Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Happy Old Me: How to Live Long and Really, Really Enjoy It by Hunter Davies. Simon and Schuster. £16.99
On the cover he looks like a retired colonel from the Raj. Khaki shorts, well-bronzed legs, short-sleeved shirt, dapper moustache, an experienced face and an authoritative stare. He’s even sitting in a canvas chair. He isn’t a colonel, of course, but Hunter Davies. At the grand old age of 82, he’s happy with his life, so happy, in fact, that he is prepared to share the secrets of his happiness with anyone prepared to read his book.
The life looks good. After sixty or more years as a journalist, - he’s got a few regular columns in such papers as The Sunday Times, The New Statesman and Cumbria Life – he’s still working, and he intends to go on scribbling until the pen falls from his fingers. He doesn’t use a pen. His wife, Margaret Forster, the novelist, always wrote with a treasured fountain pen. She died of cancer a few years ago after years of pain. Hunter, however, is up-to-date with a computer and e-mails. He’s got his grandchildren to show him what to do if he gets stuck.
He still lives in the large house in Highgate where he and Margaret raised their three children. Now, all three live near enough to keep an eye on him, do the odd job, and take him to the supermarket for his monthly shop.
Not that he needs overmuch. There’s the wine, of course. A bottle a day is recommended. A glass with lunch and then an hour’s rest and then two glasses in the evening watching the football. There’s cooking, but he can manage something on toast, and the children and the neighbours always do a little extra and leave it in his fridge so he can heat it up. Margaret wouldn’t have a microwave in the house, but now it has pride of place in Hunter’s kitchen.
He stopped driving a few years back. He kept bumping the car into the side of the garage, and, anyway, as he got older, the insurance went up. Hunter’s always kept a close eye on the purse strings.
As for being lonely, after writing his columns, he has a coffee in a local coffee shop, perhaps he’ll have lunch with one of his many lady friends, and then he goes swimming three times a week in Kentish Town.
And he does have a “chum” to spend some time with, to go on jaunts and stay in the cottage he’s bought for the children and grandchildren in Whitstable. And that chum? Some time after Margaret’s death, he mentioned in one of his articles that he was looking for a chum, - she had to be a respectable few years younger and have her own teeth – and the offers flooded in. He carefully vetted them all – took them out for a meal, etc., and then found the perfect chum.
It really looks as though Hunter has got it made.
As always, Hunter is good company. This is the third volume of the autobiography of a man who paints his life as being very fortunate. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s led a life many would envy – money enough, a long and happy marriage, an interesting and self-directed career and a life sufficiently in the limelight to be quietly well-known and to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
And he tells his story with his usual deft touch, witty, observant, light-hearted, and with a sharp, amused fascination with life.
If you’re old and miserable and looking for a self-help book, Hunter’s so up-beat, he’ll make you depressed. If you want a few hours in genial company, Hunter’s your man.