Sunday, 17 July 2016

What older women get up to

I was going to make a serious beginning on some posts about my recent holiday experiences - the main ones, that I shall illustrate with photos. But it's getting late in the evening, so I'll content myself with a couple of posts that have been hanging around for a few weeks - worth publishing, but not by any means urgent.

The first is about gadgetry.

All my women friends in the village are fifty-plus. They have husbands, and live in circumstances where they don't need to work. That said, one would return to well-paid, high-pressure work if her health permitted. Another offers Reiki services. But we are 'the pilates girls' because, holidays and miscellaneous commitments and appointments apart, we are all free on Fridays and some other days and can spend daytime together very pleasurably.

We have all had interesting and responsible jobs - for instance, one was an air hostess; one led an HR team; one was senior PA in merchant banking; and I was of course an investigator and manager and (for a year or so) Deputy Officer In Charge of Sutton Tax Office in the old Inland Revenue. We are all good communicators. And all of us have picked up some degree of skill in the use of electronic gadgetry.

What I'm saying is that we must be a fair sample of the older educated woman of today: not necessarily brilliant, and not without aches and pains; but all capable of high-level social functioning, and all adequately self-assured, resourceful and imaginative. Not in any way women resigned to drudgery at the hands of controlling, penny-pinching husbands, which unfortunately might sometimes have been the case only two or three generations back, when men ruled the home.

Mum wasn't kept on a short lead by Dad. But she never struck me as being able to conduct some of her life as a free and independent woman. Her interests and skills were always home-based. I think it never occurred to her that she needed a life of her own. But many women in 2016 regard the notion of 'time for myself' as absolutely non-negotiable. I think this awareness of personal needs and rights, and a willingness to insist on having them, must have started with my own generation, the ones who were teenage in the 1960s or 1970s. It must have seemed revolutionary to older mindsets, upsetting the 'natural order of things', and likely to lead to difficulties when the harsh reality of parenthood cut in. My Mum and her contemporaries would have thought it very odd not to want children. The Pill, and the personal control it gave to any woman taking it, came much too late for her. She would not have seen any use for it, except to prevent further pregnancies once two beautiful children, and possibly a spare, were in the bag, and the Happy Family was up and running.

Mum wouldn't have seen any use for a modern electronic gadget. Life was simple and easily-organised with bits of paper, and calendars, and little notebooks. We didn't even have a telephone in the house until 1963, when I was eleven. Even if the usefulness of a smartphone had been demonstrated to her, she would have dismissed it.

This scene, in Sue's home six weeks ago, would have astonished her:

Sue is on her laptop, while Jo is doing something with her phone. It isn't what 'older women' would have done when Mum was in her fifties! It would then be coffee and biscuits and flowers, and possibly a little formality if one of the ladies was the wife of a grammar school master (as the lady who lived across the road from us in Southampton was) and due some respect. And best dresses, not jeans or cropped trousers! And sitting up properly, not sprawled over sofas and reclining chairs. And no gadgets whatsoever.

I can see Mum, were she still alive, not understanding what kind of women my friends could be, with these things constantly being consulted. She could do amazing things with cookers, Kenwood Chefs and sewing machines, but otherwise Mum left all things electronic to Dad. Dad used a PC I bought and set up for him to do a few well-defined things, such as typing letters, sending the odd email, and ordering groceries from Tesco. To him it was a typewriter with a screen. He saw no need to keep things permanently in the computer memory, and generally deleted what he had done as soon as it was printed. I was very surprised how little there was on his PC when, after he died, I looked at it in the course of my duties as Executrix.

I don't think Dad would have been quite so surprised to see a laptop or a mobile phone in a woman's hands at home, especially if it were a young woman (such as my niece Jenny) but he would still have wondered what Sue and Jo, two mature ladies in his view, could possibly be trying to do with such attention and concentration, and for minutes on end. He never used Wikipedia. I told him about it, but I could never get him to 'surf' that online encyclopaedia and just explore all the knowledge that was out there for the taking. A pity.

You might have noticed an odd-looking side-table in the background, like a wooden disk on a tree-trunk. Here's a closer view:

It's an elephant's foot. There's another just like it, from the same animal, in the room. Sue explained that it had been her father's job once to tackle a rogue elephant, and after shooting him the grateful locals presented her father with these unusual souvenirs. It seems to me that over time the foot in the picture has shrunk unevenly, making the table dip. Well, I've seen tiger rugs aplenty, but I can't say I've ever seen any elephant's-foot side-tables before. Perhaps they just haven't caught my eye.

And me? I had my feet up too:

But then this was during the time when my left shoulder was paining me, and I accepted any cosseting on offer! I'm pleased to say that the pain (and almost all the discomfort) has now gone.


  1. More usual to see an elephant's foot as an umbrella stand, seemed quite normal to be surrounded by such things when visiting older relations...

    I see people hypnotised by small screens all the time, what are they up to, are they trying to play poke a man or what?

  2. In this case, I think Sue was looking up train times, and Jo was struggling with her brand new phone, that her husband had set up for her. Pilates Ladies surely do not do Pokemon...though what do I know?



This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford