Writing from London.
Today, my Nana, who naps upstairs as old people do, turns 85.
The are so many intergenerational barriers that keep me locked out of her weird and wonderful mind and her out of mine and yet we are so intrinsically connected in a way that transcends the sixty-three years between us.
It’s the scariest thing to watch her brilliance fade away and be replaced by bumbling confusion, shortness of breath and and hours of mind-numbing day time TV. It’s scary to think that living pieces of history, the slowly dwindling reminders of the 20th century, our very own, home-grown primary sources of historical investigation are swiftly being erased from the narrative of our nation.
Physically, yes, we will all pass on and be nothing more than sweet memories in photo frames and the objects we leave behind. But, it’s metaphorically that hurts the most. It’s the way the world is so rapidly and actively pushing away those who built the foundations of the cities we live in and wrote the scripts of our society (which are albeit largely problematic) and raised us from screaming peanut-sized nuisances.
Forty years ago my grandma was on the picket lines of the nuclear weapons factories and marching down the streets of London on the eve of huge parliamentary decisions and behind bars with feminist-socialist imagery emblazoned on her clothes and raising a little half-black girl with an uncontrollable afro and organising union meetings in her tiny living room. Today, she hobbles down the high street with her walking stick and is pushed aside by boisterous teenagers, disregarded by commuters, and is undervalued and under appreciated for her contributions to society because she simultaneously (and rightfully) demands more services and resources than able-bodied, working-age people.
The elderly are so much more deserving (and needing) of respect and care and protection and company than the narcissistic, individualistic millennial generation (myself included) yet they are given only a shred of the admiration we give our relatively uneducated and unwise selves. We posit contemporary advancements in science and technology and our changing perceptions of culture and art and our “progressive”politics and human rights as the greatest the world has ever seen, only to forget that our grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents built us the nest in which we hatch our revolutions.
Nana is a piece of living history, a token of the past, a walking – or more like hobbling – symbol of the triumphs (and failures) of the 20th century. It’s sad to watch her no longer be the queer hitch-hiking, world-travelling, anti-racist feminist idol that she once was, and I never got to meet, but it’s beautiful to see her pass that down to me over a cup of tea, during an episode of Midsomer Murders.