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Bertha HarianBertha Harian


To boldly grow old

When I turned 30, I wrote a column about coming to terms with the big 3-0. You know, can’t sign up to be SIA girl, join beauty contests etc…Frivolous stuff. When I turned 40, I found I was spending more money on potions for the face and more time in the gym. Over the past few years, I wish I could stop the family from buying me a birthday cake with its tell-tale candles…but you know what family is like…When I turn 50, I shall contemplate suicide….Okay, semi-retirement.
So yes, Matthias, you youthful 25-year old guest columnist in yesterday’s Sunday Times you, I’m starting to feel old, over the hill and far away. I think that G letter congratulating me on being a member of Eldershield when I turned 40 did the trick. I think most people try to be polite, so there’s old, and there’s old-old. I suppose I am a young-old, because middle aged is just so…old. There was a trend not long ago when people, usually celebs, start pronouncing 40 as the new 30, and 50 as the new 40 etc…Very soon, being 60 will be very sexy too. I sure hope so.
I blame the media in all its various forms for making the old look and feel older. Like how a person is such an “old dear’’. When old people make the news, it’s because they are either dying (alone), terribly sick (and alone) or they exhibit qualities that young people don’t expect, like running a marathon or playing basketball. Then they are described as “sprightly’’ or “spry’’, like everybody expects them to be in a wheelchair. Okay, I know we use the term senior citizens. A euphemism. Face it, we really mean old people. We also use the phrase the Silver generation. Funny that they were once known as baby-boomers.
Did I treat “old’’ people in the same way? Yes, I did and have written “sprightly’’ many many times – like the unfeeling young person I was. Yes, Matthias, it is the case that in Singapore, we climb the ladder superfast, and then topple off, because someone younger wants to get there. We try to make that ladder go higher, or at least put more rungs on it to give a semblance of movement.
Never mind what the G says about raising the retirement age, the perception is that once you are past 50, you make way. You go slow. The world belongs to young people, the digital natives, they should have the bigger say in the country going forward, even though you might live till 90. Maybe you shouldn’t live so long because you belong to that generation who will have to be supported by even fewer young people. You become, omigawd, a dependent. Burden on the state. Strain on the coffers.
Belatedly, I agree that older folk have a lot to teach, by sheer virtue of life experience. There is a gap between generations, then as well as now and probably forever. I boxed them up too. Now I listen hard to what the old-er people have to say, even if they are inarticulate because it is usually informed by experience. As for young people, I have watched too many articulate their views very well, but in a vacuum. I was like that too.
I don’t want to go into what older folk can give to the nation (I dowan to sound like a fuddy-duddy) but I keep wondering why people don’t realise that the older folk might not be quite the burden they are made out to be. They are better-off than their parents, better-educated and might well have a bigger voice than ever by virtue of sheer numbers. But we see them only as people who have to have rehab centres in somebody’s backyard… It’s fortunate that they are not “organised’’ don’t you think? The kind of pressure they can exert….
Sure, there are a lot of activities intended to keep them young and active, but not politically alive and alert.
I don’t know of many magazines or mediums that cater to them. Such a missed market! I recall that when I conceptualised Mind Your Body for ST, my mantra to journalists was “Young people are interested in health; old people are concerned’’. No prizes then for guessing who the target audience is. I would have a mild heart attack whenever journalists proposed “young’’ stories, like how to protect yourself when you sun-tan or the evils of anorexia. Nope, it was cataracts and knee operations for me. The readership figures vindicate the approach every time. The above 40s are loyal readers, in large numbers, and they have more money as well. And yes, they complain about the small type. What to do? Paper run by young people with good eyesight.
Imagine what a medium by older folk for older folk would be like. When it is a glamorous older person gracing the cover of the magazine. When the news is about older people chafing about the higher retirement age, about the latest fashions for the not so svelte, music that they recognise, the latest technologies/science to combat arthritis, expounding on the use of Eldershield, paying higher premiums for insurance…
I mean, women have their magazines, even the expats… Rupert Murdoch! Where are you?
Maybe in the longer term, there won’t be any surprise when a older person runs a marathon or starts a business from scratch, the way it is no surprise when a woman is picked to run a big company. Then maybe I won’t be so scared about being labelled old.
Maybe by then, Matthias, you’ll be old too.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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