Fig Tree £12.99 (203pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Virginia Monologues, By Virginia Ironside
Friday 16 October 2009
Virginia Ironside forgot where she had put the computer discs from her prehistoric Amstrad. They turned up, though. Under her prescription goggles – where else? A lesser woman would have put this down to a "senior moment" and a cruder woman to a CRAFT (can't remember a fucking thing) episode, but to her all it means is that her memory, always dodgy, has just got worse. This means she can enjoy old films afresh; they seem as if just released.
Her exercise routine consists of walking to the car and yet, in a medical test, she powered a treadmill for a minute longer than a fit young man. She takes so many fish oil tablets that "I'm thinking of joining an aquarium" but, if she had only six months to live, she would take up fags again. She embraced her youth and indeed youths (more than she cares to count), but now luxuriates in her single bed. She even manages to find the plus side of her colostomy bag, though the details need not detain us.
As The Independent's no-nonsense agony aunt – or possibly great-aunt – she could have written a perfectly sober survival guide for sixtysomethings. The Virginia Monologues (one of the great titles of the autumn) is not that. Instead her book on "twenty reasons why growing old is great" is a perfectly witty rant about being 65 and, speaking as a fellow 65-year-old, I can certify that it takes, oh, months off how old I feel.
She is touching without being cloying, as when a carpet sample triggers a memory of her father's brown coat. She is wonderfully heartless, recommending "leave your partner" as a way of filling your spare time. Also, beware of making too radical a life-change: "The problem with getting a new life is that so often you die halfway through." She finds funerals more fun than weddings; they're shorter.
The chapter on death includes sections entitled "free up some space", "being bumped off" and "bumping yourself off". She complains on behalf of friends, themselves aged 75, who are lumbered with "a bonkers old parent... a wheezing semi-corpse".
There is no fear that she will pull her punches like a US magazine for retired people which deleted, from her article, the word "old". And "mature" is not an adjective which can necessarily be applied to Ironside; walking out of the chemist's with free drugs, she feels like waving them at anyone too young to qualify and chortling, "Look at these pills! All free! Because I'm older than you! Nah nah nah-nah nah!"
She doesn't mind batty hats and floaty scarves but objects to women who resemble "lumps on legs". Rather than look like the human equivalent of a vandalised 1950s community hall, they should, like her, have a facial nip-and-tuck. She leaves us with the urge to live every day as if it is our last. Because it might be.
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