Grace Dent: No need to ‘win’ when you’re old

Joan Bakewell says in later life one needs to give up ambition, rivalry and anxiety

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If I’m going to take advice on old age from anyone it’s the fearsomely clever, accomplished and often right Joan Bakewell. She says, at 81, that to be happy in later life one needs to give up ambition, rivalry and anxiety. “It’s too late. You’re never going to lead an army. Let someone else win the race. Give up winning.”

This is a refreshingly thoughtful approach to ageing. Many of us devote our lives – without intention -  to pursuing our ambitions, fuelled by rivalry, envy and greed. All of our high-days and holidays are marred by ambition’s toxic by-product - anxiety. Old age’s freeing aspects should be more celebrated. I like the concept of a retirement world where relaxed, contemplative “losing” – which includes not giving a stuff about “who got what before you” -  is de rigeur. Of course, critics may jump on Joan and say old age should be about inspirational deeds, post-hip replacement marathon running, staying abreast of modern parlance and fighting a battle of grey hair vs Clairol Nice n’ Easy Age Defy. But there’s something that sounds rather appealing about sitting back and thinking, “that’s for other idiots”.

A beautiful victory for the pudgy genius in Timothy Spall

In a climate where it is verboten for critics to discuss actors’ aesthetic exteriors, it’s hard to talk about the importance of national treasure Timothy Spall being awarded best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for Mr Turner, 31 years after he was Barry in Auf Weidersehen, Pet. Spall can transform any scene he appears in with a hangdog expression or wobble of the lip, but he has never had heartthrob “leading man” appeal. This just makes the win even more delicious.

“Turner was just a funny little fat man who happened to have genius at the touch of his fingers on a paintbrush,” he said in his speech. “I’m a funny little fat man too, but it’s the performance on-screen that the critics have responded to.”

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