Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Old Devil Can Still Play Best Tunes: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Old Devil Can Still Play Best Tunes: Books

Article excerpt

Age has not withered him: James Stevens Curl enjoys the wry company of a kindred spirit.

Defying Decrepitude: A Personal Memoir

By Alan Peacock

University of Buckingham Press 140pp, Pounds 10.00

ISBN 9781908684257

Published 14 March 2013

Sir Alan Peacock (born 1922), the distinguished economist, lists as his recreations "trying to write serious music" and "wine spotting", activities which suggest something of the flavour of this wry bookette in which he describes, if not exactly with relish, aspects of creeping decrepitude and the indignities inflicted on persons of advancing years. Grisly visits to one's General Medical Practitioner (Peacock calls them "MOTs for Old Bangers") are recorded with a lightness of touch not normally associated with grim waiting rooms (the reading matter in which provides dire warnings concerning the Dangers of Being Alive at All). Something of Sir Alan's puckish humour is suggested by the memoir he prepared for his old school in Scotland, which was rejected for publication as "pornographic": one can imagine some purse-lipped figure taking exception to dispassionate accounts of not unique episodes of youthful exuberance (such as impressive feats involving peeing over high walls into the girls' playground on the other side).

We are entertained with clear-eyed analyses of the "costs and benefits" (one phrase that chills the blood of this reviewer) of retirement, as well as with the various ploys open to us in the anticipation of lengthening life-spans (agreeable if one has some of one's wits about one, and even better if one's physical infirmities do not prevent a customary tendency to whizz about, eagerly sniffing out new things, like a dog with an infinity of lamp posts ahead). Tiresome sides of having to deal with medicos more often than was the case when one was younger are the perils of "healthspeak" and a tendency among some of them either to talk down to patients or to overload them with jargonese: fortunately, Sir Alan (like this reviewer) has no time for drivelling imbecilities and so, mercifully, his medical adviser (like mine) understands the need to give facts, straight, with clarity, precision and the avoidance of obfuscation.

As we hurtle towards the yawning grave (death being the only certainty in life, something the ancients well knew and dealt with more realistically than most manage today), the realisation that this is it, no rehearsal, gives meaning to Life itself. …

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