WHY I SMILE AT CHILDREN or ageism is alive and well.


I am ‘gutted’ as my grandson would say. For the second time in a month I turn up at the Bank without the necessary documentation that I had prepared carefully on the kitchen table.

When I arrived back home I burst into tears. Not because of the event but because of the thought of what the bank manager and staff would think of me. I am used to these lapses and am learning how to minimising them. I remember how my now deceased friend panicked in these circumstances and on the whole I manage them with serenity. At nearly 82 I have been coping reasonably well with the decline of certain faculties. But a recent experience made me feel worthless.
At a conference coffee break, a recently retired academic knowing that I am a U3A (University of the Third Age)  member announced that she had joined the organisation. She proceeded to describe in the most vicious ageist terms the behaviour of the members of her group. I could not believe my ears when she ascribed mockingly to each one of them the most ageist, prejudiced characteristics that I have come across in my 20 years of being interested in the representation of old women.

It left me speechless trying to understand what was going on and the meaning of this diatribe.

The episode did make a mark on me. If an old woman academic could perceive us old women in this way, talk about us in this way what do other people think when they see my white hair, my sometimes unsteady gait, my forgetfulness?

Maybe that is why, in the tube, in the street I smile at little children who look at me with interest.

Wallander: an Ageing Man

I like Detective stories in books or screen and followed assiduously the Wallander series on TV in all its interpretations. The Troubled Man is Henning Mankell’s last book about Wallander. I loved its mixture of political background, and suspense but above all I appreciated the way the author presents us with what it is like to be an ageing detective.

Wallander is supposed to be 60 and perceives himself as an ageing man.  He shows the subtle changes of normal ageing. He becomes a grandfather, he often thinks of his father and tries to integrate his past and present, he gradually looses responsibilities in his work. His sight is less acute, he worries about the future, he fears death. His daughter worries about him ageing on his own.  Throughout the book  Wallander’s ageing is integrated in the narrative in the most natural way. One perceives that Mankell about the same age as his character is living these changes.

The suspense as in all good detective stories is maintained until the last pages. But  under the suspense of the spy story lies another suspense. At one point Wallander suffers an acute chest pain and he thinks he is having a heart attack. But this episode resolves itself. He, more often, experiences memory lapses. These are not the usual incidents of  forgetting names, or losing objects. These are worrying lapses of losing understanding situations for a chunk of time, not knowing where he is, and why.  For example he does not recognise his house or his dog for a while and in one episode  his  granddaughter as she runs towards him. These symptoms added to Wallander’s health problems i.e .diabetes add to the suspense about his fate. It is in the last pages of the book that there is closure and Mankell writes that after a few years Wallander “slowly descended into a darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease”.

I do not know the literature of old age, but I found Mankell’s Wallander most interesting as his ageing is put in a general context of the genre. I do not feel  qualified to write about Stewart O’Nan Emily Alone but I must say that I found the novel an incredible accurate and sensitive portrayal of an older woman.