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Ms Joanna Regrets
Joanna North
Bingo is just not enough. (Especially if you hate bingo.)

Having reached the age of 82 and three quarters (you count life in quarters at this age) with my mobility eroded by a wonky heart I rely a great deal on novels, crosswords and to some degree, television. I say some degree because television just isn't for my age group (although we constitute a huge part of its audience.)

There are endless soaps filled with hatred and spite, programmes with little laughter and joy and mindless chat shows where everyone recycles their suffering and misery. The chat shows seem populated by people chosen entirely for their looks rather than their brains and for some reason everyone seems to shout at each other, a lot. Talking heads can be interesting but mostly they seem to be speaking a language that is incomprehensible. I actually need sub-titles to understand them. The TV is, I am afraid, catering to the lowest common denomination and low attention spans. I long for shows that aren't about 'sex '. It isn't that I am a prude, but it makes me feel like an intruder when everyone is panting away. TV producers are constantly trying to see what they can get away with, but now anything goes is apparently the norm. But I ask, whatever happened to love? Did I miss something?

I do love a good mystery and I am addicted to crime novels from intelligent authors. My favourite authors are nearly all female, it's just a coincidence but they seem to write thrillers better than men do. Mary Higgins Clark, Elizabeth Adler and P.D. James for example challenge the reader and your mind. I like to pit my wits again the author and work it all out.

I still love cooking, but paradoxically I do not like eating anymore. I once entertained a great deal but with my crumbling spine and friends now dead or immobile, it's a bit quiet in my kitchen these days. Luckily family still visit from time to time and I dig all the old recipes out. Occasionally, when I am energetic, I make up some dishes and put them in the freezer ready for their visits. It leaves me more time to chat. Once every fortnight my home help comes for the day, so, much to my daughters bemusement, I cook a splendid meal for us both and we sit, eat and chat. We discuss life, religion and politics and itıs amazing how quickly this time passes. I am so lucky she comes over and she makes my home sparkle.

Each week Radka from Prague comes over to help me for a couple of hours. She, like my home help, are both Jehovah's Witness and firmly believe in their chosen way. The inner joy and security they have is a tonic but I am afraid neither has been able to convert me, we agree on much but I'm probably beyond saving.

The one real problem of being old and increasingly immobile is the terrible loneliness. I am fairly self-sufficient but even a trip to the supermarket is difficult now and I wish the UK catered for old people in the way that Canada does. The facilities for pensioners in the UK are extremely poor and a cup and tea and bingo is just not enough. (Especially if you hate bingo.)

I want to make a contribution to society, I still have a lively mind but locally we have no reading circles, no real places for someone like me to go and discuss events. It seems so strange to think that there are millions of people like me wasting their time away in isolation.

I lost a dear friend a couple of months ago. He was the last of a wide circle and I miss his witty phone calls and feel quite bereft and alone now. Denis lived in New Zealand and his dearest wish was have his ashes spread under the trees that held all his friends. Fortunately when his ashes arrived my daughter Sara was visiting me from Canada. We took his ashes to the crematorium and put him to rest in the most restful area where my husban, Bob, his boyhood friend, also found rest. The day was sunny and still. We sat on a bench and said a prayer for him. His sister phoned to say how loved he was. My son Sam was his godchild. She said 'his last thoughts were for us'.

Now I wish I could travel again. But it is just a wish I am afraid.

İ Joanna North November 2002

Joanna, a former actress and mother of three is our oldest reader I think and lives in the UK

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