There has been a great deal of media fuss around the TV journalist and presenter, Joan Bakewell. Now a Labour peer and always a controversialist, she was appointed in 2008 by Harriet Harman to be the Voice for Older People. After two years she left the role, feeling that for such an important social need a person should have more power to do the job properly. Once called the ‘thinking man’s crumpet’ (a description she loathed) she is now in the public eye because she has just had her eightieth birthday. I saw her recently on the ironic TV programme ‘Have I Got News for You’, and she gave short shrift to the suggestion from her fellow panellists that older people get more support than they should. She has had the final accolade of a TV interview with David Frost, himself no chicken.
The Guardian invited some of its journalists to comment on how old they feel. Katherine Whitehorn who is 85 said that she had plainly passed the crucial moment when you try to pretend you aren’t old and start cashing in on it instead; ‘I feel old when I need to hold on to handrails, sit down for a coffee I don’t really need for the sake of sitting down.
’… Lucy Mangan at 39 says that she is biased of course, ‘but being naturally middle-aged seems to me the best of both worlds.’ Tim Dowling who is 49 says you can do anything you want at 50, except cool’. ..Michelle Hanson at 70 says that in dim lighting, fully clothed and just after a visit to the hairdresser, and if I remember to stand up nice and straight, I’m 40 again. In the cold with the bed socks on, I’m an old lady.’
Readers of the Guardian took the theme as a challenge and wrote in to tell of their own experience. ‘My grandmother is in her 80’s and doesn’t know how to behave, she knows she’s supposed to be ‘old’ but her body is not really giving out and her mind isn’t either, so I suspect she’s playing the part of an ‘oldie’ instead of being one’…’I still feel 25 internally – although I am 57 in reality’…’Now at 62 and with time to do what I want, I feel I can be a bit irresponsible for the first time’…Most people of just about any age after 30 all think they look younger than they are and it is a kind of delusion, because you can’t really see yourself properly’.
Did Margaret Thatcher, for thirteen years prime minister, who has died and whose funeral took place yesterday, think of herself ‘properly’? More to the point, did we? There has been has been an extraordinary (and for me, inappropriate) attention to her legacy as prime minister. The media has become obsessive in their enthusiasm and some of us who disproved of her devotion to privilege, have done the same.
But her legacy, we are told by the current prime minister,’ lives on’. More sense comes from Roger Law in The Guardian today: ‘The current blitzkrieg of eulogies to the Thatcher years is driven by a nostalgia without memory’