Suitable For All Ages
Acceptance is such a small step for anyone to take
A while ago I went to dinner with a publisher who brought along his 85 year-old mother without even thinking to mention it. She proved to be sharp and funny and enhanced the table considerably, preventing it from descending into an endless discussion about book rights. She certainly knew the square meterage of her home. (‘You must come visit. My lounge is 32 metres. Try the prawns.’)
Another woman friend first introduced herself with the words, ‘I’m old and will bore you, but sit here for a minute.’ She wasn’t at all boring. She was still producing fine writing at 90.
Ageism feels like one of the last taboos in Britain. It’s still unthinkingly prevalent in British novels and newspapers. It’s possibly the last great taboo we’ve yet to deal with; I hope one day soon we’ll look back with horror at ageism in print in the same way that we once accepted descriptions of women in newspapers ‘pert blonde’, voluptuous redhead’, etc.
One of the reasons why I made my detectives Bryant & May senior citizens was because I had become increasingly aware of how sidelined everyone over sixty five was becoming in London. Medical care improves and the government raises the retirement age, but we are now a city of invisible services (75% work in some form of media or hospitality) offering poor salaries. The workforce grows younger and peer pressure creeps in. Companies won’t admit it in the reams of aspirational nonsense they send out, but they prefer to hire the young. It’s understandable that the young would rather work with those of a similar age, but how can older people remain in employment?
Unlike other countries, London seems to have no senior waiters. But the youth/age segregation goes much deeper. In Britain a number of factors shut older people away. The wild-west nature of Boris’s employment rules, the anti-savings economy, property prices, changing neighbourhoods, social mobility, even the unpredictable weather keeps older people at home and forced into a lonely existence. In much of Europe multiple generations eat together regularly and live in the same building, so that there’s a sense of community.
It has become almost unthinkable outside of Europe to have your grandparents living with you. Instead the opposite has happened; the majority of Italians don’t leave their parents’ homes until they’re in their late thirties. Perhaps now the young can repay the gift when the tables are turned.
Bryant & May are fictional, of course, but I use them to express my opinions about age and society. I’ve looked in restaurant windows and chosen not to eat there because everyone inside is under thirty. There’s a wall between the young and their elders that needs to be broken down. Acceptance is such a small step for anyone to take, and so very rewarding.