The thing about age,
though you may rant and rage
like a beast in a cage,
is that you can’t disengage
or turn back the page.
And there isn’t a stage
of being worthy and sage
as a long adolescence
goes straight to senescence.

I celebrated my 70th birthday on the penultimate day of 2010. Strangely, I never considered myself old even in my late sixties. Now the nought-ending digit has brought home to me that I am. Everything that Two Brains said about baby-boomers is true about we war babies: it has been easy for us; jobs were plentiful; on one modest salary we could buy a house; and wives, if they so wished, could give up work to look after children. I consider myself personally fortunate too: I got through the scrapes of early adulthood unscathed and my greatest piece of luck was to be able to leave teaching – always un travail alimentaire for me – at 56. These last 14 years have probably been the best years of my life.

When I went to art college in 1958, Pablo Picasso was the painter who most interested me. When I left, the abstractionists Miro, Pollock and Alan Davie were my heroes. Within a year an interest in Marxism had returned me to realism via John Berger and Fernand Léger. A period of intellectual sorting out followed. Working in a sort of representational mode meant going against a prevailing idea that, to adapt a famous limerick by one of the Knox brothers, the history of art ‘was a creature that moves / on predestinate grooves’ inevitabitly towards abstraction. Ironically it was Marxism, with its theory of historical inevitably, that had led me to reject aesthetic historicism. I needed some intellectual support and read Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism. It turned me completely away from Marxism and allowed me to see that the ideas that I had thought progressive, led to anything but humane regimes. I read Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies and the works of the so-called Popperian Knights, Hayek, Gombrich and Medawar, which have greatly influenced the way I think. Eventually I added Isaiah Berlin, Schumpeter and Oakshott to my personal canon. They are all exemplars of writing in a clear way about difficult things.

Having almost all my time to myself has been wonderful. I listen to more classical music: four string quartets can be played before coffee time, or alternatively, the time can be spent on serious reading. As soon as I left teaching I stopped painting in acrylics, which are more suitable for interrupted work, and took up oils again. In printmaking, I gave up screen printing and reverted to relief printing where I could do all the work except the editioning in my studio. (I imagine the young members of the printmaking workshop asking, ‘Who’s that old, bald guy that’s always on the relief press?’)

I am certainly not going to live to 140, so it’s easy to make the calculation that I am much more than half-way through my life. When I get half-way through a long book, I am always surprised how quickly I read the remainder. I expect it will be the same with life. Inevitably, I wonder a bit how I will end up, but I do not let thinking about it disturb whatever time I have left. Nor do I want to lay down elaborate funeral prescriptions to bother those that might either be a bit sad or guiltily relieved that my life is over. Crematoria are ghastly places, not because they deal with death, but because they are so naff in their designs and arrangements. I would suggest a few simple things for my last rites. I do not want any death professionals, religious or otherwise involved, beyond the clearing up people. Perhaps a friend could say a few words or read a poem. I chose music for both my parents but it was played so softly that it might never have been used. I would want some favourite music played at a decent volume. And anyone turning up should be invited, not to some crummy hotel, but to the flat for some decent wine. As for a humiliating end, what one wants is not the Swiss business, but just some professional help about how to prepare a hemlock bottle from a decent red wine. Then that cheesy euphemism ‘He passed away’ would become ‘He finally passed out’.