The Blagger's Guide To: Oldies

Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

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The Independent Culture

The Oldie magazine celebrates its 20th anniversary this week with the publication of The Best of The Oldie: 1992 – 2012. With contributors including Auberon Waugh, Miles Kington, Beryl Bainbridge, William Trevor, Ruth Rendell and Sue Townsend, the book is a 192-page, full-colour "antidote to youth culture".

The magazine has a long and illustrious literary history. At Oldie Literary Lunches over the years, the Blagger has sat next to Terry Wogan, Barry Cryer, Dicky Bird and Peter Ustinov; asked Larry Adler if he had a harmonica in his pocket or was just pleased to see us; and watched the wonderful Bainbridge have such fun that she was phoned the next morning by her local dry cleaners, wanting to check that she was OK, after she popped in to see them "quite late" after the long lunch. In tribute, then, here we have the best oldies in the history of literature.

Often, in literature, oldies have all the best lines. From Stella Gibbons' 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm (right), most people remember that Ada Doom "saw something nasty in the woodshed". Nobody really recalls much of what 19-year-old Flora Poste says. (This is something of which The Oldie would approve.)

One of the earliest and finest aunts in literature (possibly an inspiration for all those aunts in Wodehouse) is Betsey Trotwood, the great aunt of David Copperfield in Charles Dickens's 1850 novel. Donkeys!

Dickens' novels are a treasure trove of oldies. Perhaps the most famous oldie is John Wemmick's father, "the Aged P", in Great Expectations, who keeps Pip company by falling asleep with him in front of the fire. The Aged P is described as having "a rakish air", and "might have passed for some clean old chief of a savage tribe, just oiled."

Novels about oldies include: William Trevor's The Old Boys; Muriel Spark's Memento Mori, Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont; Paul Bailey's At the Jerusalem; Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things (which was recently turned into the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Ronald Firbank's Valmouth (1919), in which most of the residents of the health spa where it is set are centenarians.

Thanks to users of for calculating that Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen, left) has lived for 2,021 years by the end of JRR Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings. But it's complicated. Gandalf came into Middle Earth 1,000 years into the First Age, and lives until the book ends, 2,021 years later. However, Gandalf the Grey dies fighting the Balrog and is reincarnated as Gandalf the White. Therefore, Gandalf the Grey was 2,010 years old; Gandalf the White is about 10.

Other mystical oldies in literature include Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series; Uncle Rogi in Julian May's Galactic Milieu trilogy; Mr Sellars in Tad Williams's Otherland; and Belgarath the sorcerer, "The Ancient" or "Eternal Man", in David Eddings' The Belgariad and The Malloreon series.

One of the most moving quotes from an oldie comes from Noel Strachan, in Nevile Shute's A Town Like Alice: "When peace finally came my head was shaky and my hair was white, and though I improved a little in the years that followed, I had certainly joined the ranks of the old men."

The Best of The Oldie: 1992 – 2012 is published by Oldie Publications, £14.99.