Him Indoors: Revealed at last: the wisdom of the ancients

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The Independent Culture
The nights are getting shorter but are they getting harder? Why do I look so ropey in the morning now that I'm not drinking or smoking and going to bed early? I'm being so good, why do I look so wretched? When young I looked tousled in the morning, then I looked rumpled, now I look mauled. I look ruined. What happens after lights out? Does someone come in during the night and throw a bucket of old age over me? Who is it that paints another ten years under my eyes? This vandalism is deplorable. And it's pointless because, luckily, it washes off. It still washes off. By breakfast time I'm back. I've reasserted myself. Perhaps will-power is important after all.

Growing older has long been an ambition of mine. Not everyone manages it. The gains continue to be greater than the losses. Wisdom, for one thing. Age makes you wise. Eventually it becomes clear that nothing very bad can happen to you in life if your shoes are properly polished. Experience, you see. It's the great teacher. At my age, when things are going wrong, you can spot it. And very often you can work out why (it's for the same reason they went wrong last time). This is all essential to happiness. Also the hair has settled down, that's important too. The freckles have faded, they've blended into the background. Hair, freckles, five stone weight loss. Somatically, things improve as they deteriorate.

But not always. There are signs that things are not for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. That was Leibniz's idea and, broadly speaking, he was wrong; he refuted himself by getting old and dying which made him look pretty silly. It's just too difficult to construe those pains in my hands as unambiguously positive. I don't like the absent mindedness that's gaining on me, either. And then there's the disease, war, famine and death that we hear about if we listen to the news too much. And the fact that I can't do mental arithmetic like I used to - life is hard all right. We all have to work to make the best of it.

And more dangerous to our well-being, we have to come to terms with the things that won't happen any more. I was 30 years old before I realised I couldn't really become a marine biologist any more. Now I know I will never have a boathouse (it wasn't much to ask). But then the not caring so much about things helps a good deal (another advantage of emotional incompetence).

More than that, even more, we have to lay up some sort of treasure for our old age. And not just money or assets or annuities (or nursing home fees, as the Government prefers to call them). No, we need intellectual resources to play with so that we have something to do when we are sitting on the sofa holding our stick and looking at the wall.

Music, that's what I've discovered. At last opera has revealed its use. You always thought it noisy and pointless? I can't blame you because I did so myself. But the more you get to know it the more you come to like it. That's so unlike one's normal experience with people that it takes a lot of getting used to. I can only hope there's music to last the distance.