Third Age: Urgent biscuits and miserable offenders

Sometimes when I flick through late-night TV looking for something that isn’t violent or stomach churning – having survived the day’s lies called modern politics, and had pointed out for me the latest forests laid waste and water polluted – I think there’s no health in us.

No health in us, “miserable offenders…” words of the old Anglican general confession written long before our world was as terrible as it is today. And preserved in my head from the Book of Common Prayer given me by my godmother when I was five (did I ever try to read print so small?). Before the big bombs, before there was real understanding of the damage we were doing to the planet. Before greed was the religion of the lower-middle classes, let alone of the wealthy. Before we opened newspapers and shut them again because we can’t cope with the latest stories of corruption.

There is no escaping that the world has become less safe in the last 10 years, no matter what President Trump thinks he has achieved. Human rights seem to have slipped off the agenda. Where the hell was the crowing about getting North Korea’s incarcerated thousands released or at least given better conditions? It didn’t happen because we heard nothing of them.

There is no health in us, so “get me the urgent biscuits”.

Urgent biscuits are a little defence against the world. It is the title of a book about London theatrical producer Thelma Holt, written by her assistant, who put up with Thelma’s bullying for 20 years and who no doubt knew exactly where the urgent biscuits were at every moment of the day and night.

The urgent biscuits are at hand in my house now, too. I get them out, not when my stomach is empty but when my heart is full. It’s always a sorrowful walk to the cupboard. The nights are long when this old woman is munching on the urgent biscuits, knowing that there is no real peace on offer, not enough caring for those in camps of all kinds, not enough concern for those who begged Australia for refuge but didn’t have the right papers.

The urgent biscuits just offer me some distraction. And the bother of having to clean my teeth again.

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People are still resisting discussion of changes needed for an increasing aged population. They just don’t want to think about getting old themselves. For once I feel sorry for politicians struggling to get ageing near the top of the agenda. It comes back to the difficulties people have dealing with old age with dignity and respect. The prospect of a Royal Commission into ageing, raised by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, but then quashed, is an exciting one.

When recently I saw a picture illustrating a news story on the difficulties the NDIS is having with its rollout, I could not stop myself roaring: “Get that stupid hat off that poor old woman’s head.”

The party hat stuck on the old woman’s head was an affront to her dignity. The CEO standing next to her was wearing a grown-up dress and jacket. No party hat for her. The photograph was meant to illustrate how some people are carrying on with care despite the difficulties with the NDIS, even if not being paid. I salute those who carry on despite the failed promises of policies. The NBN roll out has its problems, too, but we don’t see irate internet customers with party hats on their heads.

We have a terribly long way to go before people think twice about how they treat and depict old people. Infantilising them with party hats is not the way. Everywhere: hospitals, surgeries, shops, some aged-care homes… you will be hard put to hear old people given their names instead of darling, sweetheart, dear and love. No wonder people don’t want to think about being old with these indignities before them. I hope that a Royal Commission will be held and will lead, among other things, to enlightenment about and some dignity for the aged. Write to your MPs next time you see old people treated or spoken of with indignity. Make them aware that it matters.

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A small benefit from the honours lists twice a year is that stories are unearthed that we might never otherwise discover. Stories that give us hope that our society as still an egalitarian one. Nothing is easy, but ways can be found, and you don’t have to be the child of privilege to become an ornament to a noble profession or someone who just makes society better for others. I think for example, in the June honours of the brain surgeon whose father was a fitter and turner, and stories about high-achieving people raised by single mums without, sometimes, a penny to their name.

Behind such honours sometimes are years and tears of hope and despair, treats denied, run-down shoes, sacrifices made, risks taken, and, sometimes, where single mums are concerned, rat cunning.

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The royal wedding went on giving. My most treasured moment came when the pastor from Chicago had delighted us long enough, and we allowed our eyes to roam to the older royals and their friends, sitting out the sermon with lips pursed like a row of cats’ bums.

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