Category: UK

Diana Athill – Getting older/ Video

Diana Athill

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right. [Listener: Christopher Sykes]

TRANSCRIPT: Well, the chief thing is, I think… the only thing that is different is the degree of physical discomfort one is going through, because, and that has sort of slowly grown. I think, as from the age of 80, I began to think, really, I am getting a bit old. Before that, one hadn’t really noticed any difference at all. But… well, of course I had noticed differences, but not really big ones. But once your body does start, sort of, packing up in one way or another, then you do notice it. And my 90 thing, really, is that I have now got arthritis or something, I don’t know what. I’m going to have it X-rayed. In my hips. So that most of the time, I’m in pain. And that is not very nice. And it’s not very bad pain, luckily, but you know, that is something that you can’t ignore, quite. [CS] But are you in pain now? If I think about it, I am, but if I manage to think about other… it’s quite interesting, as a matter of fact. One discovers… I mean there are certain degrees of pain. Now toothache, didn’t matter what I was doing, that was going to be hell. But this kind of, sort of, nagging old pain, it’s amazing how, if you’re really interested in something else, you forget about it. And then you stop being interested and you come back to it and it’s still there. I mean, people talk about pain control. It is obviously possible to, up to a certain point, learn how to live with pain. That and forgetting. Oh dear, forgetting. I mean, that is a terrible bore. Being really very doolally, the other day… and this is… this has happened before. I have a tap in the kitchen, which is a very, very slow tap, for the filter. And you put a jug underneath and it goes dribble, dribble, dribble, and so you let it go dribble, dribble, dribble and you turn away and do this and that and the other. And twice before, I have in fact gone away and completely forgotten about it, and come back… God, a puddle on the floor. But not a very bad one. This time, I went away and downstairs, poor Georgia, who lives in the flat below, suddenly came tapping up, shouting, ‘Diana, Diana, there’s water coming through our kitchen ceiling’. And I had completely forgotten, and the whole of my kitchen was swamped with water. I mean that sort of thing is… and if it had been the first and only time, it wouldn’t have been quite so distressing, but since I knew it was a risk, and I still did it, that was worrying. I didn’t care for that. But… [CS] This is short-term memory, is it? This is short-term memory. I can always remember the long-term things, easily. But short-term memory, where I put my glasses, where I put my keys, that sort of memory. But everybody has the same problem, I think. I don’t think it’s necessarily the beginning of Alzheimer’s. I think it’s just old age. But it’s a bloody nuisance. You waste an awful lot of time. I don’t think I ever leave the house without having to look for my keys or thinking, oh, I’m halfway down the stairs, I haven’t brought with me the letter that I want to post. That sort of thing. There are things like not being able to drink, which I’ve not been able to drink alcohol for a long time now. Which, to begin with, which was very sad, because I enjoyed my drink. But that really, in the end… if something like that goes against you, so that it actually makes you feel ill, you don’t finally miss it, because you don’t really want it anymore. It’s funny, I can remember, as a young girl, hearing my mother say to somebody that she’d got out of going to some dance, thank God. And I remember thinking, I hope I die before I reach the stage of not wanting to dance. And when you don’t want to dance, in fact, you don’t want to dance anymore. And so it’s no hardship. And it’s the same with sex, that died out. And with anything, there is a stage, to begin with, when you realise it’s dying out. And you feel sad, not so much for the loss of the thing, but just because it means you’re getting old. Oh dear, it means you’ve got to accept the fact that you’re getting old. And that is a sort of hump you have to get over. But I’ve found that once you’re over that hump, you don’t really regret these losses very much. Oh, I know one I do regret, and that is music. Being deaf, which I hadn’t understood in advance, does mean that your hearing becomes distorted, not just… you don’t just lose it. And with my hearing aid in, I can hear music quite loudly, but it sounds awful. I mean, high notes. The violin is painful to listen to. A soprano voice used to be my favourite sort of voice to listen to, is now really not at all attractive to listen to. I can still hear the piano straight, so to speak… read the rest of the transcript at […]

About Diana Athill

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Diana Athill discusses death/ Video

Diana Athill

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right. [Listener: Christopher Sykes]

TRANSCRIPT: I don’t think a lot about it, but I have thought about it. Chiefly, my main thing that has contributed to me not being as worried about death as I might have been, was my mother’s death, which I did dread for a long time, because she was very ill. She was 96 when she died, and she had been getting slowly, slowly, more and more obviously… well, I think I… the way I put it in the book was the feeling that death was up there in the attic waiting to come down to do something horrid to her. And I used to… I spent more time with her in her last two years. I couldn’t quite give up my job and go and live with her, but I spent every week, I spent four days with her, three days in London working, four days with her, three days in London working. And therefore, was… I wasn’t frightened of her being dead, because she was 96 and she’d had a full life and that was all right, you know? I was pretty scared of the thought that we were soon going to have to go through the process of her dying, which I did dread. And it turned out that she was amazingly lucky. She had two days that were bad. She was planting a tree… I mean she wasn’t planting the tree herself, but her old boy who helped in the garden, she’d gone up to the end of the garden, was showing him where this eucalyptus tree was to be planted. And he looked up and thought there was something wrong, and said, ‘Are you all right’? And she said, ‘I’m feeling a bit odd. Perhaps I’d better go back to the house.’ And he took her back and settled her in her chair and looked at her, and thought, ‘Oh dear’ and rang the wonderful home-help person who used to come in and see her every morning, who happened, thank God, to be at home. Came around at once, spotted at once that she was going into heart failure, got her to the hospital, little local hospital, rang me up that evening and said, ‘I don’t think you have to get into the car and come quick, quick, quick, but I think you should come tomorrow morning’. So I got there very early the next morning, and by that time, she was in a bad way. My brother had come, one of her nieces had come, and she was purple in the face, unable to breathe. It was dreadful, dreadful, and one was longing for it be over, really. But this was amazing, because I put my hand on her hand and she opened her eyes and she looked up, and there was a moment where she was sort of groping for it, and her face absolutely lit up. It was as though this smile of recognition had come out. It was like a flame. It was so extraordinary. And it wasn’t just me who thought it was, my brother said afterwards what an amazing smile she’d given me. And then a doctor came and gave her an injection, which I suppose was morphine, and she sort of settled down. And she… we found a proper bed for her. She was in the old men’s ward, because they hadn’t got any other bed to put her in, and all the poor old men were getting a bit agitated with this going on in the corner of the ward. Anyhow, she then was put into a room of her own. And she went to sleep and the nurse said, ‘Look, I don’t think anything’s going to happen tonight, you’d better go and’… she wanted… anyway, her dog had to be fed and things, and so my cousin and I went back to the house and got there again the next morning early, and she was looking fine, sitting up. Pale and tired, but perfectly, sort of, alright, really. And she said, ‘Oh darling, could you please brush my hair for me? It does feel so horrible.’ And so I brushed her hair and I went and said to the nurse, ‘She’s better’. And the nurse said, ‘She’s feeling much better, but she’s very, very poorly, still’. And I knew what she meant. I thought, ‘Well, she means that one’s not got to expect her to get better’. And I spent that day sitting beside her. My cousin was there, too. And she slept, and then she had a little talk about this or that, and then she slept. But she was herself, really. She told us where she’d left things on the desk and that sort of thing. She had two moments of being a little bit confused. She thought her dog had come into the room at one point, and… but she was perfectly alright. And then she went to sleep again, and then she woke up, and she said to me, ‘Did I tell you that Jack drove me to the nursery to buy that eucalyptus tree last week’? And I said, ‘You told me he was going to. Did you have fun?’ And she said, ‘It was absolutely divine’. And then she shut her eyes and went to sleep again and she didn’t wake up again. Which was such an extraordinary way to go, really… read the rest of the transcript at […]