Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Perhaps it's time to teach the new pups some old tricks...
“All the world’s a stage,” Jaques begins, before going on to define our roles, from puking infant through school-hater, on to woeful lover, hero and slipper’d pantaloon wearer before finally heading toward mere oblivion sans...frankly, if you don’t already know, you don’t want to (however, if you don’t but do, check out act two, scene seven of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ - the monologue generally known as ‘the Seven Ages of Man’).
Medad - a man who, despite technically nestling somewhere between sixth and seventh age, still generally chooses to adhere to the syntax of the script he wrote for his own late adolescence - defines the stages differently, and includes “your girlfriend being mistaken for your daughter” before “holidaying in Weston Super Mare”. While describing him as ‘sprightly’ would never be taken as a compliment, it’s better than another remark he’s overheard, which relates to him “always being so clean”. Patronising? You’ve got it. And yet here we have a man who, on a good day, can navigate his way around the less salubrious Paris bistros of his youth faster than I can say ‘encore du vin’ in each, while even on a ‘bad’ day (ie, when he describes himself as ‘a bit knackered’) he dispenses more wit, wisdom and offbeat opinion than you’d find in a week’s worth of Radio 4 schedules. Sprightly and clean he may be, but in his case, a life well lived amounts to far more than good calf muscles and a decent laundry service - and I would suspect that this is true of many of a similar vintage. But in our haste to beat the clock that ticks away inside all of us, the condescending, shortsighted attitudes that prove how carelessly we overlook those older than us only serves to highlight our own denial.
In the UK today, we live alongside more people of pensionable age (18.5% of the population, as it happens) than we do teenagers. As a result of improvements in health care and medicine over the second half of the last century, that figure is expected to continue to rise dramatically throughout this one; play your cards right (because, oh sapling, the only viable alternative to ageing is an early death) and you’ll be bolstering the stats. But when you get there, do you want to be regarded as second class citizen just because you can’t read the instructions on the back of a ready meal box? Will you deserve to be huffed and tutted at when you’ve misheard what somebody said, or need a bit of extra time to take cash from your wallet? Would you want an optician to casually allow your appointment to lapse for over an hour because the flashy upstart ahead of you is discussing the BOGOF on Gucci sunglasses, or have an assistant loudly exclaim “oh, you still like a drop of wine, then - good for you!” when you add a bottle of Chardonnay to your weekly shop? I’m guessing that your answer is no. And yet, these are typical examples of the sort of experiences Medad endures on a daily basis.
Now I can’t claim to be the most patient daughter - let alone citizen - on the planet. But because Medad is also one of mebestmates, I’m hyper aware of how my generation treats his. I’m sorry to report that, despite all our grand claims regarding an eco-friendly/socially responsible attitude to the world around us, we don’t fare well. Are we so trapped by our own egos that we don’t realise that one day, all this - from bus pass to deteriorating faculties - will be ours? As Jarvis Cocker sang on Pulp’s cheerful 1997 ditty ‘Help the Aged’, “behind those lines on their face, you can see where you are headed” - an updated stance, perhaps, on the Bard’s musings on the same subject, all the more relevant today.