The lyricist Don Black (Born Free, Diamonds are Forever and an awful lot else), now a cheery eighty-two-year-old Covid-19 survivor, is interviewed in my paper. He has a memoir coming out. The journalist is anxious to discover the secret of his continuing good spirits. Black explains: “Something Charles Aznavour once said always stayed with me: ‘A man will never grow old if he knows what he’s doing tomorrow.’ I think that’s true.”
That, in a nutshell, is the problem in this lockdown for those of us who are fighting to resist the advance of age. The first thing we all had to do in March was to erase every planned event from our diaries for what looked like a few weeks and now appears, like diamonds, almost forever. My daughters have rebooked their flights to France so we can have the family holiday next July that should be happening now. It seemed a sensible thing to do, until this week when ministers started talking about second waves and re-imposing travel restrictions from the continent. Most days all that we can say about what we are doing tomorrow is that it is likely to be very similar to what we did yesterday.
So we go about inventing small tasks whose content has some purpose and whose completion we can control. Yesterday, on what was falsely promised to be twenty-four hours without rain, I finished varnishing the oak window frames on our extension. Today, as part of a research project on the history of silence, I will immerse myself in the recordings of the sounds of the same London streets in 1928 and this May which the enterprising Museum of London has just placed online. And I will write a diary entry, a task set and finished around breakfast time.
I don’t doubt that Aznavour, who died recently at the age of ninety-four after a singing career which spanned seventy years, had plans for the morrow which embraced more than home improvements and long-distance research projects. As it happens, on Friday we are finally getting away from the house to visit locked-down friends in Suffolk for the weekend. Aznavour would have gone further. According to his Wikipedia entry, in the last two years of his life he performed in: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Vienna, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Haiti, Tokyo,, Osaka, Madrid, Milan, Rome, Saint Petersburg, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Monaco.
Eight of those cities I have lectured in and recall visiting. Perhaps Aznavour’s dictum should be reversed. A man will never grow old if he can remember what he did yesterday.