The dignity of Clive James is a lesson to us all

At 74-years-old and increasingly frail, he is focused on what he called the other day “the death door stuff”

Share

Recently, I have wondered how I will approach my own death (should, of course, I have a slow, conscious demise, and not die as a result of an accident with a domestic appliance). Will I rage against the dying of the light? Will I just feel horribly sorry for myself? Will I be cheerfully resigned to my fate, taking comfort in a life well lived? Probably a mixture of all three, but I have come to think that dying with dignity is as important as living with grace.

I have been particularly moved by the progress the great author, journalist and TV presenter Clive James is making towards his final resting place. James suffers from emphysema and leukaemia, and knows that, for him, the light will die in the relatively near future. He's not happy about it, but neither is he bashful, and the man who liked nothing more than a glamorous party and an evening of salsa dancing is studiously embracing the inevitable, bequeathing a beautiful running commentary on his own demise.

We had a false alarm a couple of years ago when James said in an interview that he was “approaching his terminus”. This prompted a flurry of encomia about James, who has been a colossal figure in British culture for the past 50 years, but thankfully journey's end proved to be a few stops further down the line.

This enabled James to have an Indian summer, doing the thing for which he will be most fondly remembered: TV criticism. So here he is, only a few weeks ago: “In The Trip to Italy, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan took their competitive impersonation skills to a new level when one of them impersonated Saddam Hussein impersonating Frank Spencer, and the other impersonated Roger Moore impersonating Tony Blair. I lost track of who was which, but it was virtuoso stuff. Meanwhile, they were eating the greatest of Italian food while surrounded with British upmarket honey-blonde chalet girls”. The James back catalogue is replete with brilliant paragraphs like this: funny, perceptive and expressed with a characteristic economy of style.

But James the TV critic is no longer, unconscionably cast aside by his employer, and now, at 74-years-old and increasingly frail, he is focused on what he called the other day “the death door stuff”, and his latest offering - a poem called “Sentenced to Life” - is a terribly affecting piece of work. You can hear him recite it himself, the voice hesitant but still definably his, on his own website, clivejames.com, and it is essentially a love letter to his native Australia, which he will never see again.

He writes of his memory of “the Pacific sunset, heaven sent/In glowing colours and in sharp relief” and concludes the poem thus:

Now I am weak. The sky is overcast

Here in the English autumn, but my mind

Basks in the light I never left behind

Tomorrow James appears on stage in London at an Australian literature festival, talking for an hour about his life and work. It's what he calls “a last post”. Very, very few of us have the gift of articulacy that was bestowed on Clive James, but we can all learn from the manner of his farewell.   

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing