During this week, I’ll age a year in an hour and become sixty-six. I’ll be officially old. I’ll get a free bus pass. I can claim my state pension. My doctor will list me as geriatric. The Office of National Statistics tells me that men who make it to my age will, on average, live for another seventeen and a half years and my wife, who is two days older than me, can expect to be a widow for thirty months (at least).
These numbers aren’t new to me. I’ve been using them as planning assumptions for a while. Now, though, they have become both more real and harder to plan around.
Seventeen and a half years ago I was one of a small group founding a business and retirement seemed a long way off. Death now stands waiting on the horizon at that same distance. I need to figure out what I want to do and what I can do before I no longer have the opportunity to do anything at all.
So, this week, I’ve decided to read about what other old folk, real and fictional have got up to.
I have a non-fiction book about the choices old age brings, written by a woman in her eighties, who I’ve grown up watching as a journalist and commentator on TV and who published her debut novel in her seventies. I have a stark but hopeful Swedish novel on the ability of an old man to connect with the people around him and a thriller about a woman in her eighties who is experiencing memory problems but is also searching for her missing friend.
I don’t know if it will be a fun week’s reading but I think it will be one that helps me think through the whole old-but-not-dead-yet situation.
‘The Tick Of Two Clocks’ by Joan Bakewell (2021)
It’s my wife’s fault that I’m reading this book. I don’t normally do non-fiction. I prefer to seek refuge in the fictional undergrowth rather than to gaze out over difficult, non-fictional landscapes that I have yet to navigate. Still, my wife read a précis of the book in a newspaper article and passed it on to me to read. I read it and decided I needed Joan Bakewell’s whole book and not just an abridged version of her thoughts.
You can find the article HERE. Be warned, the article is in The Daily Mail, owned by The 4th Viscount Rothermere whose influence over British Public Opinion I abhor. This article is safe enough. I can’t vouch for what happens if you get tempted by the clickbait.
I’m hoping that Joan Bakewell will help me shape my thinking about the choices that have to be made as I get to be even older than I am now.
‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrik Backman (2012)
My introduction to Fredrick Backman was his wonderful, ‘My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry’, which was filled with strong characters and challenging ideas, bound together by a little bit of hope and a lot of compassion. It’s still one of my favourite books.
‘A Man Called Ove‘ was Backman’s debut novel. Instead a grandmother-behaving-badly, this book focuses on the archetypal grumpy-old-man. I can identify with that. I was already grumpy when I was middle-aged and the world has not improved since then.
I’m hoping Fredrik Backman can inject a little optimism into my thinking.
In 2015, ‘A Man Called Ove‘ was made into a movie, starring Rolf Lassgård and directed by Hannes Holm who co-wrote the screenplay with Fredrik Backman. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and was the highest grossing foreign film of 2016 in the United States. I’m looking forward to watching it once I’ve read the book. Here’s the trailer:
This year, Columbia have decided to turn Ove into Otto and make him the grumpiest man in America. Backman and Holm both have writing credits on the movie but the story has been adapted for the American market.
Here’s the trailer for the Hanks version:
There’s a good article HERE that discusses both adaptations.
‘Elizabeth Is Missing’ by Emma Healey (2014)
‘Elizabeth Is Missing‘ was heavily promoted when it came out in 2014. It’s been on my shelves since October 2015. My wife read it and enjoyed it. I put it in the, ‘I really want to read that one day when I’m up for something good but depressing‘ pile that seems only to get taller. I think I’m ready for it now.
The BBC adapted the book for television in 2019. Glenda Jackson played Maud.
It won eight TV awards including a BAFTA in 2020.
Here’s the trailer: