A rewarding family gathering
Since Tuesday 29th December I have been staying with my ancient father at his home on the south coast. On Wednesday evening my cousin Patrick – who is over from America with his wife – rang to announce that, having spent Christmas north of London with family, they had just returned to the coast with his mother (my aunt, my father’s sister, just turned 94), and was there any chance of meeting up? Thus yesterday (New Year’s Eve) we took them, plus my aunt’s carer, to lunch in a local upmarket restaurant not far from Chichester.
We had a collective ball, not least because we have always been close. It’s funny how these things work out. My cousin’s elder brother was always ‘the chosen one’ in their family – with justification, on one view, because he is both highly intelligent and exceptional at sport, accepted by everyone as a high achiever in everything to which he turns, or might turn, his hand.
I guess partly because (in comparison with this titan) my siblings and I felt inferior, we had a more natural affinity with Patrick who – to an extent – was the antithesis of his brother: laid-back, easy-going, keen sense of humour, slightly maverick, slightly anti-establishment, occasionally error-prone and/or capable of getting into ‘scrapes’.
In short, more human.
And these things often pan out. Whilst his brother could never be faulted for his application or analysis, and it would be stretching it to call him a bore, he’s the kind of cove that in prospect you have to prepare yourself to meet (if you get my drift) whereas Patrick is just the sort of guy – if the opportunity ever arises – that you’d jump at joining for a session down the pub. One of those people with whom you always ‘carry on with from where you last left off’ every time you meet. Sometimes I feel there’s no greater praise you can bestow upon a fellow human being.
At one point in conversation at the table yesterday the subject of modern technology was raised. My lack of aptitude in coping with it was mentioned and so I held forth once again on my pet theory that – generally in life – part of the ageing process is our propensity at some stage to get exasperated enough at the constant demand to ‘keep up’ – go through and epiphany moment in which we realise that ‘keeping up’ doesn’t actually matter – and then deliberately opt to stop the carousel and ‘get off’.
In my case, regarding smartphones, I disembarked at the point where I has mastered making phone calls and texting but had then registered that I had no interest in going on the internet via my phone, or indeed getting involved in social media [i.e. about 95% of the capability that in theory smartphones can provide … but also charge you for whether or not you use it].
It’s not just modern technology, of course, as I have banged on ad nauseam previously. I bailed out of the ‘pop/rock’ music scene in approximately 1978 – quite content, for the remainder of my life, to remain immersed in my favourite music of the two decades before that seminal but arbitrary date.
My aunt’s carer – a South American lady with excellent Spanish-accented English of indeterminate age (I’m hopeless at such thing but she could be anywhere between her mid-forties and the mid-sixties where I reside) – then took issue with me.
Her line was that we should all be constantly looking forward, trying new things, and not least persevering with our hoped-for mastery of all new technologies. To be fair, on the face of it, she seem to live out this philosophy herself – she speaks four languages fluently and has recently returned from an extensive tour of Europe and Russia during which she majored on art gallery and architecture appreciation.
In evidence, she called forward the example of a 92 year-old gentleman for whom she also worked in a caring capacity. Apparently he was proficient in emailing and using the internet and regularly asked her to help him in mastering new aspects of social media etc. that he had come across and/or seen mentioned in the press as likely to be ‘the next big thing’.
I fought my corner in what became an animated debate around the table, though there were times at which I felt I was shipping dangerously excessive incoming leather as I bobbed and weaved upon the ropes – e.g. when I suddenly found myself riffing on the theme that, ‘trying to keep up with the latest’ being inevitably a losing battle, it was actually a sign of maturity (rather than defeatism) for any human being of a certain age to accept that his ‘premium’ stage of life was over and that he was now on the downward path.
(My supplementary thrust – not necessarily overtly aimed at one or two seated around the table of my acquaintance, I hasten to add – was that this was actually a positive rite of passage in terms of learning to cope with some of the vicissitudes and frustrations of the ageing process).
Don’t get me wrong. From this distance I can understand and admire the ‘never say die/never too late to learn’ attitude of the 92 year-old gentleman mentioned above but I don’t subscribe to it myself.
Though I generally admire (and perhaps in my more reflective moments sneakingly aspire to belong to) any group that adopts an eternal ‘living in the present’ stance, I also find the prospect, as an oldie, of being perceived as ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, or even perhaps laughed at behind my back because I might be mounting a destined-to-fail quest to be hip and ‘on trend’ with modern yoof as risks to be avoided at all costs, simply in the context of maintaining dignity.
The fact is, I rather enjoy my reputation amongst the younger generations as a dotty old eccentric whose relationship with modern life is fraught. I certainly seem to get the odd laugh when I talk of it, as indeed do my kids when they expound upon my latest ‘incidents and accidents’ (as Paul Simon once sang) in family gatherings. It seems to me that being a source of amusement to others is one of the higher callings in this life.