The View from Here: Life at Seventy

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A younger readership could learn a lot about ageing, weather or not they agree with its portrayal. Written with insight and wit, The View From Here gives glimpses not only into what was, but what life can be like for the over seventies, who are prepared to make a little effort, not sit back and take what comes. Mar 09, Liz rated it really liked it. Not having yet reached the age I found the sensible outlook refreshing although not agreeing with all that was written.

Being unfamiliar with Joan Bakewell I wasnt sure what to expect from er writing bt found her very down to earth. Jacqueline Harding rated it it was amazing Apr 23, Dawn Rainsford rated it it was amazing Oct 09, John McCaffrey rated it it was ok Dec 19, Mrs Christine Thorley rated it it was amazing Feb 16, Mr I R Jones rated it really liked it Jul 06, Diana Trigg rated it really liked it Jul 08, Anne Douglas rated it really liked it Apr 23, Julie Pryke rated it it was amazing Jul 14, Cathie rated it really liked it Dec 20, John rated it liked it Apr 15, Hyowon rated it really liked it Jul 10, Louise rated it liked it Aug 30, Peter K Harris rated it really liked it Feb 22, Vanessa marked it as to-read Nov 10, Nowen marked it as to-read Jan 06, Lenore marked it as to-read Jan 31, We may find it out of the ordinary - which it is - and even a bit odd - which is also true.

But we somehow forbear to pass judgement. We give these men the benefit of the doubt that they will, indeed, love and cherish the child and provide for it as they are able ageing parents who catch the headlines are often conspicuously rich and we generally welcome them into the community of doting fathers ready to swap photographs as well as to exaggerate the accomplishments and the beauty of the newcomers to their families. Not so the older mother. We don't hesitate to judge her and find her wanting. She is selfish in satisfying her need for a child while setting aside concern for its future welfare.


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If she isn't already an old hag she will be by the time the child is at school, where it will bear the brunt of mockery and ridicule, simply because of her. She will be too tired and clapped out to run sports day races against the other mums, she won't have the patience to stick and glue, to crayon and paint. She will live in a time warp, not knowing the names of current pop groups, or how to handle computers, text messaging and iPods. In fact she is an all-round social menace and it shouldn't be allowed.

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It just isn't natural. But what is natural isn't 'natural' any longer. Infertility treatments and donor semen aren't natural either and such medical interventions are now generally accepted as ethical and benign.

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Men remain fertile throughout their lives, of course, but advances in science now allow women to bear children after the menopause. That buccaneering Italian Dr Antinori treated women in their fifties; in the s I met two of them and accompanied one as she took flowers to lay in gratitude at the shrine of the Virgin Mary. Clearly the local Catholic church had no qualms at the time. Yet when Dr Antinori's other patient, a farmer's wife aged sixty-two, earned her way into The Guinness Book of Records as the oldest woman ever to give birth, the Church hierarchy condemned it as a 'horrible and grotesque act'.

Such discrimination between the sexes intensifies with age and is based on stereotypes that, we all acknowledge, are already out of date. Mothers are no longer sweet and tender stay-at-homes who devote every living moment to their children's needs.

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Their lives must strike a balance between work and family, far better than do those of men whose sense of self is so often determined by their job and their status among their working peers. Women are more flexible in their lifestyles, more capable of multi-tasking, better at networking among other women. They are also more able and willing to ask for and take advice. Above all, they live much longer than men, and will be around for the graduation ceremonies when other youngsters are putting flowers on Daddy's grave. So the odds, as ageing parents, are in the woman's favour.

Why then do we smile knowingly at the sexy old fathers, but come over all sanctimonious when older women seek to add a little to their own and other's happiness? I know when there's no defence. I know when I'm up against powers beyond my reach, however determined I am. Currently the particular authority is demographics. In I was unceremoniously dropped by Channel 5 from a new series of theirs called Rant because, as they stated baldly and thanks for that I am not within 'their audience demographic'. It was a polite - actually not very polite - way of saying I'm out because I'm old.

Odd that, because it was they who had approached me and had all but signed me up. But those nice producers I dealt with had been overruled by anonymous people upstairs, the ones with the charts, the statistics, the audience demographics.

The View from Here: Life at Seventy

The danger, I believe, is one of ghettoization. There is an assumption that young people - say, under thirty-five - want to watch programmes made and presented by young people. There are plenty of them, they swarm across the screens in all their garish colours, foul language and simplistic opinions. But where are the programmes targeted specifically at older people?

I challenge you to name just one. I happen to know how the debate among television folk goes because I've been party to some of it. Old people watch all sorts of programmes, tending to the more serious and, in style terms, the more staid. They like documentaries and David Attenborough. It's assumed that programmes made especially for them wouldn't get a larger audience so they don't get commissioned or made. A contemporary of mine, a former distinguished magazine editor, has formatted a promising series called The It's Never Too Late Show and is having trouble getting it to a screen near you.

When it comes to age, it isn't the numbers that matter. When I ask the question, and I ask it quite often, 'Why no programmes for older people? My own breezy claim that seventy is the new fifty bears this out. It is a way of reassuring ourselves that we are not out of date or out of touch.

At the same time controllers and their ilk declare that they take the issue of the old seriously and ask, 'How can we make a series that is about the old, even for the old, but doesn't alienate the rest of the audience? Both were lively and popular, but they treated the old as 'them' not 'us', and confirmed a stereotype of old age as being miserable. Grumpy Old Women followed. Both Grumps are now bestselling books.

There's no doubt that the independent company that conceived them - Liberty Bell - has created a winning formula. But is that to be all? Demographics lead to such stereotypes. I am sure I lurk as a statistic in numerous marketing surveys as someone not likely to wear jeans or high heels, to drive a sports car or drink cocktails, but to prefer cocoa and sherry, to carry a handbag rather than a rucksack, to prefer gardening to rock concerts. Some but not all of these are true. I'm conscious of my own contradictions: I am pleased when such profiles are used by the NHS to offer me flu jabs, but not so thrilled when I'm identified as the consumer of retirement packages and stair lifts.

Demographics may itself be judgement-free but it can be taken in evidence and used to make you feel your age. At Christmas time I am caught by yet another such lasso. Except that payments like this aren't meant for people like me, with the central heating roaring away, insulated lofts and lined curtains at the windows.


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They're meant to help those living hand to mouth on a wretched pension without money to spare for an extra bar of the electric fire. Last year I tried to return the gift, but the authorities replied that they had 'no mechanism for taking it back'. My cheque goes to charity in the hope that it'll reach the needy by some other route. Yet this doesn't obviate the problem, for receiving charity often feels demeaning, whereas when dispensed by government it comes as a right. Demographics are a blunt instrument. They corral people into their generalizations and treat them as 'the old', 'the disabled', 'the ethnic', 'the rich'.

From these spring such concepts as 'middle England', 'disaffected youth', 'the pink pound'. In the process they tend towards the consensual, dragging us kicking and screaming towards the average. I suspect the aged are particularly vulnerable to being so dismissed. And he said it with a hint of regret. Yet the old are as diverse, individual and eccentric as any other group.

No easy generalizations there! I shall be cooking and flavouring, feasting and enjoying yoghurts, cheeses, bacon and wilting vegetables long after many a younger person would have binned the lot. Young people do what labels tell them. To whose benefit is it that I should throw away marginally stale produce and buy shiny bright replacements? Why, the food industry, of course. I regard a sell-by date as its way of avoiding litigation should one of my drooping ingredients give me a tummy bug. Not so the younger generation. At the stroke of midnight the food languishing in their fridges turns to rotten pumpkins and next morning is unceremoniously thrown out whether edible or not.

The spirit of the Blitz still has me in its grip; nothing that can be turned to tasty - or even bland - nourishment should be wasted. There used to be a wonderful stall in Bury St Edmunds market that specialized in food past its sell-by date. It did a roaring trade. Their French cheeses were especially good, the point about French cheese being that the pungent smell is part of its deliciousness, whereas the English are snootily suspicious of anything giving off the faintest whiff.

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In , as things were gearing up for that year's general election, the question arose as to whether Michael Howard - at the age of sixty-two - was already past his political sell-by date. Ted Heath, crusty old parliamentarian that he was, suggested that Howard would be too old at sixty-four to be prime minister. My whole instinct was to back the idea of someone in my age range being considered eligible for power.

Consider Gladstone, four times prime minister, first at the age of fifty-nine, then subsequently when he was seventy-one, seventy-seven and eighty-six. He made his final speech in the House when he was eighty-five, and still went on to speak out against the Armenian massacres at the age of eighty-seven in the s.

Had he shown similar stamina - and got elected - Michael Howard would have had some twenty-three years of parliamentary life ahead of him.


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  7. In fact there were reasons that made this all too unlikely. Gladstone was a giant of the Liberal Party with a vision that looked forward towards universal education, a broadening suffrage and even Irish Home Rule. Michael Howard came with a record that suggested attitudes already out of date. In he was responsible for Clause 28 that banned the 'promoting' of homosexuality. He voted against the lowering of the homosexual age of consent to sixteen. He voted in in favour of David Alton's private member's bill to limit abortion to eighteen weeks, then went on to oppose giving women statutory maternity rights and refused the EC Directive on maternity leave.

    The View From Here: Life At Seventy

    Gays and women have moved on since then and don't look upon Michael Howard as someone who helped get them where they are today. Despite his modest attempts at rapprochement with gays, his outlook was basically one that looked backwards towards earlier values. Indeed, he and Gladstone might only have had in common shared views about sex and virtue. In drawing attention to Michael Howard's age, Edward Heath invited us to examine exactly what that meant. Did his values point forward to the way the world is going, or hark back to less tolerant and less equal times?

    Would his sell-by date give us a pain that we came to regret, or would he grow into the full maturity of a ripe and satisfying French cheese? In the event, after the agony of another electoral defeat, the Tory Party ditched the oldies and opted for a thirty-eight-year-old much in the Blair mould.

    But by this time most of us had realized that we already had a Tory prime minister in Blair himself. Next up for serious ageism was Sir Menzies Campbell, going by the jaunty name of 'Ming' - running at the age of sixty-four for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, against relative youngsters, Simon Hughes, fifty-four, Chris Huhne, fifty-one, and Mark Oaten, a mere stripling of forty-one. In my eyes Ming's grace and rigorous mind looked well against his less stylish competitors. The fact that age had little to do with leadership skills was evidenced in the retirement from the job of Charles Kennedy, a mere forty-seven-year-old, but already flawed for the burdens of office.

    Next to fall was the closest to him in age, Mark Oaten, ambushed by a sex scandal. In the event Ming, the elder, had the staying power and won the day, and those of us in his age range stopped feeling quite so jumpy. Now my grouse is with questionnaires. I have just completed one with a good deal of tongue in cheek. Yes, I said, I travelled to the theatre by tube.

    All these lies had one good purpose. It's time to begin subverting the system. I grow increasingly suspicious of surveys. There are just too many of them, all packaging and pigeon-holing us into neat marketing categories. Any minute now that particular company will be reporting a rise in theatre-going by London florists in their late twenties, a trend given credibility solely as a result of that survey. I believe that surveys themselves need examination. They are not value-neutral, laboratory-style findings.

    They are often compiled in the most infelicitous of circumstances, a passing street encounter, in bad weather between people brandishing clipboards who'd prefer to be doing something else, and the victim passers-by doing their best to avoid eye contact but relenting before the pleadings of the supplicant's 'It will only take a minute. Surveys are undertaken for a specific purpose by institutions that consider it money well spent to make an impact. Surveys , if their findings are startling enough, are sure to make headlines and create news.

    It's a sure way for advertisers and public relations companies to deliver something tangible for their clients, the more startling the better. They already battle to catch the public imagination, promote feature articles and discussion on afternoon television. They seek to fill space - column inches - rich with speculation. What better than a survey: Over the years they have helped fuel a popular addiction to health and diets that is surely unhealthy in itself. I'm well aware that they can even be used to promote television programmes; I've been party to it myself. Not long ago Cancer Research UK told us that only one in five women takes enough exercise to gain health benefits.

    The same organization posted to me three alarming pieces of paper threatening that 'One in three of us will develop cancer at some point in our lives. Am I among the one in three or the one in five? And if I'm the one in five, will this stop my eventually being the one in three? Charities are in the business of raising and dispersing funds. The thought arises that it's in their interest to make the facts as threatening as possible.

    Only then might I divert my funds from helping the blind, or the mentally handicapped into helping, say, any one of the several cancer charities.

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    And which will it be: You just can't have it all. Surveys and questionnaires often tell you what common sense already suggests for a lot less money. A ludicrously obvious report published findings that show fewer children nowadays join in sport at school than once they did. Well, of course they do, because their playing fields have been sold off. What's more, young people prefer sport that is competitive. If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Learn more about Amazon Prime. Read more Read less.

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