An evening with Virginia Ironside
Most of us dread getting old. And because of her early career as a rock columnist on the Daily Mail in the sixties, you’d imagine that Virginia Ironside would find reaching sixty a more unpleasant experience than most. Surely someone who had interviewed the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in her time wouldn’t take kindly to being a granny and settling down with the crossword of an evening.
But as we found out, Virginia is far from a reluctant oldie. When she looked around, at sixty, for a book to console and amuse her during the last phase of her life, she found nothing. There had been Catcher in the Rye when she was a teenager, then Erma Brombeck when she was a young mum, Fear of Flying when she got divorced – and Bridget Jones was always good fun for the singleton, whatever age. But when it came to a book that offered entertaining succour during the later years, there was nothing.
So she decided, seeing a gap in the market, to write a book herself. It is called in English No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub! And in German- Ich Will Keinen Seniorenteller. The title was changed because in Europe fewer people join bookclubs than in Britain. I’ve always wondered what a Seniorenteller was she said, when she came to visit us in Berlin and spoke to an audience of 80 people. I’ve always imagined it tiny and rather mushy. You’re probably given a straw to suck it up with.
Since we are enthusiastic members of the intercultural reading groups in Berlin; why had we invited someone who is so against bookclubs. This was an awkward moment. Virginia stuck to her guns, though. I think reading is a private act between reader and author. she said. Rather like sex. I wouldn’t want to do it or discuss it in front of a whole load of people. We all laughed but couldn?t agree with her on reading being only a private matter. We love sharing our views and discussing our likes and dislikes about books. But she admitted that if she had my role as moderator, recommending books to others, she would really enjoy to do that.
And the pleasures of being old? Not feeling one has to learn a foreign language or to climb Everest or trek through Mongolia on a yak. Just to be able to potter at home and not feel guilty. To enjoy the freedom of being old. Not to care what people think of you. Virginia has blossomed and feels so much stronger than in her youth. She’s having a much better time now and is more relaxed about herself and everything. There’s been a huge increase in my confidence she said. I could never have spoken in such a relaxed way ten years ago. And the knowledge that nothing matters so much anymore. If things go wrong well – who cares! I’ve had a life. This confidence has inspired her to venture on stage as a one- woman show in The Virginia Monologues – why being 60 is great which comes out in Germany next spring. She’s already performed at the Edinburgh festival and is starting an English tour this April..
And the greatest pleasure of all? Being a granny. Grandchildren are the reward you get for not killing your children. They are another plus of being old. The relationship is a completely different experience to that of being a mother: you have more time, more patience,it’s a special kind of love. An unconditional falling in love.
And the possible disadvantages. Virginia touched on the miseries of coping with a retired husband around the house. I married him for life, not for lunch. as one of her friends said. Huge adjustmemts have to be made – suddenly to be with one’s spouse twenty four hours a day without a break can be very stressful. Virginia celebrated her single state, her freedom and the relief at not having to have sex anymore. ( Not entirely convincing over this point but we admitted that having a sex life can be exhausting as well as exhilirating. It can be marvellous to go to bed just to sleep !)
We have to face losing our closest friends as we get older. Death will happen to us all and we have to prepare ourselves and help our friends through it sometimes. Death is still mainly a taboo subject. Virginia is very positive about it. It’s the most natural thing in the world. She said. But we only do it once. People who are frightened are like people with a one-way ticket to Australia and when the flights called they haven’t even packed their bags. We must prepare for it – and thinking about it is another great interest to be found in being old. Life after sixty can be very fulfilling. Our culture is so focused on staying young and celebrating youth that we tend to forget the benefits of being older. Virginia has a great take on the third stage of life – enjoy it to the full. And we thoroughly enjoyed her very entertaining company for an evening.