It sounds an obvious thing to state, but we are constantly learning things throughout our lives.
As we age beyond fifty or so, it probably serves to remind ourselves occasionally that, if we ever stop learning stuff, it’s likely to be the case that we are beginning on the slippery road to being out of touch and/or senile.
That’s where families – and indeed friends with families – can have a positive influence. It’s one of the plusses of having our own kids, and perhaps grandchildren too though I haven’t reached that stage yet. They help remind you of the passage of time in so many ways. Which is a good thing because, left to ourselves, our natural instinct is to assume that we are not only immortal but eternally youthful – an attitude that may be admirable in some respects (“life is to be lived to the full” etc.) but ultimately perhaps a little bit sad (“the thing about him was that he never really grew up”).
Exposure to younger generations has two great beneficial effects.
Firstly, it keeps you ‘young’, in the sense that – provided you can follow what your juniors are talking about, of course (!) – you can more fully understand and appreciate what is new, exciting and relevant in the 21st Century, which tends to keep you also more in touch.
Secondly, it keeps your feet upon the ground in a number of different ways, most of them reinforcing to you the message that tempus is fugitting rather swiftly and consequently, gradually and inevitably, you are therefore falling off the pace.
This is not a depressing thought – not if you turn it to your advantage.
As hinted above, human nature’s instinct to regard oneself as immortal is like an addiction. And you know what they say at drug-addiction or alcohol dependency help groups, don’t you?
They teach attendees that the fundamental and key step is for any ‘sufferer’ to accept that they have a problem in the first place (admittedly a lot of people find that hard to do) – because only once that watershed obstacle has been overcome can you begin to do something about it.
A few weeks ago I caught a Radio Five Live interview sequence coming on the back of media news that Paul McCartney had been working upon a new hit song FourFiveSeconds with pop stars Rhianna and Kanye West.
A reporter had been out and about in Manchester, asking young people who Paul McCartney was. Almost without exception, they had no idea … and the one male who knew that McCartney had been in the Beatles, who were one of his parents’ favourite bands, had never heard a note of their music.
Secondly, last weekend I attended a family function and joined a conversation between my wife and Ben, the boyfriend of one of my nieces, outside on the garden terrace. Ben is a great kid – and I don’t just say that because he seems to treat the older generation with respect. He’s intelligent, enquiring and insightful.
The subject-matter of the chat was something to do with how fashion and what is acceptable changes over time. Ben was telling of how he’d recent spent time with a great-uncle who clearly talked (in modern terms) with total political-incorrectness. He ‘excused’ his elderly relative to an extent because he was only reflecting the prevailing views of his youth/prime. I agreed and suggested that similar applied to Winston Churchill, some of whose published opinions during a long and public life are now roundly criticised for being racist. Arguably, you should not really condemn people for ‘being of their time’.
The kid then mentioned that, fifty or more years ago in Britain, landlords routinely put up signs advertising for tenants in the approximate style ‘No dogs, Irish or blacks’. I endorsed this – I thought I could remember seeing such signs, or at least photographs of them in copies of the famous magazine of The Sunday Times.
Warming to my theme, I began telling how the proposed remake of the famous post-War fictional movie version of The Dam Busters (last time I heard, Stephen Fry was working on the script) was working itself into a lather over the historical fact that Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s pet black Labrador dog was called Nigger. I’d heard that they now planned to get round this by changing the dog’s name in the remake, so as not to offend the modern audience.
Ben was interested in this development. His own view was that this was crackers – if you’re making a period movie, he held, you must try to make it as authentic as possible, and so on.
From our chat, something gradually dawned upon me.
“You do know the story of the Dam Busters, don’t you?” I asked.
Ben responded in the negative, a development that allowed me to give a potted history of the RAF’s famous 617 Squadron … inventor Barnes Wallis … the Dam Busters raid of May 1943 at the height of the Second World War … and, of course, the 1955 black and white film The Dam Busters, starring Richard Todd.
In the middle of my stirring oration I realised that my father had a DVD copy of The Dam Busters movie somewhere on the shelf beneath his high-definition television in the drawing room. I nipped inside, thankfully found it in a matter of seconds, took it outside and presented it to Ben with the words “Here, if you can bear to watch it, this will tell you what it was all about”. He thanked me profusely, adding that he loved watching classic old movies.
“And whilst you’re about it, you’d better have a copy of this [the 1956 British movie Reach For The Sky, starring Kenneth Moore as Wing Commander Douglas Bader] as well, then …” I added, thrusting the relevant DVD – which I’d also spotted beneath my father’s TV – into his hand.
I now cannot wait to hear Ben’s reaction.