Walks and Thoughts

of Michael Simes

An old Man's Tale:

Shelf

Brighouse

West Vale

Clay House

Ripponden

Cragg Vale

Todmorden

Heptonstall

Pecket Well

Luddenden Dean

Jerusalem Farm

Catherine Slack

Stone Chair

It's Just Like Home:

Hong Kong

Auckland

Rotarua

Napier

Picton

Marlborough Sounds

Kaikoura

Milford Sound

Sydney

Manly

Blue Mountains

Northern Beaches

Thailand

A City Of Revolution:

Paris

Versailles

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

THE PROLOGUE

Talking About My Generation


We begin with the symbolic lifeline starting from the land of my birthplace to the endpoint at Bowness. A trek approaching 96 miles of the Dales Way. Trailing these primeval pathways with lost generations, each layer crushed into its settling place.

This is my life, my movements and my closure: there are others. Your narrative and mine combined as you may not know your own story. We may be doddery of feet and speech, rasping of breath but we join the ranks of the pedestrianists. Professional athletes walking for a living. Dreams fill your head reworking and resolving. Where can you find the time for rest? Rest will be assured as the final statement.

The queens secretary counsels us “don’t start at the beginning----start off in the middle, chronology is a great deterrent”. We will, therefore, flit stealthily over our terrain. Inside my head there Is no sequence to unravel. Let us recall that great events of the world take place in the brain. We do not remember verbatim. We reconstruct experience rather than replaying precision.

Here we have a guided fable of a contemporary odyssey. We know the time worn correlation between itinerary and storytelling. You sense that we live our stories. We shall redeem and capture life by scribbling as we stride. A ramble round my life extracting meaning and significance from the countryside. Caressing you into the ecology of being. By way of active engagement rekindle the reality of it all. Bearing in mind we will exist only in the fading memory of kith and kin, and friend and foe.

A participant observer in the social history of the last 60 odd years. The elderly not simply objects of study but contributors to our knowledge and perceptions. Our biography serves a social and psychological function of lending continuities to one’s life. We are the citizen scribblers undertaking research complicit in our own circle. In scrutinising old age and ageing you are writing your own script. A means of mastering the ageing process and dread mortality as we occupy our limited patch of space. To know by writing in clutching the drifting moments. Remembering we study often what we are most afraid.

The role of old age and ageing has to be witnessed and rethought. It is not the sort of pilgrimage you should venture alone. Hitched to one’s time we have become the footloose geriatric. Yeats told us we all have a “Pilgrim Soul”. The pilgrimage revival witnessed in both religions and secular fields. Millions join the Hajj to Mecca.Over a quarter of a million converge on England’s Nazareth in Walsingham. Our Beloc the pilgrimage in which we recount our tale, draw our pictures and compose our prose., Continuing to hanker after adventure and questioning thirst for the challenge.

To us the old age no longer an abstraction as we moved from the subject to the object. The subjective experience of ageing a neglected dimension of inquiry. Research and state imperatives’ honed in ivory towers. Shrines to bourgeois realism where elderly fixed as problematic and tragic. Even our history bogged down in elite old people.

We have a fusion of biography, history, genealogy, psychology and literature. Fiction reserves an honourable tradition of engagements and elucidation of old age. Coleridge, Wordsworth and Yeats in their lyrics of mind and romance showed us the way. The legs of Wordsworth strode these fells as inspiration.

Let us return to the classics of political economy. No need to splinter and build empires around lesser disciplines. This story of our times is of demarcation lines blurred and coupled together. Touching on the polemics of old age through the filters of political economy, A narrative quest not yet complete but heading that way.

In our sense the whole of history is merely the record of your life. Life stories repeat not as history but through the prism of old age. An intimate dream like fantasy. A sort of scrooge episode spread throughout the life cycle. Each sharing a handbook for existence.

History becomes more that an inventory of dates and events. In the fullness of time when we are safely tucked away the earth will still rotate on its axis. World without end hardly imagined.

Most lives have, at their core a kernel and vital centre. Here my voice will be heard alongside the babble of others. It could be yours but it is peculiarly mine. On the way the odd irrelevance could capture the essence. The end of history as we know it. Alongside Marlon “I could have been somebody”. We thought ourselves unique and at one. Now we know “walkers aren’t any better than other people”. The world is becoming ignorant of the elderly in their ostracism and detachment.

Her we have a scholarly exploration of ageing and the elderly. Like Galbraith the writing is now freed of constraints of academic restrictions and obligations. We can flit amongst people of letters without reference and conformity. Your life defined by what gets left between the tracks. Your obituary could be the catalogue of what you neglected to achieve. All of us had a nose for the faint melancholic whiff of missed opportunity.

Beware you could endanger yourself pontificating about ageing and its companion death. It can corrupt in the process of becoming an infectious complaint. Death lingers around ageing. It can become familiar, dear and friendly. It could be embraced as redemption and rebirth. A fairy tale to lull you into fantasy. Entering unchartered waters where you jeopardise morbid addiction to the death wish.

If we can learn to live, death will remain a remote and intimate friend. Our demise has become a huge metaphor for life. We are full of metaphors as these reflect the substance without tedious descriptions. In the ambiguities there’s space for your own stamp.

Born alone you find people to caress and hold your hand. It could be the same at the conclusion. Entry and exit through the identical doorway. You will experience birth and death with the meanderings and melodrama in between. Our narratives visible as a series of floating moments, fleeting juxtapositions, crossroads and possibilities. This is not a crusade, only a straightforward pilgrimage to a long rambling obituary. As we near the ticking of the clock we can enjoy with Proust “some spectacular follies”.

Our trek is the concrete practice of labour and subjective musings engrossed with your natural environment. We discover what we are as we merge with nature and her creatures. Our gaze too often fragmented and dissolving. As an older person of yourself you will thrive in activity and co-operation. You may have to start your life all over again. Proust would have you look properly at your nature reconnecting with the landscape.

There is an exhilaration of final activities. Not rotting in bed, although sleep and drift is meditation at its best, coasting in safe waters. Dr Johnson found “knowing you're going to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully”. A magnifying intensity of sense and sensibility usually the preserve of artificial stimulants. Placing oneself completely into the earth before passing away. Rousseau’s solitary walker found oblivion brought you to life.

We spent our span grasping the dialectics of life. As young Hegelians we resisted the allure of creeping materialism. There have been a few setbacks along the way. In the winter’s evening you may slope off to God where you could be detained without limit of time.

Walking builds the skeletal frame, strengthens the heart muscle and prevents depression. Walkers as aesthetes liberating ourselves from the melancholy, lethargy and apathy. Curing a troubled soul and mending a broken heart. Energising as it boosts oxygen uptake and circulation to the brain.

You may come and watch, making an exhibition of yourself in the passeggiato. Here in the twilight everyone joins the elderly in communal walkabout. As we slow we start to listen. We will not fill voids with manic pastimes. This may be the nub of our depression but also the focus of our enlightenment. Make way and let me get to the fresh air.

In our stride we acknowledge our friends in the East who know each journey begins with a single step. Discard the old age shuffle; find something more balanced, taut, poetic, dripping in sexuality and vitality. Re-learn the swagger of youth. There is rhythm with eyes fixed 20 metres ahead. Do not look away,, look them in the eyes. You may never see them again. Neutered you lose the will to walk, gradually dropping the mantle of control. Trepidation never got you anywhere. Draw on that lost identity shelved for the duration. There’s plenty of zest left over, be a late developer. Throw away the body props. The mislaid tribes of elders yet to be discovered.

This slow motion walking may be progress at a snail’s pace but we know we will overtake the hare. Timeless energy of the moors go on into eternity. You may be a dead man walking but you are sharpening your awareness and sensing the detail. We escape into our very own Arabic Shat- ha, the walk in the wilderness. The momentum of the walk offers transient glimpses of freedom amongst the hills. The humans pace encourages rhythmic reflections in the romantic solitaries of the wayfarer. Walking in tune with mountains and trees. Singing and dancing until we drop in our tracks.

It has been calculated that humans have 50,000 daily thoughts in relentless inner conversation in the dialogue of the internal and outer worlds, fifty thousand ruminations mingling in jumbled interplay of your life with the physical surroundings. On a good day you could surpass that figure.

In reading you will note blanks and spaces left vacant for you to top up. Your mark will be made by your own footprints. The path is not linear in its twists and turns, and side tracks to challenge. Nicholas Carr tells us that reading leaves us with revived neural pathways. Our brains change if we can immerse ourselves and abandon the chatter and clatter of the material world. Proust recognised that reading is a sensual act “on the threshold of the spiritual life”. A state of bliss not grasped without blood, sweat and tears.

Older age remains complex, split, layered and conflicted. If you are searching for methodology it is here in Hegel’s dialectic of perpetual motion, contradictions and synthesis embracing opposites in unity. We have the licence to take on board contrasts within oneself at exactly the same time. A dynamic theory sunk in mysticism unless lodged in tangible movements. Elusive and difficult to contain it can be hooked and analysed.

Mindful in our 60’s we draw near to old age as we are about to cross the Rubicon, waking up in foreign territory. Death’s door just down the block..Squashed in the shroud of the elderly where we can testify to our socially unwanted and invisible status.

Back in 1581 we were only 7% of the population. By 2005 we accounted for 672 million worldwide. Now we exceed more than 20% of the community. Singing Psalm 90 as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will not shudder because we are not alone.

Launching oneself on to a new stage of life, an unknown vision with apprehension and excitement. A mortal coil worn with wilfulness and fickle anxiety. Let us have perfect symmetry of the physical with the mental, held till the final retreat. Rouse yourself for a robust dialogue, not crushed by condescending kindness and detachment. Forget climate change to explore God’s commitment to three score years and ten. In African expectancy for the poor people of Mozambique, Swaziland and Angola scarcely reaches 40. Hardly worth starting as we fail to remember it shrinks us all. In Japan their children will touch 82, in Sierra Leone your child’s life forecloses at the end of 34 years.

Neurobiology in its crudity believed old age began at 27 years old. On coming of age our local newsagent crushed already by the maxim “it’s now all downhill”. In our obsession with perceiving old age only as decline from youth we make age itself the problem. Rather than worship at the fountain of youth we should frolic past the glowing hinterland of those coming of older age. Time to idealise the elderly and bring them back in from the cold. As we become the majority we need to rush to the crux and relinquish the margins.

Age understood only as deterioration and pathology. The ancient mutants absconding from the wax museum must be quarantined as they risk contaminating the whole community. The seniors segregated in desolate isolation. Superfluous and tossed side in retirement villages, gated enclaves, ghettos of the aged and the spectre of the nursing home- all forms of altruistic suicide. We should invite the young the arousal of bulldozing all of them.

Reduced in silence our whispers and whimpers are not heard. The object needs to be to reseal the broken linkages with the salad days of youth. Their ridicule and scorn born of separation. We should relate and learn lessons of youth but not play by their tunes. You do not have to recapture youth; remember it is merely a façade. Seek continuous transformations in age as in adolescence. Rebirth demands the token death of the familiar self. “I just hope I can grow up before I die”.

The medicine man drags us into an industry of pharmaceuticals and problematic perspectives where elderly can be observed as clinical conditions and commodities for pecuniary exchange. There is no reason for these to be the frightened year’s forecast by Edmond de Goncourt. William Blake could have dodged his feeble and tottering old man. Mastery requires interaction with your circumstances, not levitation in oxygen tents or cocooned on life support.

Caution is demanded in all attempts to speak about the elders in a positive light as it soon dashes into denial of ageing. We have little success in combating negative and bleak images. To be continued until the elderly become future aligned with benefits for all, not solely their own sectarian interests. We should find a new paradigm beyond youth. The old may not be measured against the young.

Berenson tells us that what a man writes after 60 is worth little more than tea continuously rehashed. Conjuring a negative, worthless vision; a waste of space, leftovers from a former age who need to pass on the baton, albeit grudgingly. Time no longer belongs to them, an object fallen behind in space. They are out of time smouldering deep inside at the exclusion from their lifespan, in exile from the present.

The radiant older person rich from all their encounters with an immense store of capital. Embarking on our enviable adventure with new impetus to liberate our buried creativity. Seek out the free play of your curiosity, your urge to explore testing boundaries. Discovering the catalysts for original confrontations. You could succumb, meekly complicit in absorbing the ascribed role, learning your caricature by rote. Recall old age is the convenient cover for surrender and self-imposed retreat.

Genes and cells are there for you as a resurgence of inspiring energy, some capable of immortal regeneration. Only a fraction in active rest, quiescent and dozing, waiting patiently for replication and repair. We know the brain reinvents itself all the time, pruning out old connections and growing new links. Sea anemones, flatworms and coelenterates can draw on these seeds to banish death. Fish grow old slowly in a lingering process where mortality falls with age. May flies experience no phase of degeneration, merely expiring after procreation. The quest for immortality is nowhere in sight except in the fiction of Shangri-la, Hunza and elixirs.

Let us follow Stephene Hessel, hero of the French resistance and friend of Picasso and Chagall. At the age of 93 he has sold 600,000 copies of his manifesto calling for peaceful insurrection against banker bonuses. golden handshakes and wreckage of the welfare state. Summon the indignant citizens in a symbolic act of rebellion. Enlist as resistance fighters in a metamorphis of the self and temporal world. Entangle yourself in the rapid urgent movements of life.

We have Ruth Flowers, the grandmother from Bristol and international sensation as the Queen of D.Js in Paris nightclubs. New found fame as” Mamy Rock” in her twilight years. “I’d much rather go out with a bang than linger”. Don’t become posthumous before your time. Getting old does not need to be the shipwreck that awaits you.

For the first time the entire life cycle is unfolding for majority populations in developed nations. You never had it so good as the 1950’s rolled out the prospect of living beyond your 60’s – wars and pneumonia had seen you off before that time.

The four ages of childhood, youth, adulthood and aged each related and distinct. Not to be conceived without the other. Exceptions are those who will not age. Binyon offered his own salute and tribute “they shall not grow old-----age shall not weary them----- at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them”.

Our experience of growing old is social but unique and personal. Representations of elderly fashioned where derision and veneration co-exist. Disrespect has an ancient history. In the death camps the elderly were always chosen first for slaughter. Even the Gods detested the old. Lumped together little discourse allowed for the impact of wealth, status, class, gender and ethnicity. In our age boundaries are shattered unfurling a new frontier, for once Shakespeare mistaken in claiming “crabbed age and youth cannot live together”. We are striving for optimum life as death and ageing see to themselves. We know the Grim Reaper is patient but thrills at activity in the spirit of departure.

The diminishing value of the aged population is more pronounced in developed countries where the elderly are kept at bay on the periphery. They can be revered and cherished but often left to die after they have been sucked dry and no longer anything other than a burden.

It is less obvious what children learn from parents as market technology unfolds rapidly and destabilises relationships and roots. A reversal of generations hands over cultural hegemony to youth. A millstone before their time as our era characterised by insecurity, permanent crisis, and absence of a status quo or viable alternative.

Desperate for communal solutions self indulgent avarice erupts all around. The philosophy of individualism threatens to colonise the mental state of our youth. Elderly humans have always been vital to evolution and survival. In our wisdom and piety we have shared knowledge of poisonous foods, locations of water supplies as well as skills as toolmakers. As tribal elders we continue to nurture grandchildren. The olders are heavy with knowledge but age reveals in glaring clarity the gaping holes within our grasp. Why not aim to fill the gap?

We have no contemporary template but we can detect the centre of gravity is shifting. The ageing of our earth in its cranky decay mirrors our own debility. Nature can renew, repair and recycle; and so can we. In the bowels the minerals of the earth collapse in on itself as it fractures and trembles. We cannot survive on empty guts. Our target to set free the psychological and political architecture for a new age of renewed possibilities.

We all know vibrant older people share traits of trust, risk-taking, adaptability and non conformity. We reveal a strong relationship between irascibility and longevity. Why let the buggers grind you down? Let us take on the mantle of senile delinquency and flourish in the here and now. Seizing the moments and smelling the roses. All characteristics unleashed in our adolescence from the 1960’s.

We bared witness to the world – wide spurt of student and youth radicalism and rebellion. We insisted on recognition as a generation finding its voice and confident in claiming its customs. We grew up believing our sounds made a difference. Let us talk about our generation. We have been inventing behaviour since we were toddlers.

The autonomy of youth established for the first time as social textures were wearing thin and crumbling. In the halcyon days of rock and roll we had unbridled optimism and quivered with the buzz of excitement. Bliss it could have been to be alive.

The most rapid and universal social transformations in history thrust forward under the shadow of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear annihilation rubbed off on everybody. Quakes and aftershocks rumbled as conventions of the old world withered but clutched on frantically. Gramsci would have featured as “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”. Tectonic plates shifted and relocated as reaction had its triumphs when the assassin silenced the dreams of Martin Luther King in 1963, Malcom X in 1965 and Che Ghevara in 1967.

There were challenges in the revival of feminism. Homosexuality decriminalised as the Gay Liberation Front, founded out of the Stonewall riots in New York in 1965, proved to be a watershed in queer consciousness. We baby boomers grew up in the French “trentes glorieuses” of the three decades after the war. We were the gilded generation nurtured from birth on post war expectancy and the belief we could re-make our own world

The 60’s an amorphous age with no discernible limits, spilling over decades. Fantastic bursts of energy and excitement fuelled our perpetual mutiny. Long may it continue.

Astrid Proll insists we are now the inheritors of the spirit of 68. We may be haggard and clapped out but still rebelling, disaffected and indulging in protest in a mature mode. These social events mark your life forever. May old age sit lightly upon you.