Personal Effects

I can never remember my parents buying any furniture, or visiting a furniture shop. The things we had-tables, chairs, beds, ‘suites’-they seemed to have been there always, moving house when we did, packed away into a removal van and taken out at the next house; then fitted into whatever space there was. A number of pieces were inherited, accumulated over the years. My mother could say who they’d belonged to: ‘That’s Great Aunty Mabel’s cabinet’ and so on.

Back then you used whatever you’d been given without a thought of renewing or even choosing something. This approach continued as I entered adult life and moved from renting places [where you put up with whatever eclectic mix the landlord had assembled] into home ownership.

Later, becoming single again and beginning home ownership once more, but with less cash the luxury of choice was tempered by limited funds. I could choose, but from whatever was in the skip, at the council recycling depot or if feeling flush-at the junk shop and the small ads. Each acquisition felt like a triumph, whether coming home from the council rubbish dump with some brass coat hooks on a pine base or discovering a French, inlaid walnut bed outside a second-hand shop.

Pairing up with Husband meant pairing up the belongings, too. Collapsing two households full of effects into one is a tricky business when both householders have struggled to amass said items in the first place. There were lively discussions, debates and compromises. A number of fiercely contested pieces followed us into the home we bought together-happily a stomping great house that was capable of accommodating every treasured, hard-fought-over object, whether treasured or detested.

Waiting almost six months for the next move-a move that almost didn’t happen-we shed items in a gradual purge, resulting in a refreshing, minimalistic environment containing two camping chairs and a TV. This was an echo of my house as a new singleton, albeit a temporary phase in the limbo between homes. We’d agreed that the new house was neither suited to our collected contents nor did it contain the right spaces and therefore we cast caution into the teeth of the gale and got rid.

I let my fingers do the walking [remember that old ‘Yellow Pages’ ad?] with varying degrees of success. A set of six, white, Charles Eames style dining chairs arrived as a set of five. ‘Who buys five?’ I asked Monsieur Customer Support, who agreed it would be unusual. Husband is something of a traditionalist when it comes to furniture and was [and continues to be] less enthusiastic about my choice, although I conceded over the selection of the TV housing. Compromises continue to be made.

Like the house, we haven’t mourned the passing of our old belongings. It is, after all just ‘stuff’. But a couple of boxes still lurk under the bed in a guest room. They contain ‘stuff’ from the old place, ‘stuff’ we don’t know what to do with; ‘stuff’ that may, perhaps get passed on to the next generation-so they can ditch it…

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Who’s Volunteering to Die Before they Get Old?

‘Hope I die before I get old’ sang The Who’s Roger Daltrey in 1965, belting out the lyrics to ‘My Generation’ like he really meant them. ‘Why don’t y’all f-f-fade away?’ he queried, the rhetorical question snarled from his lips, curled in a sneer-a provocative, taunting line in a song that celebrated youth as being the only tolerable state.

Tousle-haired Rog was twenty one when ‘My Generation’ was released. Now he is pushing seventy. He has retained a lithe, nimble appearance but is bespectacled, greyish, ‘good for his age’. You have to wonder what he feels now about the song which reached number 2 in the UK chart [their highest charting single].

In one of my first blog posts I wrote about the next generation’s anger at us, the ‘baby-boomers’ for hogging all the money, having houses and retirements, getting free education and generally acting like evil rip-off merchants.

And what is more, now we have had the audacity not to die before we got old. We are hanging about, growing ancient-still living in our too-big houses, using too much of the health and other services, having bus passes, dithering in cars, getting prescriptions free, clogging up cruise ships, taking too long fumbling at cash machines, telling the same stories over and over-and telling the same stories [you get the image] and generally being a nuisance. We obstinately refuse to croak and release our easily gotten gains to our progeny.

Idly watching an election talk programme involving pensioners I listened to an eighty two year old saying how tired he was of feeling he was a nuisance.

The fact is, life expectancy is climbing. Perhaps many of us felt like Rog when we were twenty. I don’t remember. When you are twenty old age seems an impossibility; a state that only others attain. But we are all programmed to cling on to life, so unless there are specific conditions such as chronic, debilitating, life debasing illness we feel less inclined to ‘die before we get old’ as we age. We can cope with dodgy knees, failing eyesight and deafness as long as life continues to be better than the alternative. There was a delightful news item only this morning about a 103 year old and a 92 year old who are planning their wedding.

A recent article in The Guardian newspaper suggested that sixty should now be considered middle-aged [http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2004/aug/01/features.review37]. The writer makes a good case. As we age we often push the boundary of what we consider to be the middle years.

And just as new parents begin to reflect on how annoying/frustrating/expensive/ exasperating/uncommunicative/rude/faddy and tiresome their offspring are capable of being, everyone discovers, on their way through life that no, they have no wish to terminate, to step into the void, thank you very much.

My My Generation, Baby…

The amiable Dutchman in the reception office beamed at us as he rose to increase the volume on his ipod. “I LOVE this”, he said, in the expectation of our immediate affirmation, or at least the knowledge of what it was. Catching our blank faces, he enlightened us with a ‘how could you not know?’ expression. “It is DEEP PURPLE!” he boomed-“My wife got it for me. Fantastic!” Husband murmured into the ensuing pause-“Now if it had been Led Zeppelin”, and I followed with, “Well-Deep Purple was never a huge favourite of mine, but I know ‘Smoke on the Water’”… The Dutchman shrugged, grinning and eulogising over the music of ‘our’ generation; a strange remark, since he was at least twenty five years short of ‘our’ generation.

                Each generation feels its culture to be the best, the most creative, the most brilliant, the most enjoyable of all time. Despite the Dutchman’s love of Deep Purple, he is certainly not of the generation that spawned them, although it is common for non-British Europeans to be fond of rock music’s dinosaurs.

                The older I become, the more remote I feel from today’s music and culture. I begin to understand where the phrase ‘generation gap’ [much used when I was a teenager] came from, and even those fads which have themselves become ‘old hat’ have passed me by. Bands that are now doing ‘comeback’ tours hail from after my time. That [old] boy band, Take That inspire a feverish tsunami  of middle-aged-housewifely hysteria from thirty and forty somethings, yet to me the likes of Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams still seem like teenage upstarts!

                I admit to having given up on what is new, other than coming across occasional eulogies in arts and culture supplements. At least I can say I’ve read about an up and coming artist, or seen their name. During my Pilates class I was even able to put a singer’s name [Ellie Goulding]to a song recently. But mostly it passes me by. And in an even more startling turn of events, it is all beginning to pass my children by, too.

                In the wondrous van there is a music player, filled with the kind of music beloved by Husband, a fair number of songs we both like and a few things I enjoy listening to but attract derisory comments from him. Amongst these are several numbers by Coldplay [deemed middle-class pap- a label that may well be true but nevertheless does not impair my listening experience]. I still think of Coldplay as ‘new’, although I read that Chris Martin is 39. Thirty nine! He is tipping into the wastelands of middle age-and separated [or whatever they are calling it]-a sure sign of middle age.

                My father ignored contemporary music trends altogether, preferring [allegedly] classical, or ‘serious’ music, as he called it. He was fond of asserting that I would grow out of popular music to adopt his [adult] tastes. How wrong could he be? It was a disappointment he took to his grave…

You’re never too old for Rock and Roll

                One of the many aspects of ageing that intrigues me is what I will be listening to [always providing I am able to hear anything] when I am installed in my care or nursing home as a result of having been firmly placed there by my sprogs. They will have done this following lengthy and frequent exhortation by me and having researched widely [I hope!].

                I imagine that such ‘entertainment’ provided by institutions for the elderly consists, if it is adequate, of some kind of sing-along sessions, as well as gentle exercise to music? What, then, will that music be? Because it would have to be derived from popular songs of the inmates’ era, would it not? And what will the songs be?

                Well certainly not ‘Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover’, or ‘Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag’. These belong to a bygone era. No, the popular music we babyboomers will be jigging in our orthopaedic chairs to will have to consist of hit parade favourites or sixties underground classics or punk. How about sing-along-a ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles, or Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, or The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’?

                I like to think there is less of a generation gap in musical tastes as there used to be when I was a teenager, though I fear I am deluded, since I would be at a loss right now to be able to name any tune in the charts today.

Festivals, however are attended by a wide age range, and of course, especially this year, frequently feature vintage bands such as The Rolling Stones headlining act at Glastonbury, pilloried by that most erudite rag, The Daily Mail, with the headline ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Yes, Mailites, the Stones are oldish. They are all pushing seventy. They are wrinkly and craggy looking. Some [Keith] are too arthritic to play their instrument. But here’s a thing-a vast number of people of all ages loved it, including me. Why? Well for me it is generational. They are of my era, playing the songs that define my youth [mostly written by Keith, who merited his place on the stage for having produced such classics as ‘Gimme Shelter’ whether he played or not. The Stones, geriatric though they may be, can play on into their wheelchair years as far as I’m concerned.

And as our little, local music festival draws to a close today I look around at the substantial audience and see revellers of all ages from days old, to old and infirm and from all walks of life, sharing and enjoying the same music and best of all, the acts live on stage. So maybe in real music, unmanufactured by the likes of Simon Cowell etc there is no generation gap after all? And I can look forward to afternoon tea, Bingo and ‘I can’t get no Satisfaction’ when I wind up in sunset hotel.