I saw this stunning stem of hollyhocks, blooming late into autumn, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh about a week ago and asked if I could take its photograph. It wasn’t shy. It might be gone by now, but there are still a few late blooms hanging on – all the more arresting and splendid because so few remain at this colour-shedding time of year.
As Sebastian Kurz in Austria is set to become the world’s youngest leader, aged just 31, I think about how many of us take our time and bloom a little later in life. Not that I ever wanted to govern a country, but I certainly had other priorities when I was 31. Quite a few stories have come my way recently about people making life changes, seemingly late – but are they? Packing in the pensionable job to do what you really love. Having a baby when it might not have seemed possible. Taking that round the world trip when you thought your feet had been planted in concrete. Going back to university to study fine art because you’ve had it up to here with fixing teeth.
There’s an old story about the late-bloomer talking to their friend, bemoaning the pointlessness of starting out on the path of change at this stage in their life. They say: “Well, there is not much point in me pursing piano lessons, do you know what age I’ll be by the time I’ll have learned?” And the wise friend answers: “Yes, of course, you’ll be precisely the same age as that if you didn’t try, but infinitely less happy.” Such lines, of course, make it sound easy, make it sound like the decision to jump is a no-brainer, whereas it is quite an act of bravery to put yourself forward to learn a new language, take a degree course, build your own banjo, walk the Camino. It is never too late.
At the opposite end of the youthfulness of the Austrian Chancellor, is the much-reported story that the Tory Peer, Baroness Tumpington, who is 95 today, will retire from the House of Lords on the day after her birthday. I’m not sure if she is a late bloomer, she’s more like a perennial, but – politics aside – you have to admire her foliage.
The poems that are drilled into us from childhood never leave us. I learned this one when I was about 14 years old. Poetic messages, however, can be less firmly grafted onto us. So, if there is a choice of taking a path that looks like fewer people have trodden there, it doesn’t mean you can’t. What’s the worst that can happen?
‘The Road Not Taken’, by Robert Frost
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by
And that made all the difference.” (excerpt)