Notebook

Why is it that age limits never apply to men?

6 June 2020

9:00 AM

6 June 2020

9:00 AM

I’d never have thought I’d be good at doing nothing. Or rather walking the dogs, loafing in the sun, trying to match Paul Hollywood’s tête de brioche (third time of trying), doing jigsaws and reading hefty books. But I’m lovin’ it. The only thing that stresses me — indeed brings me out in lower-deck language most unbecoming to an octogenarian — is doing live shows or podcasts on Zoom or Skype while our broadband buffers, stutters or crashes. And some poor presenter is trying to fill the gap, desperate for me to make the technology work.

Calls to Relate have tripled under lockdown I’m told because seeing too much of each other is seriously straining relationships. So I’m duly grateful that my husband John has risen to the lockdown challenge. He combs the matted nettles out of the spaniels’ fur, gives me a number six with barber’s clippers, does the laundry (even the sheets) and washes up. He’s also turned cameraman, lighting man, stylist and director for my social media cooking demos and for endless appeals for hard-up charities. I notice he’s getting increasingly bossy. Next he’ll demand a deckchair with his name on the back.

I don’t like doing ‘shout-outs’ for worthy causes. I feel like a virtue-signalling rent-a-voice. But seeing I am so spoilt and so lucky with garden, space, kind neighbours doing the shopping, and John, the least I can do is oblige.

Every Friday, I’m also making supper for staff in our local care home, which they think is kind of me. The truth is I do it because I prefer proper catering to fiddling around with mini-dinners for two twice a day, which is nothing like as satisfying as making old-fashioned comfort food such as fish pie or spag bol for 30. Hundreds of chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, drivers and washers-up are getting lockdown therapy by feeding hard-up families or NHS staff who work 12-hour shifts with no time to shop. If you want to help, I’d recommend googling Food4Heroes or Chefs in Schools.


I’m not sure that we oldies aren’t being over-protected at the expense of the young. We’re told that people over 70 are 90 per cent more likely to die of coronavirus than young children, so I guess it’s important to keep us out of harm’s way so we don’t clog up the hospitals. But I bet some economist somewhere is thinking what a good thing it would be for the country if there were a lot fewer old people. We are a very expensive cohort: we need a lot of healthcare; we don’t earn any money, we don’t do much work and we live longer and longer. Anthony Trollope wrote an amazing novel, The Fixed Term, about a shipwrecked community in the South Seas who devise a quasi-religion that makes it compulsory, and honourable, to walk into oblivion at the age of 70. Interestingly, when the charismatic leader responsible for this solution nears 70 himself, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

Funny that. I can’t count the number of men in my long business life, who, when reaching 70 and expected to leave the board, found very good reasons why an exception should be made in their case: ‘I’m the only true hotelier on the board; I understand the history of the company like no one else; So-and-so needs my guidance for a couple of years.’ Dictatorial presidents are less subtle. They just change the rules.

Dollan Cannell is doing a book broadcast (britainsfavouritenovel.com) for Channel 5, asking half a dozen writers to choose five out of the 30 allegedly most-loved English novels. I chose Wolf Hall, Middlemarch, Lady Chatterley’s Lover,Birdsong and White Teeth. It seems I like big-canvas meaty novels that perfectly encompass a period, place and big cast. Which is true of them all except Lady Chatterley, whose world is very small. All the best bits (and yes, they are the best bits) happen in a shed.

I’m trying to sort 60 years of newspaper cuttings: stuff I’ve written and articles about my businesses and books etc. But I’m throwing almost nothing away. Really, I should just chuck everything out: when I die neither of my children will have time to sort them, or the space to keep them, even if they wanted to. When my actress mother died, she left cupboards full of memorabilia, typescripts, theatre programmes, press cuttings. I did keep her diaries, but then I took a deep breath and put the rest, unread, on the skip. It looks as though I will do as she did, leave the problem to the next generation.

I’d no idea you could feel affectionate about a machine. But we have a robot mower and it’s enchanting. It trundles diligently all over the lawn, apparently randomly, endlessly cropping, 24/7. When it gets tired it beetles back to its charging base and has a wee rest, then it’s off again. I want to give it a pat as it passes.

When lockdown is over, I don’t suppose I’ll have the courage to resist returning to my old hectic run-around. I am so useless at saying no. But it would be nice to hang on to something of this, even if it’s just the jigsaws.

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