“When I grow old I shall wear purple” Jenny Joseph
Last week I took part in the Live Age Festival at the New Vic Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. The festival celebrates creativity in older age which led me to re-visit Jenny Joseph’s famous poem and to discover the shocking fact that it was written when the poet was only twenty-nine. That a younger person could have such an anarchic take on what it can be like to be old was so refreshing, because it seems that as we age we are seen to be more and more of a problem. The general view is that we will suffer some form of dementia, lose our independence and have to be taken into care. As women we will become invisible as men cranky and not worth listening to and all of us will be infirm and lonely. Old age in fact is going to be a totally miserable experience.
Of course for some people that is sadly what will happen, but for so many more it won’t. My mum was still fully independent at 97. Diana Athill published her best-seller “Somewhere Towards the End” in her eighties, Mick Jagger is still performing in his seventies,
Rod Stewart’s album “Blood Red Roses” is out now. Picasso went on painting until the end of his life. Lucien Freud was still painting “Portrait of the Hound” when he died.
These artists were working right up to the very end. They were producing works which are judged on their merit and no one ever looks at them purely as the work of old people.
Why then does this not happen for the rest of us? Why is it assumed that we are stuck somewhere in a bog of our reminiscences, that all our creative work has to be firmly rooted in our past? Why can’t we look forward, write, perform, sing about people both younger and indeed older than ourselves? Why must our dance deal with the problems and not the joys of life?
As we said in our performance at the New Vic
“Open your eyes, look closer, see me.”
I may be older than many of my readers, I may be younger than some, but my age doesn’t matter, what does is whether my books draw you in, whether I lead you into a different world, introduce you to characters that you care about.
Metaphorically and indeed literally, I wear purple, and so do many other older women. We are who we are and, if we feel like it, we
“..shall go out in my slippers in the rain…And learn to spit.”
Though in my case what I want to learn is to wolf-whistle.
I leave the rest to your imagination.
PS If you want more inspiration about older age I can recommend Debra Eve’s blog