City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Book Festival: Living in the Third Age

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 21 August 2008

Show details
Running time: 
Diana Athill, Esther Rantzen, Karen Smedley, chaired by Jenny Irdell

Wedged among a bevy of blue rinses, it was
tempting to speculate how many had turned out on yet another unpredictable
August evening principally to see Esther Rantzen, doyenne of Auntie Beeb's
glory days.

Rantzen's fellow panelists, invited to comment on "Living in the
Third Age," were distinguished memoirist and retired publisher Diana Athill and
Karen Smedley, life coach to the grey of hair. Athill's most recent volume of
reflective recollection, Toward the End, has recently been published to acclaim;
her abilities, already considerable, appear to be flowering even more in these later

Athill's work and life seem the perfect rejoinder to the question posed
by the title of Esther Rantzen's recent book on baby-boomers and what they get
up to now the early morning alarm no longer goes off but the clock still ticks.
A great deal, if Rantzen is any chronicler of the scene, which may be an
appropriate term, given that quite a number seem to re-discover sex in their
later years, or to find other forms of physical activity appealing. For the still
unsatisfied, Karen Smedley had some advice on maintaining a positive outlook partly
through maintaining an attractive appearance; although clearly aimed at the
ladies in the audience, a brief scan suggested a few of the men might benefit
more from the injunctions of Ms. Smedley.

The problem, however, with maintaining
a positive attitude is that it leaves little space for melancholy, of which emotion
Robert Burton noted there is "none so sweet." Change and loss is part of all of
our lives, and to pretend such things are not is to diminish not only our experience of life, but life itself. Rantzen wondered if it was fair to burden the young
with care of the old, which led to some considerations but no serious

Athill conceded that selfishness was perhaps one of the secrets of
a good old age - a determination not so much to have one's own way, but to
remain one's own person. She also spoke of the release from sexual pressures
old age brings and the opportunities offered to form meaningful relationships
not based on sex.

Rantzen pointed out that the baby boomer generation were
unused to celibacy in the way previous generations, affected by bereavements of
the First and Second World Wars had been. Athill pointed out how those so
affected had continued to live useful lives, and that perhaps one of the
secrets of happiness at any age was to continue to be as necessary as you can
be, whatever your age.

Time: Aug 20 at 19:00

Copyright Bill Dunlop August 2008

Published on EdinburghGuide August 2008