The downside of Christmas

The downside of Christmas for us is that access to services can be tricky in the holiday season.

There is this curious ownership of old people’s bodies. While they are still alive and kicking, I mean. Newspapers started it when they thought of publishing a few old faces in their pages for equality’s sake. The pictures showed a strange uniformity. Blowing out 100 candles; well, that was to be expected. But then there was the regular showing of a young person bending over an old person posed helplessly in a chair. The younger person is caring and schmaltzy, and there is that special sweet smile, not always reflected by the old person, who looks at the camera with the hint of a scowl (maybe over who is stealing dominance in the pose). Then TV took it up big time. There is this often-seen advertisement, a regular on daytime TV, where the old woman is getting a new chair. The salesperson hovers while a middle-aged person holds the gnarled, age-spotted paws of the old person, sometimes stroking the upper arm as well. If this is meant to be charming and caring, I warn the ad-makers that if it were me in that chair, I’d have them for assault. You don’t, of course, find an equivalent in ads featuring younger people, even children. Young buyers or shoppers are depicted standing on their own two feet in their own space. Then there is the ad where the silly old bugger gets out of his chair for the national anthem with the help of a jet-propelled seat thoughtfully provided lest his patriotism be doubted for a moment. He seems to be wearing a bowls outfit. Something not quite right about the neediness there. Yet there are still no chairs in supermarkets, for anyone who might need one. I mention this at Christmas because it is a time when old people mingle in living rooms and tend to be stashed in the big enveloping chairs and kissed and pawed a lot by those they may not see from one year’s end to another. Of course I don’t mean the genuine, spontaneous, and overwhelmingly gorgeous greetings of grandchildren and other loved friends and relations. Body ownership doesn’t end there. Wellmeaning (of course) younger people seem rather fixated on whatever infirmities the old person has. Sometimes these can be minor. They take it upon themselves to make comments. “But you’ve only just been…” which is the appropriate-to-elder version of the remark to children, “Don’t forget to go…” “Are you sure you’re up to it?” is another toxic question. As though the old person does not live every blooming day with the problems of age, navigating around them and making careful decisions. I get some blank or disapproving looks from even professionals when I mention that such queasy niceness to old people, especially the handholding, seems patronising. I suppose they put it down to age rage. There now. This is not the column you probably sought when you put the ideas of Third Age and Christmas together. I will redeem myself by saying that as I get older, Christmas becomes more tolerable. We are well past the age of struggling home from the shops with bags and slaving over turkeys. No one expects much of us, even if we are rich, because in that happy circumstance I imagine a cheque (do we still have cheques?) will do without even a holly card. We can sit at lunch (in the comfortable chair) and eat up everything without so much as needing to scrape a plate afterwards. If you are on your own, you can congratulate yourself on not being part of the well-known downside of Christmas festivities – arguing relations, over-tired children, and embarrassing drunks. Indeed, at family parties, the oldie may now be the embarrassing tippler, with hardly a reproach offered. (Blame it on your blood pressure medications if you play up after the wine.) The downside of Christmas for us is that access to services can be tricky in the holiday season. So far as dentists are concerned, I make sure I “go” before the surgeries shut down. And that’s the only “go” you should only ever think of mentioning to me. And even that with caution. Gough Whitlam’s choice of Un Bal from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique for his memorial celebration was amazing. Its spiralling happiness evoked an occasion when the stars are aligned. I imagined Gough and Margaret waltzing, harbour lights twinkling outside the window, to celebrate privately some sweet success of public life. It moved me more than anything that day. As we get old and older, recalling our dazzling moments is necessary. They are all too few, in anyone’s life. @mollyfisher4

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