A friend has given me a lovely old book for Christmas. The Art of Growing Old, by John Cowper Powys. The book is brilliant. A magical combination of complete tosh interwoven with nuggets of truth and gorgeous prose. Seriously, this guy was a writer of real quality. I keep finding words that I am unfamiliar with, feeling like General Melchett in Blackadder when he declares that he likes the word gobbledygook and wants to "use it more often in conversation".
I thought I would share with you some of the little gems in this book. Rather unfairly, I'm focusing on the tosh. Quotes are in italics.
Now in many respects it would be true to say that just as the United States is the paradise of young women, so Great Britain, and especially England, is the paradise of old men.
Is the USA really the paradise of young women? Perhaps my American readers can shed some light on this. England certainly is not the paradise of old men. Or of young men. In fact, England is the paradise for nothing and no-one, except bad drivers, stupid cyclists, badly trained yappy dogs and Gordon Brown and his crazy tax system.
Yesterday on the train home an old man stole another man's seat when he went to the toilet. There was no room for misunderstanding. The victim's bag was on the floor, his coat hanging on the hook, and the bloke sitting in the neighbouring seat told this old gent in no uncertain terms that the seat was taken.
"There's someone in this seat," he said.
"Yeah, me." retorted the old man.
When the victim returned an argument erupted. The victim said that he was brought up to respect his elders, and that therefore he was happy to let the old man keep the seat. But he wanted to know how the old man was brought up, and whether his parents had encouraged him to steal other people's seats. The old man wasn't best pleased.
Has an aristocratic old age any special advantages, beyond the choice of wines from a superior cellar or the glow of exercising primogenital power over less fortunate relatives?
Tell you what, those sound like excellent advantages. I can't wait to be old.
Now why is it that men are able to enter more fully into the consciousness of women than women into the consciousness of men? Isn't it because men are by nature so detached from Nature that in their wise folly they flout the great Mother-Harlot and float away from her actual-factual wash-tub upon Aristophanic soap-bubbles of immemorial amusement?
Um, to be perfectly honest I have no idea. Reading that sentence makes me feel like my grey matter has been put in ancient Athenian's blender before drifting away distributed amongst bubbles blown by an ancient Athenian baby.
Good thing is, he (cough cough) helps us all out with his next paragraph.
And yet, just because these airy bubbles of a man's contemplations are, after all, made of the soap she has been using, they carry a nearer guess as to a woman's feelings than, immersed in that soapy tub, she can form about a man's.
Why are old women so much happier and so much less pathetic than old men?...The circumference of their pleasurable contemplation is twenty times larger than that of men!
I wonder what my friend Bat Canary has to say about the spacial aspects of this statement. I can a Da Vinciesk picture of a woman's pleasurable contemplation, encapsulated in a giant circle, next to a teeny weeny circle representing a man's. The thing is, I think the circumference of my own pleasurable contemplation can be pretty large sometimes, especially when fuelled by a freshly ground coffee, fine wine or a pint of creamy Yorkshire bitter.
In the pursuance of any sempiternal caprice, whether it be the breeding of spaniels, or the hybridizing of roses, or the disentangling of the convolutions of a lost syntax, an old gentleman can at once be actively selfish and the passive recipient of celestial overtones.
Tell you what, when I'm old I certainly won't be receiving celestial overtones through syntactical disentanglement. More likely, I'll still be blathering inanely on whatever digital medium is the norm, or yelling at Simon Cowell, who prances around on TV as if he had celestial overtones, but really just has a bad hair do and an overblown ego.
Having said that, disentangling hybridized spaniels sounds fun, although not particularly celestial.
Better to be a pedantic prig enjoying yourself than an unconscious simpleton tormenting yourself.
Worst of all would be to be a pedantic prig tormenting yourself.
When they [women] do abandon themselves to Nature it is, I fancy, in one or other of four ways. They can, to put it briefly and crudely, give themselves to the elements, first as possessive and maternal Envelopers; second as Narcissistic Self-Lovers; third as virginal-athletic Dianas; fourth as Men-Cozeners, or Dryads playing up their mates.
So, my dear female readers, which of these are you? A possessive and maternal Enveloper, a Narcissistic Self-Lover, a virginal-athletic Diana or a Men-Cozener?