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Golden Age A GOLDEN AGE?
Joanna North ponders on how the old are portrayed on TV
'I just don’t recognize these people...'

Some people grow old gracefully, some grew old disgracefully and some just grow old.
I’d like to think I’m an inbetweener. Ageing is unfortunate, but natural and although we have every right to fight it, in the end I believe that it is a case of mind over matter. Once in my early forties I met up with an acquaintance three years my junior. She sighed and declared, “We have to face it Joanna, we are old now, we have to take things slowly and accept our fate.”

I fled.The loss of my husband in my mid-forties left me somewhat adrift and once the grief had been faced and stowed away I squared up to life. Years before I had made a list of places I would love to see, so I dusted it off and went. If that previously mentioned acquaintance could have seen me then, swinging from boat to boat, taking planes and trains across Europe she would have fainted.

My children also loved change and travel, so our lives took on a whole new meaning and although in the beginning we settled in Africa, by the time I was sixty, I had children with their own families in Canada, Africa and England and loved visiting them all.

Now, I have passed eighty and I am an OAP I know my life has been full of experiences but it’s not true that one can sit back and just enjoy the memories. Being old isn’t necessarily a barrel of laughs.I find myself living in England where the old are slowly but surely being vilified. They are always depicted as senile on the TV and no one seems to value what they have been or what they may have to say. We are all ‘good for a laugh’ and this spills over into the street where the old have become targets for criminals, violent attacks and even rape is shockingly common.

Well I would like to stress that I am alive and the brain is still functioning , I still like to think I have taste and an appreciation of culture and the simple things of life such as my flower garden. The soaps on TV almost show people of my age as stupid, unreasonable, difficult and oblivious to their surroundings. I hasten to say that I know a lot of people my age and not one of them is like this and although many are less agile than they would like to be, are most certainly mentally alert and good fun to know.

But does English TV shows reality? Well if Eastenders is reality I just don’t recognize these people as natural or decent or real. The hatred they all feel for each other may make for good ratings, but if I had grown up in a society as fearful and desperate as these soaps, I very much doubt I would have reached old age. Where is the laughter or joy in their TV lives. Is this what dumbing down means, to produce a life of unrelenting misery? Incredible very frank sex scenes and couplings between people with no regard for their husbands or wives or significant others will also signal to younger viewers that a loveless society is OK. We have become a nation of voyeurs.

Add to this, the endless inane games shows and manufactured pop groups, it almost seems that we are nurturing a world where talent and effort are no longer required.

The trouble is, for most of us TV is our lifeline and a window on the world but yes, I am one of those people that think that TV, ‘British TV’ was funnier 25 years ago. Certainly the repeats of the old shows seems to prove that. I do love a good mystery but even here the TV detectives seem so bogged down in their own misery, policework seems forgotten.

I read the TV guide everyday and my spirits drop - but luckily, I have good eyesight and comb the library for books every week and of course I am addicted to crosswords. But I have to admit that I do envy other cultures where the old still reside with the family and have a value in their day to day lives. I love my nieces and nephews but I so rarely see them as they grow up and make their own lives. I am here,they are far away abroad, visiting me only once a year in a crowded hectic couple of weeks. I can hardly complain, for my daughters and son all are like me and traveling, seeking adventures, fending off any suggestions of middle age.

At 81 my heart is giving out, I admit it, but as like as my mind stays sharp, life is tolerable. But what will old age be like for those who are young now? They seem to age so fast, what to grow up so fast and seem so jaded at thirty. Medical science will replace worn parts they say, but as yet there is no substitute for a cynical heart and a wasted life. The Church of England has recently admitted that they have no relevance in modern English lives and role models on television are deeply flawed. Perhaps it is true, despite living through a terrible war my generation had the best of it.
Time will tell.

© Joanna North 2001

* In Memory of Joanna 2015


Joanna lives in Lincolnshire, still does her crossword everyday and can still beat most contestants on Countdown. She has been an actress, housewife mother,and childrens author and you can read one of her kids stories here HORATIO MOUSE

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