FAREWELL, MAEVE BINCHY
The beloved Irish author Maeve Binchey has died at the age of 72.
She was read by millions and regularly topped the best-seller lists (often to the despair of more high-brow literary types). Tara Road, Circle of Friends, Nights of Rain and Stars and more than a dozen more titles found a home on so many women’s bookshelves.
Born in Dublin, Maeve started her working life as a teacher before becoming a journalist at the Irish Times. She went on to publish short story collections before releasing her first novel, Light and Penny Candle, in 1982. Ultimately, she sold 40 million books worldwide.
Friendship, family life, love, heartbreak, redemption and the wonders of country life … these were the things Maeve celebrated in her writing.
Late last year she wrote a wonderful meditation on old age in the UK’s Daily Mail. In it she says growing old held no fears for her. In fact she found it a joyous time of life. She was a wise old owl, indeed.
“When I was a young girl, growing up near Dublin in the 1940s, I didn’t have any grandparents (they had all died before I was born), so I relied on older neighbours as an example of what old age might be like.
It wasn’t a positive view.
I believed that old people never laughed. I thought they sighed a lot and groaned. They walked with sticks, and they didn’t like children on bicycles or roller skates … or with big dogs.
They always said that things were different and better when they were young, and they seemed to have a negative view about our greedy generation, which wanted everything and wanted it now.
I thought it must be desperate to be old. To wake up in the morning and remember that you were ancient — and so behave that way. I thought old people were full of aches and pains and horrible illnesses.
And, of course, around us in newspapers and magazines today, people are always talking about Fighting Old Age. It seems to be a full-time job.
This cream keeps the signs of old age off your face; that conditioner restores a youthful bounce to your hair; this style of jacket is less ageing than another one. In other words, don’t let your neck be seen. It’s a dead give-away, and shows that you really are as old as the hills.
The only older heroes and heroines in this day and age are people such as Cliff Richard, Joan Collins and Jane Fonda who don’t look their age.
It’s as if looking your age is some kind of sad defeat. As if growing old is something to be hidden, dreaded and avoided.
No wonder so many people are filled with terror at the thought of reaching the grand old age of 70 — as I did in May this year.
But, truthfully, when you get there, it’s not like that at all. It’s just the same as it always was.
Seriously, why would I lie to you?
I suppose, to be fair, I don’t miss the energy of youth very much — because I was never fit. So it doesn’t matter not being able to walk miles, striding the countryside, taking deep breaths and enjoying the scenery. That was never on my agenda.
I suppose I would like to be sharper than I am, and stop forgetting names or the title of the film on television last night.
But there’s a sort of release about it in a way. Let it go; don’t fight it.
The name you’ve temporarily forgotten? It will come back. Or it will not come back. One way or the other, it doesn’t make a huge difference.
Nobody is judging you; they are not tut-tutting about you losing your memory. Usually they are too busy chasing the names and book titles that are escaping from their memories.
To me, growing older has never meant looking wistfully at fashion and thinking I am too old to wear that, or regretting the days of short skirts.
But then, in my youth, I was never into high fashion either. I was big — and in those days they made clothes for larger folk in navy or gun-metal grey. There was a great emphasis on not drawing attention to yourself.
So maybe I am luckier than those who were high-maintenance, glamour-puss people. They might have more to regret losing.
Still, they have the photographs to show that they were once contenders. So why worry?
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