The death from cancer at 69 last week of the world's oldest mum produced some provocative headlines – and I suspect they were written by men. "Two-year-old twin sons orphaned" is factually correct, but will these small children really ever remember their mother?
They are not too old to be adopted, with no lasting emotional damage. In this country there's no legal cut-off point for women to be given IVF treatment, but clinics don't generally treat women over 50. In other countries, the rules are more relaxed. Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara left her home town of Cadiz in Spain and travelled to LA, paying a whopping £30,000 for fertility treatment, which must have taken a lot of saving on her shop assistant's wage. She lied about her age, claiming to be 55, and the clinic doesn't seem to have checked the facts very thoroughly.
When Maria gave birth, at the end of 2006, she was 66, and joked that she hoped to live as long as her mother, who died at 101. In the event, she contracted cancer, the progress of which may have been accelerated by the drugs she took during her fertility treatment. So this is a tragedy, but not for the two small boys she left behind. Maria's yearning for children probably shortened her life.
Maria lived simply, managing on her pension and child benefit, in a one-bedroom flat, with her brother and his wife (both in their seventies) helping out. She'd spent her life caring for her mother. Older mothers are routinely talked about as if they are at best bonkers and at worse selfish old hags. Maria comes from a society where family ties are extremely strong, and the elderly are not shunted off into care homes, and where you see clans from age eight to 80 sitting together on the beach or in a restaurant, all getting on with each other. How different from this country, where anyone over the age of 80 who dribbles and is a bit embarrassing is shunted off to a care home for someone else to mop up, and where the average family will spend the next few weeks bickering on holiday.
Last month, the UK's oldest mum, Elizabeth Adeney 67, returned to work as the MD of a plastics and textiles company in Suffolk. She has a well-paid job and lives in a large house, where her son Jolyon is cared for by a nanny while she resumes her career. Rather different from the humble surroundings in which Maria cared for her twins. But both women were IVF tourists – Mrs Adeney is thought to have travelled to the Ukraine. An increasing number of British women are making this journey, because they are too old to get treatment here, and it's cheaper abroad. Each cycle of treatment costs between £4,000 and £8,000 in the UK, whereas in Spain, Slovakia or Turkey it will cost between £1,500 and £2,000. And although there is more chance of a stroke or miscarriage in a later pregnancy, it's more bothering that these foreign clinics may not be run to the high standard we have here. It is a shame that so many women will take such risks, but I defer to their right to do so.
Both Maria and Elizabeth sound pretty sensible to me. Maria said her boys would never be alone – "because there are lots of young people in our family". Elizabeth, when asked how she felt, replied "some days I feel 39, others I feel 56". And for every old mum, there are a dozen very old dads. They're virile, but old mums are pariahs. Funny, that.
Out of this world Why 'Moon' is far and away the best of British
Forty years tomorrow, Apollo 11 put the first men on the Moon, and last week Nasa finally launched the 17-year-old Endeavour spaceship on a 16-day mission, after numerous delays.
In the eight years leading up to that historic day in 1969, Nasa spent the equivalent of $14bn, employing 300,000 technicians in order to beat the Russians.
In a recession, there's little chance of Nasa ever returning to those glory days – their goal remains to send men back to the Moon by 2020 and eventually put them on Mars – but they'll have to go begging for funding from a cash-starved administration in the United States.
A wonderful new film has just opened with perfect timing, showing what lunar life could be like – so dreary and repetitive, it's carried out by replicants. The writer/director, David Bowie's son Duncan Jones (he wisely dumped his birth name of Zowie), has pulled off an astounding achievement. With a budget of only $5m, his first feature was shot here in the UK. It is set on a mining base on the Moon run by just one man – played by Sam Rockwell.
I was on Edinburgh's International Film Festival jury last month which voted this the best new British feature – a unanimous choice. Jones pays homage to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 and John Carpenter's Dark Star, but creates an original world of his own. Moon's touching story of loneliness and emotional deprivation unfolds gradually. Kevin Spacey is the creepy voice of the robot, Rockwell's only companion. Unmissable.
Forget the holiday snaps, Gordon
Gordon Brown is taking his holiday in the Lake District – not a very original choice. I avoid the Lake District at holiday times: bumper-to-bumper traffic, over-priced hotels and guesthouses, and guaranteed lousy weather. The Lake District is fabulous in May and early June, or October, when the walking is superb and the towns and villages emptier. Why did the Browns choose a National Park, anyway? There are so many beautiful places in the UK that could do with a boost from tourism. How about the Northumberland Coast – miles of golden sands, loads of ruined castles and plenty of history? I hope at least we're not going to be granted any "casual" holiday snaps. Last year's were a disaster. I don't believe Gordon ever takes off that dark suit and white shirt. They must be welded to his torso.
Continental or full English, sir?
Did you hear the story about the Dutch swingers club that managed to book an entire country house hotel in Somerset for one of their parties? The owner of Halswell House didn't suspect a thing, even though they'd asked for a chill-out room filled with beds and silk sheets. He assumed they were planning a Moroccan-themed evening. On the stroke of midnight all the well-dressed guests got their kit off and started shagging, even on the staircase, although we are told that all rumpy pumpy had ceased by 3am. I'm sure of one thing. I bet when the guests arrived the receptionist asked them if they wanted an alarm call and what morning paper they'd like. I find English country house hotels just about the least sexy places on the planet, from their flowery sofas to the anodyne piped music in the hushed dining rooms. Clearly, the Dutch are turned on by different things.