The Final Frontier

Yes, your Granny kissed men!
I think one of the least mentioned frontiers is between the young and old. When we look at old people we think of the past. But we should really think of the future. Those old people’s homes, those hospital beds, those walking sticks and rheumatism pills will all be ours in the fullness of time

We are surrounded by white haired heroes. A generation who have seen and done things we will only read about in books. That old man in the corner with the watery eyes and the glass of cheap red wine? He might have been a fighter pilot, risking his life every day. That old woman? An ambulance driver when the bombs fell.

Some of the most rewarding hours I have spent have been spent listening to old people. Nearly twenty years ago I was asked by a local council to make video interviews of residents in an old people’s home. One of the old men there told me how he had formed part of a British commando team whose objective was to save the Tsar from the Russian Revolution!

Another time I was chatting to an old man who had been a tank driver in the Second World War. All my images of square jawed heroes dissolved over the course of the conversation.

” Being a Catholic ,” he explained, ” I would always go to confession before a battle. Then we would find a chateau and drink all the wine we could find. I never went into battle until I was stinking drunk. ”

He then explained some of the things he saw in battle. Things you don’t see in the films. You can imagine. I, too, would need a drink before, during and after such visions.

And then there are the stories of heroism, love and generosity in a world that makes our ‘war against terrorism’ look like Disneyland.

What do we have to worry about? The mortgage? Buying the kids Nike shoes? Traffic jams as we go to work? We need a sense of perspective. We need to listen.

It’s easy. Go to the bar where old people go. Buy yourself a drink. Sit down next to an old man and say “I suppose things have changed a bit, then, since you were young”. Then sit back and listen. Let him take you though his personal adventure. Civil War, World War..whatever ! It may cost you a few red wines but it will be money well spent.

Douglas Adams said ” Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. ”

You understand the world better than your children, right? Well, you know something? Maybe your parents do too.

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