Written by Judith Holder

Voices

Grey Pride

In the second of her new monthly column, Judith Holder starts a manifesto. Her first point? Don’t underestimate me.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

I’m now so old I know stuff. If I lived in a tribal village I’d have the best seat by the fire and be called something like ‘Great Sitting Nosy Chins’. People would come and ask me when I predict the rains will come or when to plant the rice harvest or whether they should marry the weedy boy from the next village. I’d have a bong pipe and get my own way a lot.

Sadly, I live in the M4 corridor which means that, despite my advanced years and thickening waist, no one is going to ask me much – because they can just google it.

“Someone needs to use our skills and our wisdom and tap into our ability to read a knitting pattern or know what to do with some zinc and castor oil. ”

What people fail to recognise is that I have qualities which are infinitely more useful than Google. I have good judgement. I know when people are lying and when they are talking bullshit, often before they have even opened their mouths. Maddeningly few people seem to realise this or give me the respect I deserve, so I too need a big headdress and a bong pipe and a nice elder name.

I could set up in the local garden centre – take over where Father Christmas left off and colonise the Grotto  – I could ask other like-minded elders to ritual ceremonies that involve cake and dry white wine. We would invite younger people to come in and share their problems and dilemmas and stop them getting great big tattoos, or suggest they wait a while before marrying someone who looks like they might be a liability or have the mother-in-law from hell. Think how useful we’d be.

We could have a figurehead of our tribe who would sit at Cabinet meetings and be Minister for the Pull Yourself Together Party. Piping up to tell politicians who look too old to be out on their own that what they are proposing has either been tried before and died on its arse or just will never work. Or is plain silly. Like HS2 or the Bedroom Tax.  

“If I was going to buy a stairlift I would need a high speed one, so that I can remember what it is I am trying to go upstairs for.”

Someone needs to use our skills and our wisdom and tap into our ability to read a knitting pattern or know what to do with some zinc and castor oil.  As it is, no one seems to care much about what we think or know, or be keen to use the knowledge and judgment we have. We’re not even complacent. We’re great learners. Send us to university, keep us learning, top up our knowledge and then make use of us is surely the way to go.

People seem to get more and more of an appetite for learning as they get older. Almost a third of undergraduates today are mature students, and 15 per cent of all 45 to 54-year-olds in Britain are in education or training. More to the point we are probably the most conscientious students in town. Surely the way to go is to give us some incentives, help us reboot ourselves to retrain or just plain carry on learning, and we will not only be useful sources of wisdom, but we’ll probably still be earning money.

There are however a couple of snags, which we need to be honest about. Despite a thirst for knowledge and new interests that I wouldn’t have thought possible, a lot of mental tasks take me longer. I find it harder to concentrate and to remember anything short term. I assume this is because my memory banks are full and clogged up like a computer that needs to be taken to the tip or have its hard drive replaced. It’s not like I forget everything short term, but I need to write things down more. My mental clipboard is not as efficient as it was, and if I was going to buy a stairlift I would need a high speed one, so that I can remember what it is I am trying to go upstairs for.

Complicated plots sometimes get the better of me – if I had to paraphrase the plot of the Bourne Identity or any of the last three Bond films on to a Post-It note, I would struggle to fill even one of the little ones, even the ones you use for book marks. But there might be more to this than meets the eye, since I suspect a spot of selective memory is at play here. Just as older people can be selectively deaf I think I can be selectively forgetful, or selectively able.

“I huff and puff about young people finding me invisible but I am starting to find them rather invisible too.”

Perhaps older people are better at filtering out the things they no longer want to do in this way than their younger counterparts. I find that as I get older my back is “too bad” to sit through a Shakespeare history play, or go camping. We get good at playing the older card. Well, why not?

It’s the same with celebrities, particularly young ones. Interestingly young people are starting to all look similar to me, all those young blonde actresses and singers like Lilly Allen or Miley Cyrus or Matt Damon and Leonardi de Capria begin to look almost interchangeable to me.

I huff and puff about young people finding me invisible but I am starting to find them rather invisible too. So it’s no good pretending (as some of the guides to middle and old age do) that intellectually things get better with age. They sort of do and they don’t. On the other hand I feel more creative, more accomplished, and that I have more to offer than ever before.  

Our value to society is hugely underestimated. We need to be passing on our skills and wisdom to society in a way that is much more joined up than it currently is. Retrain us as mediators, magistrates, arbitrators, pay us a modest fee to pass on our life skills encourage us and make it easy for us to learn better and better IT skills.

And surely we need a Minister for the Old.

greypride.org

www.judithholder.com

@greyprideuk

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Written by Judith Holder

Producer/writer of the BBC Two series Grumpy Old Women and the spin off books, and co-writer with Jenny Eclair of the three stage shows which have been international hits.