you gotta love old people! they tell it how it is with no real fear of reprisals!
(Facebook post today)
And so, a young colleague of mine – a woman of 26 yrs – showcases her “right-on-ness”, her superior appreciation of subversive political action and her sense of humour – her callow grasp of equality and general inability to think beyond the well-trammeled… And shines a light on the societal givens, those taken-for-granted (but culturally relative) “facts” upon which we build our understandings.
Why is the photo above”funny”? What for instance, does that “funniness” say about our attitudes to ageing?
The juxtaposition of age and subversive action? The conservative clothing, the grey hair and wrinkles, the sensible footing and the spray can? Why do those things combine to say “laugh”?
I’ve lost my sense of humour. I need to get a grip.
Why on earth do I find that descriptor “old people” so offensive? The lazy patronising categorisation of two people – shorthand for awwwww look…the old dears are still game. The subtext – that the old are a species apart, an amusing but otherwise irrelevant species apart…
And it is the irrelevance which chills me. For that is how we feel, isn’t it? We, the fully engaged, fully paid up members of the productive and intellectually firing class. We shudder at the anachronisms of age, arrogantly dismiss experience when it issues from the lips of the over… well, the over… mmm…over what age?
And there is yet another rub. When do you qualify as “old”?
And again, maybe more importantly, what is “old”? What do we mean by it?
My 9 yr old thinks I am old.
I remember my 92 yr old grandmother talking (with thinly veiled irritation) about the “old people” in the hospital rooms bordering hers. They were in their 70s.
I remember my 70 yr old grandfather phoning his 96 yr old mother, stricken over the death of my grandmother at 56.
And I remember when I was a 17 yr old temporary nursing assistant in Hartwood Mental Asylum back in 1984 and my repulsion at the sight, touch and smell of those senile, bent and crippled, wrinkled and bed-sore riddled bodies I had to wash and clothe and feed and toilet. And the coo-ing of nurses as they sing-song sang the patients names – those incapax women who had spent years being called Mrs Stewart or Mrs Roy or Mrs MacPherson or… suddenly infantilised and returned to their Christian firsts. Helllllooo Beth-e-a… Awwww little Pegggeeee…
My father is 71. I do not see age. I see my Dad.
I am a fortnight off 45. And so Marc (19) encouraged me last night to go to his gig, with the immortal “don’t worry, there-ll be other old people there too”.
My most valued friend is 62 – a fabulous vital man and asset in the workplace. And yet I have just read an employment case – an age discrimination case – where the employer seeks to relieve himself of his 60 yr old employee. There is no explicit “he is too old”. But the case stinks of the shit from that elephant.
I have experience of the “capability route” used to manage those older, unwanted retirement refuseniks out the door… circumventing the equality duties.
It is easy to say “age is relative”. But phrases such as “old people”, “the silver surfers” “the grey pound” and etc begin to indicate more than a shorthand for the market – they signify contempt.
We use stereotypes as a shorthand to understanding. But what, precisely, is the understanding we convey?
That those whose years are many are somehow different. They are lesser. They are a homogeneous bunch we can define with a few funny words.
At 92 Peter Whyman was my oldest neighbour. He was a spy during WWII. He was a linguist. A Quaker. later a Professor of Architecture. Until Xmas past he drew – freehand – astonishingly detailed pictures of buildings that he had visited and gave them as greeting cards. He was a founder of a recent campaign against extension of a nearby quarry. He was driving to France from here until Margaret his wife (Prof of Town and Country Planning) died 4 years ago. His conversation was entertaining. He taught himself how to use the pc in his 80s. He was tiny and shrunken. White bearded. One bright blue glass eye cloudy by the days end. A consummate gentleman, determined to beat his elder brother – who is still alive and over 100.
Peter had greater relevance than many much younger people I have met. An innate vitality that compelled you to sit with him.
His great age was not the first thing I saw when I saw Peter. Though Peter had lived long enough to have many many many tales.
The point of this blog?
But in a society with an ageing population we really do need to reassess. Start valuing. Stop dismissing.
It is 27 degrees and Scotland is stripping down to her scants…discovering street cafe life… dusting down rusty BBQs and generally donning scarlet skin.
However as sunglasses are de rigeur that last doesn’t much matter – even the reddest of burnt skin looks tanned and brown through dark tinted specs…
Summer fashion has never been a talent of the sun-starved Scot. Pallid, pasty, almost blue-white flab isn’t really a great look in micro shorts and crop top. Though it was a definite favourite in Glasgow yesterday. For men it was tatoos and surf shorts. Nowt else. Well, maybe socks with trainers.
I defend – absolutely – the right to ‘wear what you want to wear’. But even me – Mrs-I-have-no-right-to-be-body-fascist – has baulked a wee bit at the sheer volume of flesh so suddenly on display.
Personally I ‘do’ winter best. Give me black thick opaques and a pencil skirt; or lbd and wedge high boots; asymmetric tops and large silver pieces. Heavy black lidded eyes. Red lips. That is my comfort zone. My body armour perfected – the abrasions of office and court and tribunal and meeting have brought me to that point where I do not need to think when reaching into my wardrobe in the morning.
But at the first promise of sun and as my indolent lazy summer self sings, my fashion-heart sinks. What to wear to a sweltering office? How to remain dignified when dripping with sweat? Do I really have the temerity to inflict my hairy white legs on my colleagues? And will someone tell me where to find a make-up that does not slide off my face by midday?
All in all it is just as well that for 4 weeks I will be in Spain. Almoradi. In a villa with a pool. Kaftan and swimsuit and huge black sunglasses and the fact that no-one knows me will be all that is required. Bliss.
Time – passing so quickly just now. But not fast enough.
MRI looming for Mum and she has entered the displacement phase. Her worries and anxieties have resolved themselves into a shopping and painting frenzy. She refuses to mention fear. The Big C is no-go-land for us all.
I spent yesterday evening with my brother in Ayrshire. I was working down there (well, I did a slot at a staff development day which ended at 4pm with 10 pin bowling – not really work) and he lives in Kilmarnock, just 12 miles from Ayr, where the day was held. Nice hotel, lovely lunch and great people to speak to – topped off with 3 hours with my bro.
We fretted over my mother. Had a sibling worry-in. And I was too polite to refuse the huge dinner he prepared me.
I eventually drove home – feeling queasily full on the windy twisty A71 – and realised, fully, completely, that my mother is making her own choices and that those choices have to be respected. In fact I understood her choices. That is progress.
On the work front I have scored a success. I endured a strange interview on Tuesday morning -survived the grilling by 7 people – and was offered the job.
I will start August 14th as a f/t employee of a Trade Union. A niche TU. For Scottish secondary school teachers. Advice and representation work. Fitness to practice. £13000 rise plus benefits. Nice one.
Cancer has become this house.
I have thrown the windows wide. These dark dank demons who have eaten our peace. Who have drawn the air from our lungs and sucked the pleasure from the little everydayness of our dull lifes. The shedim must leave this house.
mazziḳim, lilin and tilane.
Demons of the dark and the evening. The demons who harm and hurt.
An incubus has fathered this tumour that makes us cry and twist and despair.
The news from the Consultant yesterday was poor. Mum cried. She went to see her sister and was bathed in her tears (auntie Margaret is a determined weeper and wailer). She visited her remaining brother who nodded, bowed and went silent (Unce Iain is a determined raconteur, a man of laughter and then some).
And then she came to this house and my brother arrived fresh from his ward rounds and she washed dishes and laughed at Jamie’s poor jokes and smiled and said Oh well. And insisted she pay (too much) for the takeaway which was delivered because none of us adults had the energy or the ability to make a meal (who can think of food when the soul is sickening and an incubus has fathered the tumour that forces us to stare so long and hard at life and living and what it means to be alive).
She has refused any surgery until she has her holiday. She wants to have her July month. Palma with my wee ones for two weeks then Almoradi with the rest of us for the remainder.
My brother tried to insist she let him phone the Consultant (a man he knows). But my Mother can be determined and she said no.
As for me – I have gone into a self-regarding little mess. Feeling intense and ugly anger and rage and self-pity. And am at home unable to face the demands of work. The truth of the cliche revealed in all its mean glory. That there are more important things…
We must and we will recover from this.