I have been wrestling with a recently read 2017 Guardian article about Miriam Margolyes.
It’s an interview through which the well known actress “wants to break open a conspiracy of silence about ageing,” and specifically that “nobody tells you that old age is going to be shitty.”
As anyone reading my columns knows, my view is that it is actually no more shitty, nor more great, than any other age. But she is a notable identity whose work I certainly admire and enjoy. So I was very interested to read her basis for that statement.
And she certainly presents quite a list of challenges that she has been facing in her mid-70s. As well as knowing that “at 75, death can’t be far away,” she is developing a number of “painful and often embarrassing physical ailments that afflict people in old age.” These include stress incontinence after a kidney stone operation, the inability to walk upstairs after a knee operation, the need for a wheelchair at airports, and having osteoporosis with its vulnerability to breaking bones (though she hasn’t as yet).
She is also unhappy with what she sees as old people often being treated “as though they are invisible.” So, that does all add up to being not such a pretty picture of ageing.
The interesting thing is that woven through that interview are indications of some very positive aspects of her life.
They include not being exactly invisible herself, as she is “at the peak of her acting career and…busier with work than she has ever been.”
And certainly most of us will have enjoyed her outstanding performances in all sorts of recent roles, from Phryne Fisher’s aunt in the ABC series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, to one of Harry Potter’s quirky teachers in that series of movies.
And I noticed recently on giant bus advertisements in Melbourne that she will be starring in the upcoming Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2019 version of Alan Bennett’s’ Lady in the Van.
So, wheelchair notwithstanding, she is managing a fair degree of international travel.
At the same time, while she is now unable to go up the stairs of her five-story house in South London, her finances have clearly been sufficient to turn “her basement flat into a sunlight-filed sanctuary: her own self-contained flat.”
She also has a “warm camaraderie” with “the other great British female actors of her generation.
On the health side, she greatly values “the ‘brilliant’ NHS, which she says has provided her with state-of-the-art care.” And she is giving back by doing the public spirited thing of being an ambassador for the National Osteoporosis Society And last but certainly not least, she does acknowledge “one big upside to getting older:….the freedom to speak her mind.”
From the totality of this interview, therefore, my reading of her mind is that it is informed from the perspective of a glass half empty personality, where the negatives are highlighted and little or no countervailing joy appears attached to (almost) all of the current positives.
In reality, however, I think it’s highly likely that if she used a balance scale for the pros and the cons that she herself has identified in the interview as being part of her life at present, and put them onto the separate sides to be weighed, they would actually balance each other pretty evenly.
Which is the sort of mix that life generally is at any age, when you think about it.
Clearly, on the other hand, I too talk about ageing from a biased perspective, since – as a perhaps exasperatingly glass half full person of a similar age – I see the positives of my life right now much more brightly than the negatives.
Although, if pushed, there certainly are some of the latter. As there have been right through my life, from the agony of acne as a teenager onwards. C’est la vie.