It’s a little-known fact about me that I spent my entire youth in old people’s homes. My Mum was initially a care assistant, and of course there was always a handy babysitter to do jigsaws with in the communal lounge. I was a mad good at jigsaws by the time I was 7.
Then she moved on to be a community care assistant – and if ever I was off school sick I’d accompany her on her rounds – for some visits I stayed in the car with a a stack of books and drinks and snacks, and others I trotted in with her, chatting happily to the lady/gentleman she was looking after, eating their biscuits and listening to their stories.
Oh how I loved their stories.
And then when I was 12 we moved – Mum got a job as a warden in ‘sheltered accommodation’, the places where every resident is self-sufficient in their own flat, but there’s an intercom system to keep in touch and a big communal area for socialising?
I’ll admit it really wasn’t where my 12yr old self wanted to be. The tiny patch of garden was overlooked by countless flats around. I couldn’t walk in or out without someone noticing me. I’d lost my family space, and entered a commune of OLD PEOPLE.
But honestly? It had up sides that I probably didn’t appreciate right away, but grew to love as I passed through my teens.
A saunter down to ‘the lounge’ and there was always someone to while away half an hour with. I became a mean carpet bowls player (I was shameless in taking advantage of my youthful moveable hips and free-flowing back, but they STILL beat me repeatedly), and Monday Night Darts was unmissable.
They were fun. They were ace listeners. They were my friends. Ivy and Chris and Joan and Other-Chris and Bert and Fred-and-Hilda…The lives they’d lived. They’d seen and experienced so much, had so much quiet (and noisy) wisdom. Behind those quiet slow bodies and wrinkled faces were sharp minds, razor-wits and such naughtiness. Oh how they made me blush at times.
It brought it back to me when I saw this #BreakingBarriers campaign from Bathing Solutions. If there was one thing that my childhood taught me, it’s that behind every elderly face is a life rich with experience. They’re engineers, architects, wildlife experts, philosophers, Olympic athletes, professional chefs, unbelievably talented seamstresses… I like to think I’m never guilty of dismissing an elderly person as less than they are.
Every slow-moving person shuffling along the street was once the young person striding along with purpose. They may be slower and shakier now, a little more vacant and a little less independent. But they’re still them. Let’s all remember that.