PUBLISHED: 17:29 01 December 2014
Christopher Matthew, author of the best-selling Now We Are 60, might be 76, but he says he's only just got started. It might be something to do with living in Aldeburgh and Thorpeness, he tells Catherine Larner
The trouble with not having a proper job, jokes Christopher Matthew, author, broadcaster, playwright, journalist and Thorpeness resident, is that you can’t retire.
“I’ve never actually worked in the first place!” he laughs. “I’ve never had to go to an office, never had a commute, never had to put on a suit and tie every day. Many of my friends are writers and actors and we’re all like that, so you just have to keep going.”
Of course Christopher is able to ‘keep going’ because he has an appreciative audience for his work. Indeed, he is marking his 76th year with the publication of a new collection of comic verse. His latest offering celebrates the special bond between man and dog. Called Dog Treats, it’s sure to have broad appeal with its witty observations and comical situations.
“Dogs have tremendous personalities,” he says, “so these are short stories in verse about characters that are often as human as the humans. The dogs are the narrators, but the book is as much about the idiosyncracies of their owners as it is
about the dogs.”
The book is the latest in a series of titles that has kept Christopher busy in recent years. Despite a successful career in television and radio, presenting programmes with Alan Coren and Des Lynam, acting as a travel writer for the Sunday Times, restaurant critic for Vogue, property correspondent for Punch, and book reviewer for the Daily Mail, Christopher is probably best known for his take on an AA Milne classic.
“It came about by chance,” he said. “I had just finished a book and my publisher asked me what I was going to do next. I was coming up to 60 and I thought it would be quite nice to do a book about having survived middle age. We could call it Now We Are Sixty, I said.”
He came up with the title and thought initially he would write a diary. Then a friend suggested he write poems.
“‘You’ve pinched the title from AA Milne, you might as well pinch the poems!’ he told me.”
The book sold all 5,000 copies and its popularity continued to build year on year, topping the bestseller charts and tapping into a market eager to see the funny side of middle age.
“We thought it would be a good Christmas book – it didn’t occur to me or the publisher that people would keep on buying it as a present for 60th birthdays.” But they did and it remains a steady presence in the humour section of bookshops nationwide. So much so, that Christopher returned to the theme with Now We Are Sixty (and a Bit) and When We Were Fifty.
“Someone said I was the bard of the 60-and-overs,” recalls Christopher, “and I thought, that’s not a bad thing to be called, so I may continue along that line.
“Old age interests me very much. It isn’t like it was when my parents were old. They were lucky if they survived to 80, now I see people do the most extraordinary things in old age. I was playing golf with a friend the other day and she said ‘I felt myself slowing up a bit when I got to 80!’”
And Aldeburgh is the perfect place to observe the phenomenon of people defying the advancing years, he says. Brought up in north Norfolk and working in London, Christopher eventually bought a house in the Aldeburgh in the 1980s, a tiny one-up-one-down on Crag Path where he wrote while overlooking the sea. When his family insisted on more room for their holiday visits from London, he found a place in Thorpeness and has enjoyed the beachfront property for 32 years. How appropriate that he should choose a village with such strong connections to JM Barrie, creator of the ever youthful Peter Pan.
“People tend to retire here, but they don’t retire and do nothing. They’re all doing more than I could possibly imagine.
“There are societies and book clubs and golf and sailing, and all these events they can go to – in Aldeburgh there’s something going on practically every week of the year. People always seem so full of beans – perhaps that comes from being next to the sea. People seem much busier than they are in London.
“I think the people in Aldeburgh don’t give up. And I never thought when I was younger that I’d be doing what I’m doing at the age I am now. I very often sign letters ‘onwards and upwards’ and I feel I am just beginning, just getting going.”