Brief note on a nature walk at 82

Nature walk is not what it used to be,

On this beautiful summer day I went on a walk in Sussex. The pain of it. Bird watching has become a frustating exercise. By the time I put my walking stick down, removed my sunglasses, focused my binoculars and tried to locate the source of the bird song, the creature had long departed.

Yes vision is not what it used to be, neither is hearing but the legs are still strong and the sun is shining and walking in nature under the sun and a cool breeze  is still exhilarating and I can still hear the lark rising.

 

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Ageing and Feminism

This month I attended two important public events. Both corresponded to a part of my identity but they could not have been more different in content and form.

I was invited to the OLD’UP colloque in Paris by Moira Allan who founded with Dr. Jean Hively the international ‘Pass it on Network’. The conference took place in the prestigious government building of the ‘Conseil Economic, Social et Environmental.’ The auditorium had perfect sound and vision from its 400 seats. We were treated to 6 panels: Being Old , The Apprentice Centenarians, Old’Up Workshops Reports, Links and International Input, Initiatives, Prospects. The 20 panel members (16 women) were all specialists of ageing: theoreticians as well as workers at the grass-roots: philosopher, academic, sociologist, researcher, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, geriatrician, gerontologist, social and health workers. I was fascinated by the breath of approach to the day. I felt that I belonged to a demographic group worth thinking about, theorising about, researching, studying, providing for and innovating. The day was invigorating. One commentary from the stage did mention that women were in a majority and my searching eyes delighted in the sea of white-haired heads in the auditorium.

I was just as enthused by the Feminist in London Conference  that took place at the Hilton Metropole Hotel: 1000 women, 4 keynote speakers, 16 workshops, art exhibition, film room, children activities, stalls campaigns, crafts, books . The energy was electrifying. Intergenerational contacts and acknowledgement of our past were made, but there was no presence of the old woman here and now. No voice represented me as an old feminist even though many speakers were ‘old women’: the legendary Nawal Saadawi, Bianca Jagger looking magnificent all in black including her mane of jet black hair, Bea Campbell, Jay Ginn. I only mention the old women I actually heard speak  but there were others.

In spite of this presence I felt that we, ordinary old feminists, have not raised our voices loudly enough and have not shared our concerns and contributions. The crisis in care, for example, is without doubt a feminist issue but more personal experiences are worth sharing and understanding also. What does an old feminist grandmother look like? Why are the grandmother and grand-aunt roles not appreciated? Why is the family important as we age? What does an old feminist feel about her ageing body?  What does an old feminist feel about losing independence? What are the changes that a feminist couple need to adapt to.  What are the feminist possible alternatives to the choice between getting isolated and living in a less than liberating care home? How do old feminists  see approaching death?

But also what brings us joy and zest for living and making a difference?

Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.

TEA AND CAKES AT THE DEATH CAFE

This week is Death Awareness week and yesterday I went for tea to the death cafe at St. Joseph Hospice Hackney. I met there three of my friends and we were joined at our table  by three other women.

This is not a report but simply a note. When I used to go out with Elizabeth my friend, now deceased, I was sometimes embarrassed by the way she made a point of telling the organisers if the hard-of-hearing were not catered for. Now that my hearing is failing I understand her.

There was abundant tea, coffee and lovely cakes in one of the Education rooms  of the hospice. We were welcomed and introduced to some members of the staff and told that Death Cafes were becoming more established in London.  We sat around the tables and talked.  We talked at length about funerals and briefly about assisted dying, hospices, last days of life, in a more or less personal way.  I did miss some of the contributions but it is difficult to ask people more than once to project their voice.

It is a shame that there was no summing up. I was curious to know what were  the subjects at the other tables.  We were asked what we felt about the name of Death Cafe as a name for these meetings.  A majority of people approved of it.

I was clearly the older at our table yesterday and I was surprised to know that one woman said that the only funeral she ever attended was her father’s.  After my friend’s funeral last week I realised that I had a special folder for ‘Order of Service’ booklets. This morning I counted the number of funerals I attended in my life. They amounted to 22*. The deceased were all close family relations and friends. I suppose that I come from a generation where families were not as dispersed as they are now and that I have reached an age when my contemporaries are dying.

5 of us decided to meet again to speak about death.

 

*2 sets of parents, 6 uncles and aunts, 2 sister/sister-in-law,  2 cousins,  7 friends, 1 niece .

END OF YEAR – END OF LIFE

The end of the year and I need to take stock but there is so much to write about. Every time I get dispirited by the lack of traffic on this site compared to my film blog, a comment is posted from the other side of the world thanking me for it.

There is so much to write about and so few people around me interested in sharing my readings that I must carry on and today I will just signpost my readings as an aide memoir and give links to others interested in ageing.

Personal : a friend has moved from a small rehabilitation unit to sheltered accommodation. Unfortunately her care needs have been badly assessed and she is struggling to manage. This could be remedied by a different care package but members of her family are away for the holiday season and she is further away for her friends – old themselves to visit in this busy time.

http://bit.ly/EndLoneliness : A million people in the Uk haven’t spoken to anyone for a month. Nearly 400,000 people aged 65 or over are worried about being lonely this Christmas.

Our research also shows that there are 2.5 million older people who are not looking forward to Christmas with nearly 650,000 saying it’s because the festive season brings back too many memories of those who have passed away.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, said: ‘No one should feel lonely at any time of the year. The festive season is usually a time for celebration with loved ones and these figures come as a timely reminder of the scale of the issue.
‘People’s social networks often shrink due to life-changing events such as retirement and bereavement which can increase the risk of feeling lonely.
‘Voluntary sector services like Age UK’s have never been more important because funding cuts are forcing many of the local services that help older people stay connected, such as lunch clubs, to scale down or close.’
Find out how you can help us fight loneliness here:

Grandmothers:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-evidence-that-grandmothers-were-crucial-for-human-evolution-88972191/?no-ist

Care Homes and drugs: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/12/09/368539057/this-nursing-home-calms-troubling-behavior-without-risky-drugs?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=202609

Joan Bakewell: What a change of the perception of ones own ageing in 6 years. In my film blog’s post of April 2011 I wrote: I feel angry when Joan Bakewell (reported in The Voice of Older People publication, 2009) states “I don’t want to wear sensible skirts, I don’t want to look like an old frump. I mix with active people, so I don’t want to look like I have come from a pensioner’s meeting. My life is somewhere else, my skirts and dresses hover around the knee” . 

http://www.radiotimes.com/episode/c9tmsg/suppose-i-lose-it : In this broadcast Bakewell describes her problems with memory and talks about her friend’s (Prunella Scales) dementia.

Finally it is Atul Gowande in his Reith Lectures that is giving me hope about attitudes to dependent old people. In my previous post I wrote: What we need is creative thinking and a way to combat the false choice given to old people in need of care. The false choice between living alone at home or being neglected and abused in care homes.

A friend offered me his book Being Mortal. More than the lectures this book addresses the issues about end of life that us 80+ need to face. I feel that Gowande understands these and he clarifies for me what was nebulous in my thinking.

 

 

 

 

Do old women need role models?

The end of the year and into my 81st year. Time to take stock and reflect. There has been so much change around ageing issues since I started being interested in the representation of old women 20 years ago. At the time, 60+ was the age when women were considered old and the few academic papers published took this as the bench mark. I had to search hard to access information about ageing and attended seminars and conferences planned for social workers. I joined the Older Feminist Network, a campaigning organisation at the time, and Growing Old Disgracefully network. I started, with the support of the local authority, the U3A in the borough of Brent.

Now Ageing is being studied in all its aspects by Academia. There are dozens if not 100s of sites about ageing: from the International Longevity Centre to blogs written by individuals (I will include my own www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com. )

Today I would like to reflect on three items in the news.

From ageuk website:  Each winter, 1 older person dies needlessly every 7 minutes from the cold – that’s 200 deaths a day that could be prevented… Age UK estimates that 1.7 million older people in the UK can’t afford to heat their homes, and over a third (36%) of older people in the UK say they live mainly in one room to save money.

From the Guardian Comment is free 26th November 2014:   On Tuesday he (the Pope) addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg. Speaking of the need for Europe to be invigorated, he described the continent as a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant”, and went on to say it risked “slowly losing its own soul”…

The Independent Dec 2nd: Mary  Beard calls for a grey revolution: ‘Let’s reclaim the word old’. Speaking at Cheltenham Literary Festival, the classicist said reaching old age should be a source of pride and suggested Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple as role model.

To me these three news items encapsulate what I find disturbing in the climate of denial that surrounds old age. The age uk information about the plight of old people who have no other voice is reported in the press on one day and disappears from view the next. As with the abuse in care homes, the extreme isolation of some old people that leads to mental decline, the social problems of old people do not feature in high visibility campaigns.  As mentioned in my previous blog, and argued by Jay Ginn, old frail people have no public voice. We do not want to know about the end game (Prof. Kirkwood’s term for the end of life). Old frail, disabled old people, are ‘other’.  We prefer to identify with the ‘still doing it’ campaigns: the positive living, growing old healthy, independent age, age and   culture, growing bolder and the myriad of other sites. But as shown by the 77 years old Pope sexism sticks closely to ageism. Ageing is a feminist issue but  in the feminist communities old women are hardly visible. The OFN (Older Feminist Network) and the OLN (Older Lesbian Network) have now been joined by another network (7 sisters network). They are networks of friends who get together for sharing experiences, hidden from view. I am not aware of any old  women groups who are campaigning for the rights of  the frail, abused and lonely. The only two workshops about ageism at the Feminism In London Conference did not consider the Crisis in Care.

This leads me to Mary Beard’s proposing Miss Marple as a role model.  Do  we old women need ‘role models’? I do not think so. What we need is high-profile people who would advertise the contribution that we make to society. Our diverse roles: volunteers in the Health Service and hospices, philosophers, music teachers, workers, painters and singers, peace campaigners, grandmothers, great grandmothers and many more .  At any meetings, demonstrations against war, against violence, against the savage cuts we are there white hair and all. We  are often the foundations of community groups, religious associations. The research produced  about our ageing society by the universities is often inaccessible and does not permeate the general public’s consciousness.  What we need is for feminist writers to explore and close the gap between the  60+ healthy old and the old who face the end game.  What we need is for the young old to fight for the old who are unable to make themselves heard. For the old who die alone because of the cold weather. What we need is creative thinking and a way to combat the false choice given to old people in need of care. The false choice between living alone at home or being neglected and abused in care homes.

 

 

 

 

 

Simone’s thoughts on ageing and disability

It is Josephine’s post that inspired me to write this. I am 79 and have been in retirement for 20 years. For the last twenty years I have gone through constant adaptations: to  the liberation from work, the loss of working in a team, the freedom of travelling where and when I liked, the new responsibilities of looking after my parents, their death, the involvement in political activities, the  new social networks, the role of an active grandmother, the children’s separations divorces or other crisis.

Now nearly 80 I am getting progressively deafer and my energies are declining. The two losses conspire to make me conscious of what I fear most of all about ageing : isolation. My children, grandchildren and step grandchild (child of my son’s partner by another father) live in other towns. I see them on holidays or during the rare visits they have time for. I have no friends who live locally.

I have always relied on public transport and distances did not affect my attendance at cultural and social events. Now I tend to avoid these not only because of the effort necessary to travel long distances but also because once there I do not follow most of what is being said on the platform or the noisy environment. Theatre going is out and English and American films are often hard work. The foreign ones with subtitles are the most comfortable.

I talk to old the old women who sit next to me on the bus. I am often told : “Well one has to get out doesn’t one”. “You cannot stay at home all day”.  “I like going to the shopping centre it is an outing isn’t it?”. Will I get to this stage?

I fear the creeping isolation. Will I be able to adapt to it?.