So sad to hear of the sudden and premature departure of A A Gill. Although I never knew him personally, his columns (and those of the late Michael Winner) were the highlight of every Sunday morning. Whether you agreed or not, empathised with or were infuriated by his writing, his turn of phrase and ability to nail a thought with elegant economy of words could leave you almost breathless.
2 years ago he turned 60 and wrote in the Sunday Times long before his final illness was diagnosed:
“This is one of the biggest changes in ageing. The continuous heartbeat rhythm that tells you your experiences are now rationed. How many more Ring cycles will I get to? How many more times will I see Venice emerging out of the lagoon? How many cassoulets, English cherries? How many summits in the Highlands? How many long lunches with old friends? How many old friends are left to me?
That sounds maudlin, but it doesn’t feel like that. It adds to the pleasure, a sentiment to everything, an extra gypsy violin to life. I linger over things now: flowers, moonlight, Schubert, lunch, bookshops. Also I mind less about standing in queues, sitting in traffic, waiting for a bus or my call to be answered. Everything has a pinch of piquancy, a smudge of melodrama, and I like that.
There are other things to which age adds an imperative. I’m pretty sure that when I’m lying on the gurney and the children are searching for the off-switch while telling me sweetly to go towards the light, the thing I regret won’t be, as John Betjeman said, not enough sex, and it won’t be not enough caviar or cakes. It will be, I think, that I never got to see Timbuktu or South Georgia. Never saw the northern lights. Never travelled up the fjords by boat.
The abiding pleasure of my life so far has been the opportunity to travel. It is also the single greatest gift of my affluent generation. We got to go around the globe relatively easily, cheaply and safely. Postwar children are the best and most widely travelled generation that has yet lived. We were given the world when it was varied, various and mostly welcoming.”
A A Gill will be remembered for his eloquence, his wit, but above all for the naked candour with which he illuminated is writing. Who else could write so movingly and honestly about impending death?