Growing old isn’t exactly a show stopper, but somehow one doesn’t have a choice.
I’ve just been to see Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet, about four elderly opera singers living in a retirement home for musicians. People were fiddling and blowing and singing away somewhere all day… and the music was delicious – it was just the sort of luxurious old folks home I wouldn’t mind ending up in – they even had their tea in blue and white Old Chelsea pattern china cups and saucers – which would do me.
The four main oldies in the film, in real life ranged between 78 and 70. Since I’m right in the middle of this age range, I spent a lot of time examining their wrinkles and comparing them with mine, and I have to say that my wrinkles came out on top… they obviously had all spent a lot of time in their youth lying on fashionable beaches like St Tropez … apart from Tom Courtenay who always looks so bleak I can’t imagine him having fun anywhere.
On the other hand, Maggie Smith’s elegant figure cast mine into the shade, so it’s no good gloating about my wrinkles or lack of them. At the end of the film all the extras in the home, who were actually real musicians, were named, and a photo of them when young was shown on screen, side by side with them now, sagging chins, bristling eyebrows, broken veins – the lot. It was rather moving seeing pictures of these gorgeous young men and women, with thick shining hair and pearly teeth, looking out from their youthful photos filled with life and vigour. Their young selves were almost unrecognisable from their older selves.
On their older selves life had carved furrows in their cheeks, faded their hair, expanded their waistlines and blurred their vision. But it had also softened their faces, smoothed away the thoughtless arrogance of youth, and chiselled kindness, humanity and acceptance into their expressions.
They were all still beautiful. The funny thing is, the older I get the more beautiful everyone seems. I look at young people and think oh, you just don’t know how beautiful you are. I see the golden hairs on their arms, the rim of black lashes round blue eyes, the sweetness in an expression, the sheen on straight hair, things that when I was young I never considered valuable at all.
I look at old photographs of friends and family and think, oh I didn’t realise how beautiful you were. And hindsight of course is a wonderful thing. I look at those pictures before marriage and divorce, childbirth and illness, heartbreak and depression had begun their long slow teaching process in each life, and marvel that the human spirit survives, chastened in some cases maybe, but surprisingly chirpy in most instances.
The children of today are different to those ingenuous ones I see in old photos. For a start they are much more savvy about the things that my age group agonise over. Just as in the early days of radio, adults struggled, and the young took to it with skill and know-how, so today, even toddlers seem to be born knowing how to use things like TV remotes, computers, mobile phones and all the rest. Twenty years ago when my daughter had had a new electric system fitted at her gate, and just as she was saying the two year old won’t be able to open them now, he leaned out of her arms and his little fingers pushed the right combination and the gates opened, fifty yards down the drive.
But more than the technological instincts, many of today’s children seem to be born with inner wisdom. We used to judge intelligence on a crude system of how good children were at maths and language and general knowledge. Educationalists now recognise other forms of intelligence, which include physical intelligence, artistic and musical intelligence, and probably more important than anything else, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence – which includes an empathy for animals and a concern for the planet and the environment.
I’ve heard youngsters saying things like, “no I don’t see much of so and so these days… not much E-Q .” They take it for granted that emotional intelligence is an asset in life as well as in relationships, a concept that my generation had never even thought of.
Many children today are born with these sorts of knowing, which add up to wisdom and compassion. They have an innate integrity, as well as piercing intelligence. Some people have termed this group of children Indigo children, and you can even Google them, and read about them. They don’t necessarily have an easy time in a world which is only just beginning to adjust to new ways of thinking and being, but I meet them all the time, in surprising places, like the teenage hitch-hiker I stopped for, who talked of these things until he got out again.
Many years ago a friend wrote in a card she sent me after staying with us – ‘love is the hope and salvation of the world’. She changed it to ‘children are the hope and salvation of the world’. And children born with these special kinds of intelligence, will be the ones who do change the world – what Jean Houston, visionary and teacher -called ‘the people of the breakthrough’. Aren’t we lucky that we can be with them at the start of their journey, and fill their backpacks with love and support and understanding?
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
At this time of the year – summer for us – I love salad Nicoise. Everyone has their own theory and recipe about this classic, but I compose it the way a Frenchwoman in Hong Kong taught me over forty-five years ago. She and her husband had a classic French restaurant in Kowloon, and she also taught me yoga, which she’d learned at Sai Baba’s ashram in India.
Anyway, to return to our muttons – as the French might say – all you need for her recipe is a fresh lettuce, a tin of tuna fish, one hard boiled egg per person, cooked potatoes, tomatoes and lightly blanched French beans. The really authentic ingredient which is sometimes hard to find, is pickled walnuts. If I can’t find any, I use juicy black olives. Slice, chop and mix whatever needs it, put it all gently together in a bowl, and toss with vinaigrette just before serving – one third good vinegar to two thirds virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, a touch of mustard and a tasting of sugar. Crusty bread and nice wine is good with it, and Madame gave us a chocolate soufflé afterwards… Souffle recipe another day!
Food for Thought
Folks is as happy as they decide to be. Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865, is reputed to have said this.