Authors: Virginia Ironside
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Humor, #Nonfiction, #Retail
currently writes the “Dilemmas” weekly advice column for
in London. This is the author’s first U.S. publication. She lives in London.
“[Ironside] has done her readers a wonderful service in giving us the fictional Marie Sharp….
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club
is, in fact, a perfect choice for book clubs. It takes on the biggest issues—our lives, loves, deaths—in acerbic, tender, thoughtful ways.”
The Washington Post
“Screamingly funny…reads like an AARP-issued
Bridget Jones’s Diary
…This is the kind of book you gobble up, then reread so you can hoot out loud all over again.”
“Funny, sometimes trenchant commentary on dealing with life, loss, and a new grandchild.”
The Seattle Times
“Marie’s wicked sense of humor makes this a fun read…. This novel is more than a light romp. Marie shows great heart and wisdom as she experiences joys and sorrows…. Ironside has written a very human story.”
“So funny and human, so full of cranky wisdom and plucky resistance to the ordinary ways of facing old age. I’m thinking of reading
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club
once a year from here on in to cheer myself up. If you’re over 50, you should read it, too.”
The Buffalo News
“The witty insights of a ’60s ‘survivor’ who’s happy she’s hit the big 6-0.”
AARP The Magazine
“Both humorous and poignant, this will appeal to its target boomer demographic and should pull in a few young readers as well.”
“A smart, funny coming-of-old-age novel.”
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club
is the poignant and utterly engaging diary of Marie Sharp, a retired art teacher who discovers that being 60 is joyous and fun because life is suddenly full of new possibilities.”
“Cracks along…Ironside writes with pacy verve.”
“Wise, funny and heartwarming.”
“A delight to read.”
“Readers will rub their hands together with glee…few books are so original, so entertaining and so thought-provoking…Marie Sharp is a genius comic creation.”
“This hilarious diary of a mature woman certainly gives Bridget Jones a run for her money.”
“Her fictional diary reads like a grumpy old Bridget Jones. It had me laughing out loud on the bus.”
Woman & Home
“A different spin on a well-established genre…This is a genuinely funny and involving romp.”
“With immense wit and charm…Virginia Ironside celebrates getting to an age when she can give up the stuff that bores her, and rejects the platitude that you can somehow become lively and interesting on the brink of old age if you’re not those things already.”
DIARY OF A SIXTIETH YEAR
A PLUME BOOK
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in a Viking edition.
Copyright © Virginia Ironside, 2006
All rights reserved
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Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
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OK. This is it. About fifty years too late, but better late than never. A diary. I know it’s not January 1st, or even November 1st, but there is no time like the present. Don’t we always say to ourselves, “If only I’d written a diary when I was twenty?” Or thirty? Or forty? But in my sixtieth year (or fifty-ninth, to be precise—or, oh God, maybe it
my sixtieth year—I remember some tedious man explaining to me recently how even though I’m fifty-nine, I’m actually in my sixtieth year, totally incomprehensible, but I finally gave in), anyway, in whatever year it is, I, Marie Sharp, retired art teacher, divorced, one son, one cat and resolutely single after about one million failed relationships, am determined to give it a final crack. A diary, that is. Not a relationship.
Oh dear me no.
I wrote my first diary when I was ten. Riveting stuff. “Got up. Went to school. Had maths—ugh! Came home. Did prep. Had supper. Went to bed.” I started another when I was a teenager, but that was when I had a crush on Archie, who was a year older than me and had no idea of my feelings. I still have about four exercise books covered with the words “I love Archie,” “I LOVE Archie!,” “I LOVE ARCHIE!!!” on every page. On the cover of one of them is a huge crimson heart with “ARCHIE” emblazoned on it.
I remember when David and I were married and had our son, Jack, we kept a joint diary, but that was just full of lies because we each knew the other one was going to read it. I had to keep a separate, secret diary, because I felt so miserable about the whole marriage. In our joint diary I wrote: “Great day! We all went to the Round Pond with Jack and came back to tea with Hughie and James. Lots of jokes and a splendid tea!” In my private one I wrote: “I just can’t stand David and his horrible relations. I can’t bear the way they all feel like a secret society I’m not part of. I want to be free! I want to dance! I want to have affairs!”
Of course, shortly after that, I did, and David and I broke up, but oddly we stayed friends. (Anyway, God knows what he was writing in
secret diary.) Even odder, I also stayed friends with his half-brother, James, and his partner, Hughie. AND I stayed friends with Archie, even though I never had an affair with him. When he married Philippa, I was at his wedding, and we’ve had lunch every so often over the years. It turned out that his firm in the City used Hughie as his solicitor—he works in something mysterious called “futures”—so, as so often happens, all my friends made a complete circle.
I didn’t have time to keep a diary when I was at art school, or doing teacher training, and it’s only now I’m sixty—well, I will be in a few months—that I’m going to give it a go. I mean, properly give it a go. So…
Woke with watery eyes. Very bad sign. I mean it’s OK to get them on a cold and windy day, or when something terrible has happened like flu and you think you’ve got glandular fever and will never be able to so much as walk to the shops again, let alone lift up a telephone to moan to a friend about being unable to walk to the shops again. But to get watery eyes for no reason—ugh! I know a man of seventy whose eyes water so much he has a drip permanently on the end of his nose. It is, I fear, a sign of age.
It’s like the time when I went to Dr. Farmer recently with pains in my knees. “A touch of osteoarthritis, Marie,” she said. “Happens at our age.”
When I explained that it couldn’t happen to me because I never take any exercise and therefore my knees ought, in theory, still be in perfect shape, the knees of a ten-year-old, barely used, exceptionally low mileage, one careful lady owner, I could probably even dig out the original box and receipt, she explained it didn’t work like that.
Rather a bore.
Have just come home, gasping with relief, from a dinner party. I was hoodwinked into accepting the invitation because my old friend Marion rang using the well-worn trick: “What are you doing on Thursday?” and instead of saying, cautiously: “Why?,” I fell into the trap.
“Nothing,” I said.
I suppose the odd dinner party can spring a wonderful surprise. And Marion, being something of a wonder woman—like cheese, she’s always on a board—has been known to produce interesting guests. But generally dinner parties are like the lottery. You rarely win. The problem is first of all there are never enough men, and, by now—middle-aged, I was going to say, but perhaps the phrase “getting on” might be more accurate—the men who do attend are always spare for a very good reason: They are either completely hopeless or completely mad.
(I’m not sure that description doesn’t apply to most men, actually, whether they’re spare or not, which is really why I’ve ended up so committed to being single. Doesn’t mean some men aren’t funny, sexy, kind and fascinating, but you can be all that and hopeless and mad at the same time.)
The second problem with dinner parties is that, as you get older, you don’t—well, I don’t—actually
to meet anyone new. There are quite enough people I know whose friendship I would like to consolidate—and other people’s favorite people are very rarely my favorite people, and vice versa. The only new people I do want to meet are young people. But
old people want to meet young people. We fall on them like vampires.
I remember myself, when about seventeen, being mobbed by men and women who, at fifty, seemed ancient. “Do let me sit next to you!” they’d say, floppy lips working over tobacco-stained teeth set into receding gums. “I do so love
!” And I would cringe as they hovered close, sucking into my youth, slavering over my peachy, blooming skin, my sadly immature views, my everything.
“Do tell me why you like the
“Why do you like young men with long hair?”
“Do explain the Beatles to me—I do find them
“Don’t you find mini-skirts rather
we hear so much about these days?”
Nowadays, I don’t blame them, though I’d never be so overt in my own craving for the company of the young.
Yesterday I was talking to one of my best friends, Penny, and told her that yet another friend of mine had died—Philippa, actually, the wife of Archie, who I had a crush on when I was a teenager. (She’s the fourth to pop off this year. I have actually attended no fewer than five funerals since January.) And she said that six of her friends had died in the last eighteen months.
“The awful thing is,” she said, “that now we just have to make do with the people who are left!”
“Unless,” I said, “we cultivate young people.”
“Which we don’t!” she said.
Well, I have to say I
though the admission feels as sinful and horrifically honest as getting up in an AA meeting and saying I’m an alcoholic. I mean, who is there going to be left when all around drop like leaves from trees in autumn? If I’m not one of the early droppers, I certainly don’t want to be hanging around on a bare branch, flapping away all dry and brown and lonely. I want some nice young green shoots around me.
Marion and her husband, Tim, live in a poky little Edwardian house in West London, still decorated with the Laura Ashley wallpaper that had once looked so pretty in the sixties. They are one of a group of friends of mine who seem to live in rock pools—their sitting rooms could be scooped up, transported to the Geffrye Museum and displayed, along with beautifully preserved Elizabethan parlors and Georgian music rooms, as typical examples of mid-twentieth-century style.
The moment I entered the dinner party (awash with gray heads) I knew I was in trouble. You arrive at 8:15 and there is no way you can leave until after 11:00. Dinner parties can be miniprison sentences, only you don’t get out early for good behavior.
Things weren’t helped by the arrival of a guest who wore her bag across her raincoat from left shoulder to right hip—presumably to make the chances of getting mugged less likely. To add to the general picture of insecurity, she had her glasses on strings, another sign of age and madness. If you can’t ever find your glasses, I say, then wear them all the time. If you have to, push them up on to your head. But don’t have them hanging down on beaded strings. It looks as infantile as a three-year-old wearing gloves that are attached by ribbons to his coat.
Because I used to teach art and so could, at a stretch, be regarded as someone in the helping profession, my hosts had, at dinner—thoughtfully, they imagined—put, on my left, a male psychotherapist with a beard. Have to say I’m not mad about psychotherapists. They always look unnaturally serene, never cross their legs, as if they’ve been Alexander-techniqued up to the eyebrows, which they probably have, and they always have sinisterly caring voices. I’m not actually crackers about beards either, come to that. It’s a truth, I’ve found, that men with beards are never remotely sexy. I think they grow beards not to hide weak chins, but to hide their weak masculinity. Men with beards often seem to have rather large, womanly bottoms.
This guy also had a lot of very white hair. There’s something a bit fishy, I think, about a man clearly over sixty who has a lot of hair. He looked rather like an effeminate sheep.
As we chomped our way through chili con carne—along with the house, Marion’s cooking is also stuck in a seventies time warp—the therapist referred occasionally to Freud. When he did, I heard myself saying, rather acidly I’m afraid, that Freud was the most frightful old nightmare, who had, during his many incarnations, once recommended the taking of cocaine to his patients. Indeed, for a while he had been a cocaine addict himself. Total fraud.
“Are you sure you’re not making a ‘Fraudian’ slip?” asked the therapist. Everyone laughed in the way English people do when given the chance to relieve the tiniest hint of either seriousness or unpleasantness in the conversation.
He chuckled in a knowing and patronizing way, therapist style, and went back to his salad. I was very pleased when a bit of lettuce got trapped in his beard.
I’m afraid I was in rather a bad mood. I had arrived in a bad mood. And the feeling had been exacerbated long before the realization that my neighbor was a therapist by the fact that the hosts had placed in the middle of the table a huge centerpiece of giant yellow and red tropical flowers, flanked on either side by tall candles, making it impossible for anyone on one side of the table to see anyone on the other. The flowers were those weird kinds that look like penises and vaginas—only recently featured on the floral scene and totally ghastly. I managed, with a great show of jollity and apology, to get the centerpiece moved. (“Oh, isn’t it beautiful, but darling, I want to
you when you talk!”), but felt that I could hardly make demands about the candles, too, so all the guests had to dodge round them to speak. Every time I looked across the table I felt like a prisoner in Wormwood Scrubs.
Yes, bad mood. The older I get, the more of a loose cannon I become at dinner parties. Nine times out of ten, I can shine and be good fun, but the tenth I start yelling about inappropriate things, like how great euthanasia or abortion is, or how wrong it is to give aid to Africa, and everyone gets frightfully hot under the collar and embarrassed. They say that this outspokenness is something to do with the synapses atrophying in the frontal lobes as you get older, but I think it’s just the ludicrous confidence that comes with age. This time we got on to the subject, sparked off by Mrs. Glasses-on-Strings revealing (as they so often do these days) that, being sixty, she had just received her Freedom Pass, and how wonderful it was traveling on public transportation for nothing.
I said I would be sixty in a few months, and couldn’t wait.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Glasses-on-Strings, trying to ingratiate herself with me. “You’re only as old as you feel. Sixty years young!”
“Sixty going on twenty!” said the therapist.
“I really can’t agree,” I said. “If you’re sixty, you’re sixty. Sixty is old. I am just longing to be old, and I don’t want to be told I’m young, when I’m not. I’m fed up with being young. Boring. I was young in the sixties, and once, believe it or not, I slept with a Beatle. Been there, got the T-shirt, wore it to death and put it in a bag for Age Concern. When I was twenty, sixty was old, when I was thirty, forty and fifty, sixty was still old. I’m not going to change the goal posts now.”
“I’m sixty,” said Marion, as she smilingly collected the plates. (It’s an odd fact that most men never realize when empty dishes are being stacked up. The therapist, who no doubt in his work prided himself on his acute sensitivity to other people’s feelings, sat with his plate firmly in front of him, unaware that major operations were being carried out, which required his cooperation.) “But I don’t feel a day over thirty!”
“But, Marion, don’t you realize that that’s
?” I said. “To continue feeling thirty for the whole of your life! So boring! A nightmare! I’m longing to feel sixty! What’s wrong with that?”
“The great thing about age,” said the therapist, whose wife had finally leaned over the table and taken his plate, “is that it’s never too late. You can do so many things. Take an Open University degree, go bungee jumping, learn a new language…”