Ever since my teens I’ve been genuinely excited about getting old. Not old in the sense that I’d finally learn to drive or legally buy an alcoholic beverage, but old as in wrinkles, wheeled shopping bags stuffed full of cats and wearing that weird brown/ grey shade of shoes that old people tend to favour.
As a young’un one of the best things I ever read was one of those facts of the day stating ‘at the age of 30 you start to slowly shrink.’ I could not have been happier. It had been confirmed. I only had to wait another 15 years until the effects of old age started to be visible. I have quoted that fact so many times since that day I wonder if I just dreamed it.
Over the years my countdown to 30 and the beginning of old age has turned into a general obsession with old people.
At 15 it was mainly my fixation for eating custard at breakfast. I could do this EVERY DAY if I was old. What do old people have to worry about, anyway? They don’t work, they get a pension, they’ve probably given up on their looks, their health, what food is right for what time of the day. Old people are free. They can do whatever they want. This includes eating custard for breakfast. As a 15 year old, that was the dream.
From my early teens I was unlucky enough not to have the luxury of grandparents around, but lucky enough that the generations of my family had left a legacy of good stories behind.
I mean, my grandma jumped out of a moving car. My great uncle dragged a brand new settee into his back garden and chopped it up with an axe, all because he stubbed his toe on it. My great, great granddad broke into a sweet factory and swam in lemonade. HE SWAM IN LEMONADE. My family are crazy and it’s in my genes. Old age cannot fail to be a hoot.
By my early twenties I was still harbouring my love for the elderly without coming into contact with any. Well, apart from opening the odd door for a little old lady and then pleading with my eyes that she’d want to adopt me as a grandchild. Around then is when I was fortunate enough to start a job working at a local charity shop.
I met people whose names I didn’t think were in use anymore. Beryl, Doris and Wendy. Oh god, it was a dream. I will never forget the stories, the endless minor dramas and the unbelievable slowness of each day. Don’t even get me started on the clothes! I came home with bags and bags of the stuff! I’d stockpile anything from vintage to second hand to just plain old and weird. I had to have everything with a bit of history or some kind of a memory associated with it. I couldn’t and still can’t get enough.
Present day, I still call in to the charity shops to see if I can get a bargain and chat to the oldies. Sometimes if I’ve had a parcel delivered next door while I’m out it ends up being the highlight of my week. I get to see my 80 year old next door neighbour.. Fingers crossed she’s taken her teeth out by the time I call.
So what do I say to those people to whom I have professed my undying love for the elderly when they turn to me and say ‘Ew. Old people. They smell’ or ‘Old people are so miserable.’ Well maybe they haven’t seen it all and they haven’t necessarily done it all. But whatever they have been doing they’ve done it a lot longer than you. If they want to be grumpy, I say go for it. If they don’t want to wash, it’s their choice. If they want to shout at pigeons in the park, they’ll probably be doing it for a very good reason. Who are you to judge?
Whether you like it or not, you’re getting older. Cherish the people you know that have made it, take care of the ones you don’t understand and join me in eating custard for breakfast when we’re 90 and 2ft5in.
The elderly. Who’s with me?
Read more from Helen over on her blog.