Ageing, Xmas and Exile

Ageing and Xmas.

I think of all the old people, like me, who spent their childhood and youth under different climes. It is impossible not to think of the blue sky and sun, the Bougainvillea at the entrance of the house and specially, the feel, the scent, the sounds of the air of my youth. It is not nostalgia. It is a physical lack. Nothing to do with people but all about the natural environment. This feeling of loss may be a general feeling of old people. It must be more acute in those of us who cannot visit again our childhood environment. I call it ‘nature imprinting’ something that cannot be shared unless one is a poet. I should really research poems of exile.

But the estrangement from the social environment is also important.   In my middle years I concentrated on adapting to a new country and observed  Xmas, the food, the rituals so that the children did  not feel deprived. Later, we had to carry on the tradition so that the family could get together with their respective diverse partners and the grandchildren. An all-embracing emotional atmosphere leaving no space for personal feelings of exile.

Now with a great-grandchild at the family celebrations,  I am reduced to being an observer. The cultural differences are multiplied  by two generations and  the diversity of their lives. I am aware of their lives trajectories, I am the receptacle of some secrets and my view of the future is different from theirs.



I am rather upset with myself. There was a golden opportunity to express the gendered factor in the perception of old age and I missed it. I am also depressed that this blog does not seem to interest  anybody. But carry on I must, since there is no other space for me to express my experiences as an old woman.

I was invited to take part in a focus group on the perception of old age. The researchers worked for a prestigious organisation in a prestigious building.  I was there on the strength of my film blog and felt rather out of place. Apart from the two young researchers there were 4 women and 4 men round the table.

The four men, all in their 70s, were still working: a film producer, a designer, a photographer, and as he described himself a professional very busy volunteer worker for charities (at a very high professional level).

None of the four women were still working, two of them were over 80, me 77 and a woman who would not divulge her age.

I was struck by the fact that three of the men did not identify themselves as old.  One of them declared that he had written his autobiography for his grandchildren to know about his life  and he brought with him a file of his past work. The only one who talked about age discrimination was in relation to the ‘other’ old people in care homes.

Three (including me) women did elaborate on being old: the perception of others of oneself as old,  the importance of memory, , the unpredictability of the future and putting affairs in order…

There were also the usual clichés: ‘I do not feel old, I do not think of myself as old, you are as old as you feel, inside I feel 18, we do not respect the old when in other countries they do.

I am sure that the researchers will take note of the gender/age bias of the participants. I am wondering: Did they not find working women in their 70s and over? I would have introduced them to my 92 musician female friend who is still teaching and who drives herself across to France on a regular basis. Or my 80 years old female volunteer friend who is the pillar of her church and rushes around helping her whole community, my writer friend and so many others.

Of course instead of speaking in measured tones I blurted my feelings. Well ! I just hope that some of what I said did make sense.

Another subject. At our U3A French group I had asked in preparation for this Focus Group to talk about  old age.  Grandchildren, importance of music, possibility of disguising old age, false teeth etc…  What resonated with me was  the observation of  the sensation that time goes faster as you get older. I remembered Douwe Draaisma’ book “Why Life Speeds Up As you Get Older” that I must reread.

I find that just as   my available time is shrinking there are more and more events, conferences, films, plays,  articles about old age that I cannot possibly keep up to date with.