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.