Sun | Dec 4, 2022

Tony Deyal | More to come

Published:Thursday | August 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

At the age of 71, Coco Chanel, French fashion designer and astute entrepreneur, had already created Chanel No. 5, the scent of the 1920s, and introduced the Chanel suit that is described as "a perfect melange of femininity, polish and timelessness". At the same age, which ended on Wednesday, August 10, 2017, I was engaged in my fifth lawsuit, a necessity imposed upon me by people who believed that when trampled upon and "unfaired" as my Barbadian friends say, I would lie down and play dead or, as the poet Longfellow wrote in the final lines of his immortal 'The Day Is Done', fold my tent "like the Arabs and silently steal away".

Not me, Jose. My day is not done yet, and until it is, my tent remains wherever I have pitched it.

I believe that every day after I passed my biblical three score and 10 (70) is a blessing, and I should make the most of it. Possibly this is why it is called the 'present'. Like Coco Chanel's suits which, "with expert craftsmanship and classic tailoring", stand the test of time, I entered year number 72 with a slightly different design, the combination of God, genes, and environment. I look forward to, and enjoy, each day as if it is my last.

I was warned by one friend, "Boy, at your age, you shouldn't buy green fig (bananas)," and I replied, "You think I stupid. Every morning I lie down in bed, the children bring the newspapers and I open the obituary page. If my name is not in it, is only then I get up."

As I got out of bed at around five this morning, the Cat Stevens version of Morning Has Broken entered my head and earwormed me. "Morning has broken like the first morning/ Blackbird has spoken like the first bird ... ." I thought of another 71-year-old who, on February 11, 1990, was released after 27 years in prison. Immediately after Nelson Mandela walked through the gates of the Victor Verster prison, he addressed the nation and the world. His first words were, "Friends, comrades, and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all." He ended the speech by quoting his own words during his 1964 trial which, he said, were as true on that day as they were on the day of his freedom:

"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Having spent the rest of his life trying to achieve his ideal, Mandela died in 2013, 23 years after he was freed. He was 95.




Mandela is an impossible act to follow, but there were others who, at 71, did things that were noteworthy. As a 'wordsmith' myself, I have to include the fact that Winston Churchill coined the term 'Iron Curtain' in a speech titled 'The Sinews of Peace' at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946 when I was just eight months old.

Speaking about the condition of Europe, Churchill said, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." The iron curtain disintegrated and the Cold War ended in 1991.

Two other wordsmiths did well at 71. Euripides, the Greek 'tragedian', completed his play Electra, the same name as a play by Sophocles, and may have caused some serious strife in Athens, and the great Christian philosopher, St Augustine of Hippo, completed his major work, The City of God.

Churchill and St Augustine are more my kind of people than Euripides. A photographer told Churchill, "I hope, sir, that I will shoot your picture on your hundredth birthday." Churchill replied, "I don't see why not, young man. You look reasonably fit and healthy."

He also said, "When I was younger, I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast." However, the real wordsmith came out when he quipped, "We are happier in many ways when we are old than when we were young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage."

St Augustine was my other hero. His philosophy resonates with me. He said, "This is the very perfection of a man, to find his own imperfections." His advice to all of us who are ambitious is, "Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility." But his humanity is what I love about him.

He said to God, "I had been extremely miserable in adolescence, miserable from its very onset, and as I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, 'Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.' I was afraid that you might hear me immediately and heal me forthwith of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy than to snuff out."

When I became 72 on Thursday, I realised the competition has got even tougher. At that age, Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex, Michaelangelo designed the dome of St Peter's Basilica, Karl Wallenda, the acrobat, walked a high-wire between the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau hotels in Miami, and even though Thomas Mann completed his Doctor Faustus, the real champion is the Marquis de Sade, who took a new 15-year-old lover.

- Tony Deyal was last seen quoting Groucho Marx (who lived until 82), "A man is only as old as the woman he feels."