March 07

Our walking libraries of wisdom

It was 7:45 in the AM this morning and I was feeling like a sardine, sitting on a packed commute train toward London. As usual, no one was talking to each other. The front pages of the national newspapers said that one million elderly people are alone. Jeremy Hunt will make a speech to care groups and many others about loneliness and how we, yes – WE, neglect our old generation.

As I look at everyone on the train, I am sadly thinking if any of these people here ever say hello to a stranger, albeit an older person. Do they actually care about people who are alone? Do any of us actually make the time, only once a week, to just say hello to an older person? Or better still, visit one with some nice biscuits and have a chat over a cup of tea. They could be our relatives or complete strangers.

I hate to say this, however, most of us care, if you ask us, but do we actually do anything about it? As you, yes YOU, read this, could you make time to chat to an older person once a week?

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Today, the nation’s headlines read “Britain’s forgotten million old people” and “UK should adopt Asian culture of caring for the elderly“.

I adore the older generation. I started to photograph them at a local swimming pool in 2007 and since then I go out of my way to say ‘Hello! How are you?’ Everyday, this year, I have managed to say hello to an oldie.

I have been trying to think of another word or phrase – for old or pensioner – as oldies are just the same as the younger generation, except their skin has changed. Inside, they are all teenagers and a lot more fun. They have done all the looking good stuff, they have passed the stage where they are trying to impress, the showing off. The beauty of oldies is they are who you see or meet.

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Older people are our walking-talking libraries, full of wisdom and, most importantly, so fun to talk to. Talk to an oldie a day and you will definitely feel better. Just say ‘Hi there. You’re looking nice today.’ or ‘I like your shoes/dress/tie/hair/jacket etc.’ – any compliment and they will open up like the bud of a flower.

Having a chat with an oldie will fill your heart with joy. I can honestly say having a conversation with someone in their 70’s/80’s/90’s plus is far better than watching TV or most of the other things we fill our time with.

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I remember a while ago, I was getting off a train and a very small chap got on. He was in his 80’s. I said ‘Wow, you look fabulous.’ He laughed and we started to chat.

His name was Leslie Wright and he was off to Kent for a ramble. He was a chairman of Richmond Ramblers Association, a retired engineer and wow, was he posh in a cream walking suit – all pressed and looking nice.

I said ‘I love oldies’ to which he replied ‘Excuse me sir, I am not an oldie or a pensioner. I am a senior VIP man and my wife is a senior VIP lady.’ – ‘This is brilliant’, I thought. That’s why oldies are so fabulous.

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I personally think many of us are nowadays so engaged with e-mails or facebook or texting that we just don’t have spare carefree time anymore. It is the condition of our times where life on the internet has taken over reality. I firmly believe we can, and should, pay attention to what is happening next to us. You never know what fantastic people you’ll meet. Just try it.

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