However much I might get teased at work for being a sprightly 24, it is an inexorable fact of life that old age will come for me too, one day. Extreme oldness is a curious state to imagine oneself in – is it worth the joint-ache if you get a sparkly walking stick (or better: a staff), are stair-lifts as fun as they look, and will I be wearing purple with a red hat that doesn’t suit me? – but nevertheless I’ve been thinking about it, for two reasons. One is Diana Athill’s memoir about aging, ‘Somewhere Towards the End’, which won the Costa prize. I haven’t read it but I’d like to – Athill is in her nineties, but judging by this interview, still knows how to accessorise, has most of her hair and clearly all of her faculties, plus an intact sense of humour. A good way to end up, I think.
Secondly, I had two I-want-to-be-you-when-I’m-old moments this week. One in the Oracle mall in Reading: arriving on the top floor via the escalator, I was startled out of my rosy new-shoes thoughts by the sight of an ancient couple – in their eighties at least – inexplicably waltzing on the shiny tiled floor. I mean really, formally, elbows-up waltzing, keeping time with no music at all. They were both dressed in tweed and had looks of dreamy, faraway concentration on their faces, oblivious of the giggling teenagers nearby, and it was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen.
Then this morning, driving through Pangbourne, I saw another ancient couple trying to cross the road some way in front of me. Admittedly it might’ve been easier to use the zebra crossing a few yards down the road, but the wife had those painful looking old-lady swollen ankles, so perhaps it was too far to walk. She didn’t have a walking stick of any kind, sparkly or otherwise, which seems like an opportunity missed to me. Anyway, I stopped for them to cross in front of me, and they scuttled across with nods and many little flurries of waving. At the other side, the old man turned around and actually performed a hat-tipping top-o-the-mornin-to-ya flourish with his hand, almost a bow. He did this despite not wearing a hat, despite the fact that no one’s seen fit to pull one of these off for about 50 years. Now that’s manners, isn’t it? What a legend. It was the first time I’d ever been hat-tipped, and I beamed in response and headed off to work thoroughly happy. It’s been cheering me up all day. A hat-tip! Imagine! Surely it must be worth getting old if you can pull off moves like that.