Virginia Ironside’s show, Growing Old Disgracefully, at Mwldan last week, attracted a predictable audience of ‘oldies’ from the Cardigan area. Her first words on stage were to ask the audience whether there were any young people there and, of course, there were not. No-one under forty could be bothered to find out how to grow old disgracefully, and looking around at the grey, white, bald and thinnning heads, she could probably have come to that conclusion herself without asking. In fact the audience’s first words, as far as one could hear was one woman whose voice rose rather more than she intended, when she asked her friend ‘What is she wearing?’ in the tone that suggested, no-one we know would be seen dead in it. Indeed her outfit resembled a 1930s washerwoman style, and she did indeed look every inch an old woman, but whether that was intentional is doubtful, and she was perhaps in the height of London fashion, as Virginia is nothing if not Londoncentric.
Her topic turned out to be ‘Growing Old’, the disgraceful bit being hard to spot. She quickly disposed of the idea that people currently in their sixties and seventies, as old rockers and beatniks, are any different in their old age from previous generations, whether or not they would like to think they are; by saying they are in fact exactly like those who have gone before into the mire of old age with their wrinkles, dribbles and farts. She continued with this humorous list of all the discomforts, minor problems, and puzzling disappointments of the ageing years, which she averred are present in all old peoples’ lives. She made plain that those old people who really annoy are those who are still enthusiastic about life and enjoy learning, travelling and sharing with other people of their own age. Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm for spending time with her own generation is what she means by disgraceful. But she was clear in telling the audience that salvation from the rocky road of old age is falling in love with your grandchildren. Is this not what everyone who has them, has been saying for ever? Those amongst the audience who enjoy being grandparents would perhaps concur, but that does not mean that it is the only way to enjoy one’s declining years, and there are many people who may never have grandchildren and the idea that this is a universal fix-it for the difficulties of getting old is a strange notion. Perhaps, to Virginia, those who will never have grandchildren are to be pitied, like her fictional friend who is starting a degree in her sixties. During the hour she was on stage Virginia referred several times to how disgraceful she was when she was young, but we heard nothing from her, except perhaps her refusal to attend a book club, that gave us a clue about how to grow old disgracefully.