OLDER, WISER, COOLER

Dolly Alder­ton on why we should show the el­derly more re­spect

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The first time I sat down with my friend Pan­dora Sykes to co-host our news and pop cul­ture pod­cast, she sug­gested we cov­ered Gigi. ‘How won­der­ful,’ I thought.

I’d al­ways loved the 1950s mu­si­cal star­ring Les­lie Caron, with a catchy clos­ing song that hasn’t dated well, du­bi­ously ti­tled Thank Heaven For Lit­tle Girls. ‘No,’ Pan­dora replied. ‘Gigi Ha­did.’ I had never heard of Gigi Ha­did. It was the first of many blun­der­ing mo­ments Pan­dora has had to en­dure and the rea­son she calls me The High Low’s ‘res­i­dent oc­to­ge­nar­ian’. My oc­to­ge­nar­ian sta­tus not only man­i­fests in my cul­tural taste (give me Doris Day over Tay­lor Swift; The Rolling Stones over One Di­rec­tion), it is also be­cause of the age bracket of hu­man­ity I find most fas­ci­nat­ing. While many jour­nal­ists I know are be­guiled by youth, the stuff I want to write about, the ar­ti­cles I turn to in the pa­per, the love sto­ries I find most mov­ing – are al­ways about the over 60s. It’s why I love rom­coms set in later life (It’s Com­pli­cated and Last Chance Har­vey are both un­der­rated), with char­ac­ters meet­ing each other with wounds, weari­ness and wis­dom, mak­ing the out­come of a cat-and­mouse game of ro­mance all the more mean­ing­ful. It’s why I love books that fall into the lit­er­ary sub-cat­e­gory I call ‘men on the brink of death look­ing back on their lives with great in­sight’ (like Any Hu­man Heart by Wil­liam Boyd). It’s why, when the BBC aired struc­tured re­al­ity show Liv­ing On The Edge, about pen­sion­ers liv­ing in Bournemouth, I tuned in re­li­giously. I have al­ways been like this. When I was a kid, I was drawn to the old­est per­son in any room. When I’d go to a friend’s house, I was most thrilled about speak­ing to their mum as if we were peers. I still re­mem­ber my grand­par­ents’ lessons like I was learn­ing times ta­bles (my grandma told me to al­ways spray per­fume in my hair). With ev­ery year I get older, I shed an­other per­for­ma­tive, pro­tec­tive skin that I used to please oth­ers and fit in. This is why the older some­one is, the more likely they are to be en­tirely them­selves. Peo­ple who aren’t afraid of liv­ing hon­estly are the ones who re­ally in­ter­est me. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, you are far more likely to find a per­son speak­ing sense in a dusty old pub than in a cool new bar. And yet, we don’t deal well with the el­derly in this coun­try. In Paris, you see old peo­ple ev­ery­where – ar­gu­ing with waiters, fuss­ing over which ap­ple is the best in the green­gro­cers. In Eng­land, the minute you hit old age, you’re ex­pected to silently hide away in an old peo­ple’s home with no fur­ther use ex­cept to dis­pense boiled sweets from your cardi­gan pock­ets. Our el­derly aren’t al­lowed to be­have badly, they’re not al­lowed to speak out, they cer­tainly aren’t al­lowed a ro­man­tic or sex life with­out mock­ery. We pa­tro­n­ise, dis­miss, pity and si­lence them. I think it’s be­cause we’re a na­tion in de­nial of our own death. It’s not some­thing we talk about and there­fore we also fear the lead-up to it. To keep our dis­tance from our own mor­tal­ity, we push the peo­ple who face it as far away from us as pos­si­ble. But death is the only thing that is in­evitable, and get­ting old is some­thing we’ll only ex­pe­ri­ence if we are one of the lucky ones. Age­ing is a great priv­i­lege – of knowl­edge, wis­dom and ex­pe­ri­ence. In­stead of fear­ing it, it should be cel­e­brated. The el­derly de­serve our time and re­spect; they de­serve pro­files in news­pa­pers and sto­ries on the big screen. They de­serve air­time on a pod­cast. I hope we can learn to give it to them. And I hope I re­ceive it one day, too.

‘My grandma told me to al­ways spray per­fume in my hair’

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