Raymond Briggs releases a new book capturing the joys of growing older

Rhymes to mark the march of time: The Snowman author Raymond Briggs, 85, is releasing a new illustrated book that magically captures in verse the joys and trials of growing older

Raymond Briggs is the internationally acclaimed author and illustrator of children’s books such as The Snowman, Father Christmas and The Bear, as well as a graphic novel, Ethel And Ernest, based on his own parents.

Now aged 85, he has written a collection of illustrated poems on the theme of old age: his past, his present and even the future. 

Many are about family or the effects of ageing, some are melancholy, some funny, but all will strike a chord, whatever your age.

There must have been some barmy old bloke here, long-haired, artsy-fartsy type, did pictures for kiddy books or some such tripe

Future Ghosts

You should have seen the stuff he stuck up in that attic! Snowman this and snowman that, tons and tons of tat

Looking round this house,

what will they say,

the future ghosts?

There must have been

some barmy old bloke here,

long-haired, artsy-fartsy type,

did pictures for kiddy books

or some such tripe.

You should have seen the stuff

he stuck up in that attic!

Snowman this and snowman that,

tons and tons of tat.

Three skips it took,

and a whopping bonfire out the back.

Thank God it’s gone,

and he’s gone, too.

He must have been a nutter

through and through.

CCTV

Queuing for the till

in the village shop,

I look up at the new camera —

a blurred image,

black and white,

back view,

of some old bloke,

just a head, a shirt, and trousers.

couldn’t see his face,

but you could tell

he was old,

really old.

Who was it?

Haven’t seen anyone

in here like that . . .

mostly young mums,

crumpet in sun tops.

No one so decrepit.

I turn to look around,

and the blurred old git

also turns —

Picture Book

Look, said Grannie,

There’s a big spider

And there’s his web.

There’s a little spider

And there’s his web.

No, Grannie! said the three year old,

That’s not the little spider’s Website.

Knitted People

In a corner of the playroom,

the little knitted people

sit in a row,

huddled against the wall,

waiting.

A funny old lady,

with woollen flowers in her hat.

A boy chimney sweep,

with a woollen brush in his hand,

and soot on his cheeks.

In a corner of the playroom, the little knitted people sit in a row, huddled against the wall, waiting

An old man with a walrus moustache

and woollen carrots in a knitted basket.

A nurse in blue with a red cross

on her woolly white chest.

A plump ballerina with fat pink legs,

in a lumpy woollen tutu.

Now the children have outgrown them,

the little people sit in their corner,

abandoned.

Once they were loved, cuddled,

taken to bed,

friends and protectors

against the dark.

Shall we give them to the charity shop?

we ask.

No! Don’t!

But you never play with them.

No, but we still like them.

We want them to be there.

So the little people sit on,

in their corner, waiting.

Abandoned, but not forgotten.

They will not grow up,

Nor will they grow old.

They know, one day,

Someone will come.  

10 characteristics of old age . . . how do you rate?

1. Rigid in adhering to routines of daily life? 

Can’t answer for this now — four minutes past five! Late for tea. 

2. Are your thoughts tinged with pessimism? 

Don’t know about ‘tinged’ . . . 

3. Difficulty in decision making 

Not sure whether to answer that or not.

4. Unable to think of, or do, two things at once? 

I thought I had a cup of tea somewhere . . .

I did make it, didn’t I?

5. Blunting of feeling? Apathy, indifference? 

Who cares about the tea?

Who cares if the world is getting hotter? I’ll be gone soon.

6. Resistance to change? 

Who wants change? Things can only get worse.

7. Lack of spontaneity? 

Yes, thank God. Lack of spontaneity has kept me out of all sorts of trouble.

8. Greater caution?

It’s being cautious that stops life-threatening spontaneity.

9. Increased anxiety?

He who is not anxious has no imagination *

10. Distrust of the unfamiliar? 

Well, of course. You don’t know where they’ve been.

*Briggs

The Mirror

After thirty-four years,

the old mirror from home,

clumsy and ugly,

not even quaint or kitsch,

is still in my garage.

I can’t throw it away,

I can’t have it in the house,

it just doesn’t fit anywhere.

It has been there since

Mum and Dad died.

All my life,

it hung over the kitchen fireplace.

Dad kept his Mentholatum

on the ledge behind it,

antidote to London smogs.

My Radio Malt,

its blue and yellow label

with the blazing sun,

was kept warm there.

For years,

I measured my height in it,

judging my head against

the reflected window frame.

Was I ever going to grow?

After thirty-four years, the old mirror from home, clumsy and ugly, not even quaint or kitsch, is still in my garage. I can’t throw it away, I can’t have it in the house, it just doesn’t fit anywhere. It has been there since Mum and Dad died

Now its silver is blotched,

its shelves broken off,

it lies in three dusty pieces.

Dad bought it

from a costermonger,

on his milk round

and walked it home

on the pedal of his bike,

long before the war.

He said it cost

‘half a dollar’.

How can I throw it away?

I must repair it and hang it,

if only in the garage.

It’s been with me now

for seventy years.

I’ll definitely repair it,

one day,

soon,

when there is time.

Hooray! Hooray!

The children are coming

Today! Today!

They’re staying the night,

And such a delight

it will be!

They’ll leap on the bed

and sit on my head,

then drag all the bedding

downstairs.

They’ll have piggy-backs

until my back cracks,

and competitive games

in the garden.

I won! I won!

Did not! Did not!

Did! Did! Did!

Hate you!

Pig! Pig! Pig!

Now, come on, you two,

I say.

What a day!

And so it goes on, until

the cavalry comes over the hill.

Their car! Their car!

The parents are here.

They’re here!

Thank Heaven! Thank Heaven!

The children are leaving.

It’s such a relief

to see them all go!

But then there descends

the quiet and peace

of an old country church,

and the silence and stillness

of snow.

An emptiness.

So we’ll have a sit-down

and a doze by the fire,

and clear up the mess

in the morning.

Old Men’s Hair

When you’re old

Why does hair go bad?

head hair

goes grey

goes white

falls out

disappears.

Leg hair

just disappears

Little girl said,

‘Old men’s legs are like celery.’

Eyebrows

go mad

an inch a week

can’t see out

When you’re old Why does hair go bad? head hair goes grey goes white falls out disappears. Leg hair just disappears

unsafe driving

comb and cut

like a fringe

Eyelashes

no change

long lustrous

entrancing as ever

Beard

no change

rugged designer stubble as ever

Nostrils

Help!

Call the Forestry Commission!

Aunties

When I was a child,

There were always lots of aunties.

They were everywhere.

Some were real aunties —

Mum’s umpteen sisters,

Dad’s umpteen sisters.

There was no end of them.

Auntie Flo, Auntie Betty,

Then, one day, When I was grown up, It dawned on me — First World War A million men were missing. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? The men these women never met, Never even had the chance to meet. All dead

Auntie Edie, Auntie Marjorie,

Auntie Bertha, Auntie Jessie . . .

The list is endless.

I won’t go on,

Except for Auntie Violet,

My favourite Auntie,

killed on a bus in the Blitz.

It seemed quite natural,

Didn’t give it a thought.

That was the way the world was —

Lots of old ladies everywhere.

They were called spinsters.

Some were rather quaint

And looked down upon.

A few were slightly mad.

Then, one day,

When I was grown up,

It dawned on me —

First World War

A million men were missing.

Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

The men these women never met,

Never even had the chance to meet.

All dead.

These ladies were always kind,

Gentle and loving to me.

Not sour, bitter and resentful,

As they had every right to be.

A million missing men.

A million aunties.

Time For Lights Out by Raymond Briggs (Jonathan Cape, £18.99). © RAYMOND BRIGGS. 

To order a copy for £15.19 (20 per cent discount), call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk. FREE delivery on all orders. 

Offer valid until December 14, 2019.

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