OLDER, WISER, COOLER
Dolly Alderton on why we should show the elderly more respect
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’