The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

I cracked through this book at quite a pace.

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.

A tale of a grumpy old man in an old people’s home in Amsterdam is not the likeliest candidate for a global bestseller. Having sat in nursing homes for many an hour, however, it appealed to me. I liked the idea of someone creating an old-but-not-yet-dead club which spoke to the renegade within. I want to be a cantankerous, challenging old woman who refuses to eat poor food and to be shoved in front of the telly to watch inane drivel. I want to zip around on my scooter if I can’t walk, like the fabulous folk I see along Bude Canal. And I want fab friends to have a giggle with when the chips are down.

Now, I detest being stuck inside, I dislike being told what to do, and I hate having my freedom curtailed. Living in a regulated environment where I have to eat what I’m given (or not), wear nappies and do as I’m told is unthinkable, yet it is what has happened to both of my parents, so I stand a fair chance.

This book brings hope. First, that one can remain subversive and break the rules well into one’s last remaining years. Second, that you can make new and very deep friendships even in your eighties. Third, that you can still fall in love when old, and fourth, that you may struggle with your ailments but can also approach them with dignity and humour.

Along with the kind old chap that is Hendrik, the diary author, I warmed to the rascally Evert who likes a drink, loves his dog, and who keeps having bits of his limbs amputated. There is a wonderful section where Evert and Hendrik are playing chess, the latter in a blue mood so amputee Evert suggests he stops whining and buys a noose if life really is that bad. What are good friends for? Not making light of it, the issue of assisted suicide arises again and again.

Meanwhile, I am enamoured by Eefje, a sparkling lady who joins the throng, but mostly I fell for Grietje, a woman slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s, perhaps because it resonated. Her friends see her gradual decline and vow to support her, which we know they will. She meanwhile, prepares herself and accepts her fate with far better grace than I would.

A book about a nursing home that is funny is a rare old twist and one I recommend reading. It will have you in stitches but also empathising with the issues surrounding old age…



Blog at

Up ↑