Why We MUST Grow Old Disgracefully

When I am old I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.
by Jenny Joseph
 

What an interesting observation Jenny Joseph made in her poem 'Warning'.
 
Why are we so concerned about our image? Do we really think we are being judged? Why do we feel we have to conform to behavioural expectations and who lays down the rules? Do we have to set a good example? Who decides what is acceptable or appropriate behaviour at a certain age? Is purple not an appropriate colour for the mature women?

Should we 'act our age'?
 
I met a wonderful lady on the train who looked just like Lauren Bacall.  She was 89 and amazing.  She told me her secret was being very selfish and always acting her shoe size!
 
It appears to me from my tiny bit of research that 'growing old disgracefully' seems to apply more to women than men.  There are groups all over England, but they are only for women. 

Lyn Slater, Accidental Icon

It’s interesting, isn’t it that men don’t seem to feel the same pressure in how they age? In fact, Agatha Christie once said 'An Archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have.  The older she gets, the more interested he is in her!'
 
We start ageing from the moment we are born and as the old saying goes, growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional.
 
No doubt most of us are guilty of telling someone to 'grow up!' There comes a point where you are expected to be mature, sane and sensible, and to contain your wild, rebellious side. Former hippies become respectable bankers. There can be obvious reasons why mini-skirts and racer-backed vests should be laid to rest at a certain age, but who said we must wear big knickers, tweed skirts and twin sets?

Some people wear t-shirts, leggings and trainers and look fantastic.  We are not answerable to anyone, so why don’t we just wear what we like.  Look at Dame Vivienne Westfield and Dame Zandra Rhodes, they don’t conform to society.
 
'Uncharacteristic' or 'inappropriate' behaviour is defined by social norms, i.e. how we expect people to act. It is easy to find yourself describing 'different' behaviour as 'inappropriate', simply because that age group's personal habits, ways or preferences differ from our own or from society's usual expectations.
 
Ironically, 'different' is what many teenagers strive to be, (although, there is really nothing very revolutionary or radical about pink hair, piercings or tattoos!). How come being different is less tolerated in old age?
 
Why is being different not often an aspiration for elderly people? Have they simply discovered who they are, and grown comfortable in their own skins? Are they less ego-driven and attention-seeking.

Vivienne Westwood, The Crack

Elderly people at bus stops often have a good natter to strangers - such social confidence and unconventionality seem to develop with age (younger people would rarely consider striking up a conversation - that would be odd!). Why are older people not more liberated and unconventional in other matters? Where does 'free spirit' go?
 
Growing up and becoming mature seems to be more about no longer behaving in a childish way; stifling and controlling that inner child whose behaviour we are told is inappropriate.
 
Perhaps, at the same time, we lose some of that childish wonder and excitement at what the world has to offer? How sad! 

MEET THE WRITER - JUNE RUSSELL

I’m 69 (and holding) and I live in Woodford. I’m a retired Hypnotherapist.

I love theatre and last year was selected to be a Panellist for the Olivier Awards, which has been brilliant.

I belong to U3A and enjoy local history and creative writing.

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