Although now at 77 I do look ‘old’, the folds on my face, my gait, and my white hair, I did not at the age of 60 when I retired. It is the white hair that have signalled me as an old woman and because of this I have noticed ageist behaviour towards me even before I retired at 60. Of course my interest in the cinema and my feminism confirmed my personal feelings.
It was a lovely little bungalow in the middle of a very quiet street. Oh yes I could live here away from London’s busy life. The big trees – elm and oak – at the bottom of the garden, the two plum trees and a sea of white London Pride next to the patio.
But one day a fire destroyed the kitchen and nothing was the same anymore. The elm was attacked by Dutch elm disease, the plum trees were culled. The Owl did not woo anymore and there was no more noisy coupling of the hedgehogs at night. The door to the garden would not open.
The Wembley Arch, high-rise luxury flats, fast food shops and supermarkets outlets have replaced the Twin Towers, the quiet streets, the tea rooms, the fragrant bakery.
Indoors the knives were becoming blunt, the window panes always cloudy, the sun obscured by next door’s extension and to top it all there is some subsidence in the building. An unending destroying cycle of repairs and attempts at renewals.
But this summer has been sunny, the newly planted raised bed has been prolific. The self rooted magnolia flowered early, mediterranean jasmin and herbs delight my senses. A black cat stands watch against the visiting rat.
I do not anymore count the losses but contemplate the oak tree .
By a strange coincidence two events conspired to make me think of my past in a bizarre type of Life Review.
I had been studying Kore-eda’s (1998) film for a couple of weeks when my daughter told me that her last assignment of her course was to write about My Mother and My Father.
I knew she enjoyed this writing course. She wanted to tell me that her teacher thought that her two pieces were very good writing.
I ask her tentatively if I could read them and she agreed with some trepidation.
Our relationship in her teens and into her middle age had been difficult, extremely difficult but we both matured into a comfortable loving in spite of our differences.
It was wonderful to read her pieces. She did not talk about us now but how she saw us during her 57 years of life. Her father found what she called the decades of war very painful. I found it less so and certainly less than living it.
She is 57. My daughter is old. Difficult to comprehend.
I did peruse the programme over the years but did not find anything for me)
3 years ago some feminist I know complained online that the WoW festival was rather ageist. ‘Apart from a few ‘old performers’ old women were not represented’.
This year by accident I came across Nawal El Sadawi in a conversation event and rushed to buy a ticket assuming that it was part of the WoW festival. I was so delighted to see that at long last old feminist women were present at WoW and ageing a subject worth including in the festival.
But then I investigated the details of the event and found the press release below.
Southbank Centre today announces (B)old, a brand new festival celebrating age and creativity, supported by The Baring Foundation. Championing new and established artists aged 65 years and over, (B)old features a week of vibrant programming from Monday 14 – Sunday 20 May 2018 taking place across Southbank Centre’s 17 acre site including the newly reopened Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.
(B)old explores and challenges cultural perspectives of age and the role it plays in arts and society, as well as the impact of creating and experiencing art at a later age. The new festival offers something for all ages and showcases work from artists across dance, music, theatre, visual art and literature. The programme features free events and activities, and an array of engaging workshops, talks and debates bringing the idea of ‘age’ into discussion.
What do I think about this? I investigated further. On the one hand I was pleased to have the opportunity of hearing again El Saadawi on the other hand I was perturbed.
Why is it that the word ‘old’ has to be qualified: (B)old? I do not think that bold applies to this festival. There is an enormous literature and reports about Arts as an important part of the lives of older people. Famous performers are in the limelight but where is the support for all the dedicated artists who volunteer in care homes, in therapeutic environments?
Funders: The Baring Foundation whose aim is to give grants to tackle disadvantage and discrimination.
From my point of view so near to the WoW festival all I can do is quote norman lebrecht
April 5, 2018
For French speakers. Sorry that no translation can convey Brel poetic talent.
The other day my partner put on the breakfast table the lyrics of Brel’s Les Vieux (you might be interested he said) and I was transported to Brel concert at the Albert Hall in 1966 when I heard this wonderful touching song on old people . I was only 31 at the time and the song made a huge impression on me, my grandmother having lived with us in her old age.
♥♥ Jacques BREL - Les Vieux ♥♥ - YouTube
Les vieux ne parlent plus
Ou alors seulement parfois du bout des yeux
Même riches ils sont pauvres, ils n’ont plus d’illusions et n’ont qu’un coeur pour deux
Chez eux ça sent le thym, le propre, la lavande et le verbe d’antan
Que l’on vive à Paris on vit tous en province quand on vit trop longtemps
Est-ce d’avoir trop ri que leur voix se lézarde quand ils parlent d’hier
Et d’avoir trop pleuré que des larmes encore leur perlent aux paupières
Et s’ils tremblent un peu est-ce de voir vieillir la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui dit: je vous attends
Les vieux ne rêvent plus, leurs livres s’ensommeillent, leurs pianos sont fermés
Le petit chat est mort, le muscat du dimanche ne les fait plus chanter
Les vieux ne bougent plus leurs gestes ont trop de rides
Leur monde est trop petit
Du lit à la fenêtre, puis du lit au fauteuil et puis du lit au lit
Et s’ils sortent encore bras dessus bras dessous tout habillés de raide
C’est pour suivre au soleil
L’enterrement d’un plus vieux, l’enterrement d’une plus laide
Et le temps d’un sanglot, oublier toute une heure la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, et puis qui les attend
Les vieux ne meurent pas, ils s’endorment un jour et dorment trop longtemps
Ils se tiennent la main, ils ont peur de se perdre et se perdent pourtant
Et l’autre reste là, le meilleur ou le pire, le doux ou le sévère
Cela n’importe pas, celui des deux qui reste se retrouve en enfer
Vous le verrez peut-être, vous la verrez parfois en pluie et en chagrin
Traverser le présent en s’excusant déjà de n’être pas plus loin
Et fuir devant vous une dernière fois la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui leur dit: je t’attends
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non et puis qui nous attend
Ronni in her post How Old is Old on her excellent blog Time Goes By asks:
When did you (or will you) accept that you are old?
It is in my late 40s that I became aware of how pervasive ageist attitudes are. My hair was turning grey and a very good friend of mine, a contemporary, enquired rather worried : Aren’t you going to dye your hair ? I was shocked as she knew very well my attitude to judging women by their appearances. I was shocked to hear that grey hair means old age and old age is a bad thing to be.
But it is two factors in my working conditions that pushed me to retirement at the age of 60. I was senior technician in an NHS hospital and preparations had started for a huge reorganisation which meant merging two hospitals. I had worked very hard over the years, with the consultant of the department to achieve in our lab an efficient, patient-centred environment. I knew the other lab practices and head. I could not face the upheaval and retired. Our lab was very democratic with a consultant who respected the patients and the technicians – not always the case at the time.
In the last years of work I had become very aware of my age. When a young doctor came to plead for an urgent test that he forgot or neglected to request in good time, he (I do mean male doctors, I cannot say I noticed female Drs. behaving in the same way) scanned the office and made a bee line towards the young female technicians, ignoring me, though knowing full well that the final decision would be mine.
I read about the practice of helping Alzheimer patients by recreating the environment of their youth.
I think nostalgically of the inner courtyard of our house in Aleppo. There around a primus stove, mygrandmother taught the next generation of the women of the family how to cook the preferred dishes.
I remember the well in the dark passage where in the basket at the end of the rope we placed the water melon and bottles of water to cool.
And the dark toilet at the end of the passage, where a sadistic uncle liked to tease us and threaten us with incarceration. And the kitchen off this passage where the dishes had to be cleaned perfectly for fear of the ire of the man of the house.
Also I remember the Lebanese mountains and the smell of pines in the forest. The unbearably blue sea, the walk to the beach with the rolled towel and swimsuit behind my older brother who never talked to me .
My exile to London was voluntary. I explored the country of my French culture. I did not fit in. Tried Manchester where some of our family had settled. The city impressed me for the kindness of the people but the skies were too dull. I tried Israel for its geography so similar to Syria and Lebanon but felt like an inferior being amongst the Europeans.
I finished in London having chosen a kind, reliable and funny partner to live with.
But I think of all the old women whose exile has been involuntary and Le Mal du Pays a constant wound. How to restore to them when needed the atmosphere and environment of their youth???