Current Issue #488

Third Age: The curve of the earth

Third Age: The curve of the earth

People are writing books about growing old while they are still young.

It is not to be borne. They display woeful ignorance. It is like those illustrations people invite you to ‘like’ on Facebook: “Like if you remember this.”

And it is a perfectly ordinary implement like a metal mincer or a glass lemon squeezer that I have in everyday use in my kitchen. Please God they never start doing it about clothes. I didn’t make it past the foreword of a book on ageing recently, before I had a feeling of unease. I found it was written by someone the same age as my son.

A seventies kid. Then I came across the words, “At the risk of sounding like an impudent youth…” and it was book-hurling time for me. I have always been a book-hurler. Bad books are time wasters.

“Life is too short, etc”: the tenor of another frequent post on Facebook, but in this case worthy of its ‘like’. People writing about old age when they know nothing of it are tremendous time wasters. People imagining old age, except, I suppose, in fiction, are boring. I see no harm in placing distance between them and me. These days I am restrained a bit by reading a lot of books on my “device”.

So for hurling, read deleting, which is satisfying, too. I now find myself critical of even acclaimed and loved authors when they wander into aged territory.

Shakespeare got a yellow card for his sans-this-and-that speech, but redeemed himself with Cleopatra and Prospero, and a lovely view of what old age could be in the final act of the Scottish play. “And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends…” Macbeth is a late play and Shakespeare was getting old by the measure of his time. To be heard on the subject of old age, authors now should be at least 65. Younger than that they should play with their own age group of which they may have some knowledge, but we have, too, of course.

They may quote grandmothers and old parents as much as they like, but they write about them as younger people experiencing old people. Only the old know what it’s like to be old. We are not to be trifled with. We own this territory. We can see the curve of the earth. The past is not a foreign country to us; just an earlier bit on the curve. (We even remember that the 1953 quote from L.P. Hartley is “foreign”, not “another”, country.)

We see beginnings of the present in the past and the mistakes of the past unlearned from. We know, for example, that trumpeting about death cults coming to get us leads nowhere. Do not “taint with fear”, Prime Minister. The old are in the best position to advise that it is wrong to try to set a young nation such as ours shivering in its shoes, whether it is about social change or people who don’t have our best interests at heart.

Old people can remember a time when, despite wars, Australians had a brave view of the present and the future. Fraidy cats didn’t get much of a hearing.


The Adelaide Festival Centre is about the same age as the lad who wanted us to read his views on old age. It is not old; just looked it when I was there for the Australian Ballet last month. But its theatres are good and we love it. We also know that $40m won’t go far in doing it up.

Adelaide has been luckier than it deserves in having three distinguished writers on the arts telling us what should be done. Starting with a cry of pain from a passionate man: Peter Goers, Sunday Mail columnist: It is “being screwed by the casino and other commercial interests in that the latest development will gain not a single extra car park” and “it will essentially have to turn around and face the river with ingress from that side, which Southbank in London also did.

I love the four theatres though.” Arts editor and all-round bloody good writer, Lance Campbell wrote an article for SA Life in July last year, a must-read for people interested in the Centre’s fate. He says that the theatres themselves are as good as you’ll get in Australia; not enough money has been found to make the needed improvements and we don’t have money to build a new one.

Of course, the Oval is mentioned. Our other distinguished writer on the arts, Tim Lloyd, favours bulldozing. “It was cheap to build, expensive to maintain, ridiculously expensive to run. Old theatres used to burn down. Perhaps they should make the new one of wood.” I’m with them.


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