Michael Holroyd: 'It's not easy recapturing that old youthful spirit'

From a speech given by the President of the Royal Society of Literature at King's College, London
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The Independent Online

Last year, I made a commitment to change direction and get back in step with the new youthful spirit of the Royal Society of Literature. In short, I resolved to embark on a vigorous programme of rejuvenescence.

But I have met various insults and obstacles while pursuing my presidential programme on your behalf. Offering my senior railcard to the ticket inspector on a train, he looked at me and cheerfully waved it away. "No need," he said. Had I been able to catch up with him, I would have insisted that he verify matters with a proper show of surprise.

I would not like you to think I am complaining. I never complain - though it's strange how people think I do , how they force complaints, as it were, on me. Take for example my experiment in fundraising for the RSL. I took an initiative by writing to my bank suggesting that it might like, in various imaginative ways, to enrich our contemporary literature, starting with us at Somerset House.

They sponsor sport, they sponsor television programmes, they sponsor anything that is already successful. So what about the RSL? Their reply, when it eventually came, said that they were dealing with my complaint.

So I wrote again, rather more forcefully this time, protesting that I was not in the business of complaining and suggesting that they reassign my letter to their sponsorship office. A little later, a cheque for £100 arrived with a covering letter telling me that this amount was in full settlement of my complaint. I read it with mixed feelings and passed the money on to Maggie Fergusson and Julia Abel Smith, silently calculating that if we were all to issue these non-complaints our financial problem might be solved.

So what evidence can I produce to show you that I am keeping up with the RSL in the repossession of my youth. Not, I think, on my unfortunate passport or my embarrassing British Library card or my coveted bus pass. But there is one place where I have never aged at all - quite the contrary - and that is on my book jackets where I really do think I am getting younger as the years pass (readers have commented on it).

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