Jan who provided a good and very interesting introduction (and has started her own blog here) while Gwen gave the equally entertaining vote of thanks.