Tainted… and not much we can do about it

Here’s my most recent fave story about ageism. Sandi Toksvig is a marvellous broadcaster especially on TV; a witty and wise Danish-British author, presenter and entertainer. She was recently in Australia, and if you watch QI on the ABC you must have seen her, leavening the cute schoolboy idiocy of a predominantly masculine program. The warmth of her personality is engaging whatever she does. Her honours range from being a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats to fellowships of several universities. She is Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth. A Cambridge honours graduate, bi-lingual, feminist, and all-round good egg. She is 56. Those last three words, or two words and a number, are seen as the most important by some idiots. When she went along to some sort of audition for a TV program (if I’d been Sandi, I would have made them come to me), the young producer said no thanks, “We were actually looking for someone untainted by experience.” So she’s tainted by experience. At 56. My god, imagine how tainted I am! And probably you, too, Third Age reader. Tainted is such an icky but powerful word. Remember Antonio in The Merchant: “I am a tainted wether of the flock, Meetest for death.”? I bet Sandi Toksvig remembered, even though she was shocked, she says, at the time. The words were uttered, but I guess those of us with fewer talents than Toksvig are aware, without utterances, almost every day, that we are not as acceptable to society as we once were (if, being women, we ever were acceptable to the serious world of employment!). We are tainted by the knowledge and experience we have built up, because in acquiring them, we also acquired a mess of years. What is a better collective noun for years that have made us what we are now? A taint of years? A despoiling of years? Go for it. My best effort is a richness of years. Good luck to all those who regard what taints us as knowledge and enlightenment. But they are few. The image of Granny, technologically ignorant, viciously critical of the young, deploring change of all kinds, of Granny-the-problem because she is seen as needy, persists. Old age continues to be seen as tainted, undesirable, something to make jokes about (we laugh at what we fear). Now there are increasing numbers of us old people, we have become a tsunami, an avalanche, a ticking time bomb, and other pejorative, quite threatening words. That’s tainting us. Yet everywhere, if we only look, are elderly people achieving in arts and sciences, education and community work, paid and unpaid. (My only worry about the wonderful Malala getting the Big Gong is that her tender years have brought down the average age of Nobel recipients.) But the workaday world will have none of that, thank you. It wants its employees ablebodied and…untainted by experience. Some employers make token bleats about the young lacking experience, but they mean experience-along- with-a-smooth-young-face, and a dash of ignorance that makes them malleable. Tainted we oldies may be; malleable we choose not to be. ****** My credit union says that 69 percent of Australians aged over 55 feel overwhelmed by their super and retirement finances. More than one in three Australians (aged between 45 and 65 years old) believe they will be unlikely to reach the level of wealth required to maintain their lifestyle in retirement. Why is this so, Julius Sumner Miller might ask from the grave? Is the lack of easily understandable, reliable super policies due to a wish to worry people to death so we never have to get a bob or two from the OAP? How can something so basic to voters’ welfare become a matter for politicians only to make worse. I have often thought of ringing Paul Keating in the middle of the night to ask him to explain why it has all become a mess and so stressful. But I expect he is already awake and asking himself the same question. His proposed longevity tax to supplement the super of people aged 80 to 100 has not caused an outbreak of joy. Superannuation needs are an unpalatable truth, and one such truth should be enough for me each month, but here is another. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported that more than half of all permanent aged-care residents, between 2008 and 2012, had symptoms of depression. A high-achieving third ager friend, who knows her way about the nursing home scene and is a strong advocate for music therapy in them, said to me that this is an appalling state of affairs. It really is. @mollyfisher4  

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