Digested read: Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill

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Looking out from my bedroom window the other day, I saw a woman walking a pack of pugs. This caused me a pang because I've always wanted a pug and now that I'm 89 I can't have one because I'm too old to take it for walks and I might die before it. My friend Gertrude suggested I adopt an Angelina Jolie if I wanted some company but I'd never heard of that breed and it sounded rather high-maintenance.

Instead, I decided to treat myself to a tree-fern. It looked magnificent in the magazine and so it should have done, as it cost more than 17 guineas. But it was a rather disappointing 24 inches high when it arrived: I suspect I may now need a rather stronger prescription for my reading glasses for extra-small print, but it's such a bother organising these things when you don't know how long you're going to be around to use them.

I realised I was old on my 71st birthday, when I noticed that my libido had fallen away completely. It had been a gradual process over the previous few years, as my encounters with my final sexual partner, Sam, had become increasingly infrequent, our enjoyment owing more to a shared grumble about the arthritis in our feet than to erotic ecstasy. So when he finally said, "Do you mind if we both just listen to the wireless?" I was relieved rather than disappointed. He died of a heart attack soon after.

Fortunately, the passing of my sexual being has coincided with a convenient blurring of the memory. I have had a great many lovers over the years - some of them eligible, some not and some of whom I can even still put a name to - and the wonderful thing is I can't exactly recall who betrayed whom, so matters of loyalty have become much less important to me. Apart from that bastard Barry, who ran off with a sweet young thing and had two kids before coming to live in a menage a trois and expecting me to look after him when he got ill. He even insisted on having one of those vile new contraptions, a television, in his room. Still, I did get to watch the Grand National once a year.

In advanced old age, I approach my end without the support of religion - I find the idea of meeting Andrea Dawkins (or is it Richard Dworkin?) - in an afterlife much too troublesome, but I am not scared of death. Rather it is the process of dying, because if I continue to carry on driving as badly as I now do - I have had a number of bumpettes over the past few months - then I am sure to end up wrapped around a lamppost.

In the meantime, I still find plenty to keep me amused. I keep an eye on some old dears who are frailer than me, I like drawing and have even come to enjoy gardening, not that there's a great deal involved in maintaining the window boxes at my second-floor flat; but it is very satisfying to bellow instructions to the lithe young boy who comes to tend the downstairs patio once a week and to watch him bend over while pruning the roses.

It has also been a source of great joy to discover so late in life that I can write, as I never imagined anyone would be interested in my rather dull stories about all the famous people I have worked with over the years - André Deutsch, Elias Canetti, André Deutsch, VS Naipaul, André Deutsch. I have a sneaking feeling, though, that younger readers in their 70s are only interested in modern teenage turks, such as Martin Amis.

I feel I ought to have something profound to say about death by way of conclusion. But I don't. We're here and then we're not here. Of course, I have regrets. I've been lazy and a little cold at times, but I don't dwell on this for too long as I soon doze off. And the upside is that I'm not that much bothered about global warming.

The digested read, digested: Not with a bang, but a whimper.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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