Aches and Pains in Old Age

I quote from Time Goes By Ronni Bennett’s blog.  A blog I follow religiously because it makes me feel understood in my ageing journey.

“Earlier this week, long-time TGB reader Elizabeth left, in part, this comment:”The culture we live in insists that ‘living to the fullest’ means an incessant pursuit of experiences. One MUST travel in retirement. One MUST attend cultural events. In some circles, one MUST volunteer or be politically active.“The idea of a bucket list is another piece of that pressure to do, do, do. After a lifetime of working and raising a family, I am able to live fully the way I want to…“My paternal grandmother once commented on how annoying she found the recreational staff at her senior residence. They were so worried that she didn’t participate in the (to Grandma) condescending song fests and games. She kept saying that she was finally able to do exactly what she wanted.”Elizabeth is correct. The only old people to whom American culture pays even a small amount of respect are the ones who act like younger adults, 40-year- for example.  …………………………………………………………

Until you’re old, you probably have no idea how chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and dozens of others hamper one’s ability to do the things that were easy at age 40. 

And that doesn’t include plain old tiredness, the fatigue that comes along just because you are old now and your body slows down. People sometimes say it’s too bad there isn’t an instruction book for getting old. 

I think it’s a good thing NOT to have that book, not to have an arbitrary “expert” telling us what we should be doing. Remember, there is no right way to grow old. Do it your way and do it proudly.”

My problem is whether I mention to my family and friends how I feel in my body. It can become boringly repetitive and very unlikely to stimulate sympathy. I find that only a very good friend of the same age is likely to empathise or my wonderful yoga teacher who always enquires before a session : how do you feel in your body?



Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett’s blog
Eclipse Day Reveals Some Personal Changes
Monday, 21 August 2017

Thanks Ronni. This post took me from depression to relief. I can embrace the changes I experienced these last few months.
By a curious coincidence it is the total eclipse of the sun that triggered this consciousness raising.

When at the beginning of the year my American nephew started to organise the family reunion for this year’s eclipse, I decided that I would not travel to the States. This reluctance to suffer the discomfort and frustration of air travel surprised and unsettled me. Since my retirement – over 20 years ago – I have travelled across the globe to birdwatch (my connection to nature) and on two occasions to meet some members of my family and experience together total eclipses of the sun. (Hawaii (1991 , Hungary 1999).

In the last few months I have spontaneously given up activities that were previously important to me and felt more and more inadequate. Reading Ronni’s blog I jumped with joy.
I am OK. I am not depressed. I am normal. I just have to readjust my priorities.
I do not have to get up at the crack of dawn and breathe London’s polluted air to attend a conference or a meeting on Ageing or Film studies. No more exhausting train journeys and stays in uncomfortable B and B to hear academics report on their latest research.
Great !
I do not have to cook when I do not feel like it or feel guilty when I watch rubbish TV. I do not have to march for hours at an agonising pace to protest the state of the world. No more competing with centenarians who run the marathon. No more compelled to volunteer for good causes if I do not feel like it.
No more trying to share my interests or campaigns.
No more worrying about children, grandchildren. great-grandchild. It is time to reverse the mother/daughter relationship.

Yes Ronni I am also slowing down. I also have no patience for discomfort .
I am letting go and will stop wasting time and patience updating soft and hardware. The existing technology is good enough for me to continue researching, enriching my life and have a social life.


words and music Leon Rosselson

THE TERRIBLE 92 – part 2

Advice to myself and carers

There is no fooling ma tante Salma, her senses are all there: with her eagle eyes she will notice any minor change you dare make in her surrounding, any change of expression in your face. Her nose will smell the cucumber being cut in the room next door or the tiniest drop of sweat you may harbour. And I swear she must have a 7th sense that allows her to guess people’s thoughts and their next move within a centimetre of precision.
Her memory is all there and my ears are going to explode with tales of money, success, status, past splendour: les soirees, les brilliants et les toilettes (the evening parties, diamonds and chic clothes) often repeated again and again…
And now what? With all her money, she is pacing round and round in her room and in her head, worrying about the next pipi. Worrying about millions of minor problems, not being able to abdicate her authority on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren…after all I have done for them
She lives in anticipation of what will happen in the next days with great anxiety.
Are these common features of old age? Or is it the result of living in exile? Past traumas not digested?

After my three weeks’ stint caring for Salma, I made myself some observations about old age .
It is very important to explain to anxious older people when and how things will happen, even if it is not what they want, rather than being vague and letting them build scenarios in their head
We must not think that age diminishes the intellect or the senses and we must treat old people as normal adults
Do not contradict old people, they usually know best but sometimes when they don’t, let it pass, or you may get a tantrum, it is not worth it
It is vital not to forget who the person is and recognise all what they have achieved in their life when they are still alive, not only at their funerals
Old people still need touch, kisses, love and little gifts of the things they like

Reminders for myself:
Do your pelvic floor exercise on the hour every hour
Notice any obsessions that may develop, acknowledge them and try to move on
Ask for help and accept help graciously, don’t forget to say thank you
Do not expect people to communicate with you if I you do not put your hearing aid
Make sure you have a non-judgmental friend or two to whom you can lash out all your woes without being contradicted
What money you have, USE IT! for your comfort and amusement, what are you waiting for?

Someone should devise a course on growing old that is not only about how to eat well, how to stay active and warm, but about the behaviours we can develop, how to deal with psychological changes. The usual response from the near and dear is : ah! she needs antidepressant”, donnez lui un calmant…

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective” M. Holstein

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective , which means that I question, challenge, contest and resist the status quo ( Ray 1999) ” Martha Holstein

At long last a book, Women in Late Life  that fulfils my wish for a general feminist view of the experience of ageing. I have read so much about ageing, attended so many seminars and conferences and meetings since I retired 20 years ago.  Although I have absorbed some knowledge this has remained fragmented and in a way difficult to relate to personally. My work on feature films has been stimulating but has made me angry more often than enlightened.

Martha Holstein’s book fulfils my need of making sense of all this information and I have finally found a language that I identify with in this complex field.

I strongly  recommend this book to women who need to make sense of their ageing.


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?


I have on my blog analysed  a few scenes of John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night. See 

In my research I discovered that there is a variety of feelings expressed  in women’s writings about age and identity.  Talking among a few friends a range of sentiments is also voiced although it seems to me that “Inside I feel 18” is the most common.  I would like to survey the responses of as many old women as possible to two questions and would appreciate the cooperation of the 70s sisters. The responses can be anonymous sent to me on or posted as comments on this post.

How old do you feel you are?

What do you see when you look in the mirror. 

For example: Lynne Segal: “we are all ages and no age”

R.R. When I look in the mirror I see the features of my father in his old age. I have no access to my past selves. I only know how I feel now and I feel I have lived 80 years.

J.G. When I look in the mirror I see my uncle’s face… he said he looked like a turtle in old age


V.D. I don’t know how 73 is meant to feel. I am a bit surprised, still, that I have reached this age. I know I feel more alert and alive than I did in my teens and twenties and take more exercise. Being retired certainly suits me and I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy it – so far….

In the mirror I see an older woman and notice the lines and wonder how they were formed. Presumably many years of smoking can account for lots of the ones round my mouth and I don’t like the deep frown lines, but I am stuck with them and, in a way, lucky to have them as some people don’t reach this age. My hair is its natural colour, which is grey streaked with white – a look that some women go to extraordinary lengths to achieve! I see my father’s eyes with that high cholesteral ring round the pupils. but the whole face really looks more like my mother’s sister’s face.

A.B. I do not to be 18 again.  I was not in a good place at 18. I cannot put a number to my age. When I am asked I have to stop and think. I am 86. In the mirror I see that my lines have recently accumulated and I am not too pleased about it. I do not look at the mirror as often as I used to. I am shocked when I see that my hair have lost colour.

J.P. I am 71 and 1/2. I feel about 55 but alas, I have 80 year-old knees! . When I look in the mirror I see me at 10 years old (face hasn’t changed) except for the addition of a few wrinkles. I have earned them!!!!!

D.S.  71, my age. Definitely not ‘inside I feel 18’. I think the point is perhaps everyone knew how you were meant to feel at 18, so it’s easy to define. I don’t know what 71 is meant to feel like (and don’t care!) A bit like that t-shirt ‘this is what a feminist looks like’–’this is what an old feminist looks like’. But then I’ve never really worried what age I am, just what’s happening in my life. Would love to have the energy of 18 but am glad to have the experience of 71.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? Someone who is puzzled, worried, sad, and inevitably less attractive than in earlier years (not 18, I think my best years were early 30s for looks!) I don’t see any relatives directly, but bits from both my mother and father, with more bits that aren’t identifiable.

V.B Interesting, the feeling about yourself in old age. I’ve had the “inside I am still 18” comment, but I’m long past that…and I don’t remember feeling as interesting then as I do now at 74. I don’t feel the pain and insecurity that I felt at 18. At 74 I feel physically old which means I concentrate more on my general well being feelings…..I care for myself at this age in the sense of taking care of myself. There is a feeling of relaxation and peacefulness that I welcome. I feel my age but in a positive way….I feel ….ripe!

Looking in the mirror I see my mother and my father’s mother looking back at me in their old age. My cheeks are slipping downwards giving my face – in repose – a severe look, but there’s still a lively curiosity in the eyes, if a little critical. Plenty of wrinkles which signify age as well as the grey hair and thick eyebrows. My face says that I’m an old woman and that’s as it should be at 74.

R.L. 1- I am surprised whenever I think of how old I am – I feel no older than I felt at 55

2-  I see the wrinkles on the outside, but don’t feel them from the inside.

S.K. 1- When I am with young people – my students on the Folk Degree course, for instance – I feel particularly young , but that could be because they mostly don’t treat me as an elderly woman. When I’ve been doing Nana duty with my two young grandsons ( a labour of love – don’t get me wrong!) I begin to feel more like 72, which I am.
Getting up from the floor, with increasingly weak knees – or dancing energetically with them ( but for a much shorter time than they would like!) reminds me of my years, and reminds me that I wish she’d started a family when she ( and I) was younger! Mostly though, I feel 30-40- youthful, energetic, enthusiastic for my job and my many interests, but also with an awareness that I have a wisdom and insight that come with greater age than I feel. The usual shock and rude awakening when I catch my reflection in the mirror, or catch sight of my flabby , wrinkled ‘batwings’… Or when they ask me in the supermarket if I need help with my packing
Do I really look that feeble?!!!_

2- My mother. After a glass or two of wine, though – I see a reasonably attractive middle aged woman. But then my eyesight isn’t what it was…

S.T  1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about  people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.
I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.

A.R. how old do i feel I am? it depends of the day and what i am doing, when i ache everywhere and it is damp i feel 80, in a warm sumer day i can feel 22 , when i am in love i feel 18, when i play badmington and table tennis i feel 50 but if i have to run after a bus or walk uphill i feel 100. when i think of the future i feel very old and scared.

what do i see in the mirror? greying hair, wrinkles developing at an alarming rate, drooping face, often with a frown and a worried, bitter expression, facial hair growing, the freshness gone except when i smile. the trick is to smile all the time

A.S. 1. I feel 60 — I’ve got used to that, with my Freedom Pass and people getting up for me — but actually I’m nearly 70, I’ll be 68 this year. More worryingly, I have very few definite
1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about how people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.

I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.
memories of the 2000s ,whereas I can date certain years oft he 60s and 70s very precisely, and have at least a number of outstanding memories for the subsequent decades. The 21st century seems blurred, and I imagine this is partly because I don’t have children (no landmark family events, nor definite cutoff points on whom I am attracted to) and partly because I have a very old parent surviving at 103 (she goes on for ever and much of the pace of my own life has slowed to accommodate her needs). People do think I am or look younger, but I don’t !

My sister and I are developing characteristically similar faces, though when we were young we looked so different that we could win bets on getting people to guess our relationship to anyone in the room. She said something very observant to me when we hit our 60s: ‘Men think they can stay looking young by not eating anything, but they’re so silly because anyone can tell when we get older: women get these two little blobs at the corner of their chins, and men’s eyebrows start sticking out horizontally’.

I like the idea of a mirror fast actually, but find myself facing the world most days with a dab of pink over those two little blobs, and two black lines round my eyes.

From L.N : “For people in Alzheimer’s wards who have trouble remembering which room is theirs, if staff members try to help by taking a picture of the people and posting the photo on the doors of the rooms, the residents do not recognize themselves. Tellingly, however, people with Alzheimer’s do recognize themselves and select the correct room when the posted photograph shows them at the age of 30 (cf. Nolan et al. 2002).”

Nolan, Beth A. D., R. Mark Mathews, Gina Truesdell-Todd, and Amy VanDorp. 2002. “Evaluation of the Effect of Orientation Cues on Wayfinding in Persons with Dementia.” Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly 3(1): 46–49.


‘What is Old Age’ ? New perspectives from the Humanities conference

The compensation of growing old … was simply this; that the passion remains as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.    VIRGINIA WOOLF, Mrs. Dalloway

 I attended the conference “What is old age ? New perspectives from the Humanities” at the University of Warwick. It was a fascinating day.

When I used to take my very young mixed race granddaughter on holiday with me I noticed that the first thing she would do was to scan the hotel, the beach, the streets to see if there were people who were black like her and then tended to gravitate towards them. I find myself doing the same thing these days. Looking around the assembly of scholars I noticed that the majority were women. The delegate list gives 48 women and 10 men. Next I look for people with white hair. There were very few of us.  It seemed to me that in general the delegates were ‘young’. Of course without actual data on ages it is impossible to judge the age range of the participants. Assigning ages is difficult these days with hair dye and good dental care.  I may be mistaken but I think there was no participants above the age of ….. 65?  The only person who gave a personal presentation not based on a research paper was an old man of over 70.

These observations apart I found the day very stimulating. I was amazed by the diversity of papers and the richness of information that I gathered.   From ageism in the Middle Ages to the haptic turn in the representation of women in German cinema the topics put my own experience of ageing in a wide context. I relished revisiting Beckett’s  Krapp and Malone. In these days of ‘positive ageing’ when the old body and death are ignored I had to smile   at the accuracy of some of Maximianus descriptions.  There was also a live old man speaking about his life course and the importance of theology.

But among all the young women voices interested in and researching old age , I longed to hear an old woman speaking for herself, a writer, a poet, an actor, a painter.