April 26th, 1980


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Playwright and critic Mary Manning, then in her mid-70s, describe wintering in Florida some 30 years ago.

I’M IN Florida, in a place called Padua. The lifeguard officiating round the hotel pool is a beautiful young woman in her early twenties. She has the figure of a goddess, and she is fully aware of it. The old bodies stretched out on the chairs watch her with lacklustre eyes. Cracked lips move.

“Was I once like that, Brad?” asks the old wife. The husband cackles! “Well, I won’t say no, and I won’t say yes.” He is seized with a fit of coughing.

The Goddess brings him a cool drink. “Now have a nice day.” She goes to each half-dead carcass and says brightly: “Have a nice day.” This is the blessing conferred on everyone in Florida. I was, I must say, greatly struck by the resemblance of persons lying around the pool to alligators. The fried leathery old skin, the torpidity, the half-closed eyes, the sudden snap – all these bear a definite similarity to those antediluvian creatures so numerous in Florida. And they live to a great age – as does everyone in Florida.

As I lay there, supine in the sun, I wondered would I become an alligator, ageless, immortal. I pondered about this because during my four weeks in the retired citizen’s paradise, I never once saw a cemetery. I never even glimpsed a funeral parlour, or saw a funeral cortege passing.

There were persons in their middle sixties, mere children, who actually played golf and tennis, cycled, and even jogged. They discussed these activities afterwards in loud shouts. There is a great deal of shouting in all these age groups.

“Don’t mumble. Speak up.”

“You needn’t roar, I’m not deaf. Just a moment, use the other ear.”

“What did you say?”

“I said nothing. Nothing.”

“Your lips moved.”

“I must have been thinking.”

“Thinking? About what?”

“I can’t remember.”

Round the pool . . . ceaselessly and reverently anointing themselves with oil, and as they rub they mutter:

“Did you remember your pills?”

“You’re due for your eye drops.”

“Are you taking anything for your blood pressure?”

“Hist! Do you think that old man over there is dead?”

“No, I thought he was dead yesterday morning, he was lying there so pale, his mouth wide open, no breathing. Then he suddenly opened his mouth and shouted, Nurse! No, he isn’t dead now, dear.”

“What are you reading?”

“Oh, something by that man.”

“What man?”

“Oh, you know. It’s a fascinating historical novel about that woman who lived with that king.”

“Not Mrs. Whatshername?”

“No, no, the one who lived with Charles the Second.”

“That was Mrs. Simpson, surely.”

“Goodness. Are you sure?”

“Anyway, it was enthralling. I couldn’t put it down. Where is it? Where did I put it?”