With a little help from new friends…the Southwark Circle story

Linda Merron

Linda Merron

‘I haven’t had such a good time in my life…ever, I think.’

Linda Merron, who was 60 in March, suffers from ME, heart disease and Crohn’s fibromyalgia. When her 24 year-old daughter Rosie moved away last year, taking her social life (which was also Linda’s social life) with her, she started to worry about loneliness and the implications of ageing. ‘I thought that once I hit 60, people would start treating me like a simpleton. Pensioners are portrayed in the media as foolish and vulnerable; I didn’t think there would be much to look forward to.’

I met Linda at her house near Elephant and Castle in South London, where she was having lunch with her friend, Carmen Hortal, 81. The two women met through Southwark Circle, the first example of what its founders hope will become a national, even international, association of networks of older people. In the year since Southwark Circle started, two other Circles have got going, in Hammersmith and Fulham and Suffolk, and nine more are at the business planning stage. The aim of each of them is to build relationships locally, enabling members to participate in their communities and assert control over their lives. Continue reading

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What happens when you’re old and gay?

Opening Doors

Some of the members of Opening Doors, from left: Donald Black, Tom Devine, Alexander Duncan, Willie Millar, Lyndon Scarffe

Angelo Marcellini is 75 and lives in sheltered housing in London. When he’s in the lift, his fellow residents won’t join him. If he comes in, they leave. Only two of the households on his floor speak to him. Angelo is gay. The managers of his sheltered housing are evangelical Christians and they won’t help because they don’t like him either.

Many older people are having to find new ways to live, but perhaps none as obviously as gays and lesbians. Previous generations of older gay people weren’t out; they were invisible throughout their lives and expected to stay that way when they became old or vulnerable. But for the current generation, that’s simply not good enough. Civil partnerships and equality legislation have changed Britain. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people know they are entitled to to be acknowledged for themselves. They no longer have to pretend to be something else.

The progress that has been made is the direct result of the campaigning and suffering of the older generation; by rights gay elders should now be celebrated by a society that has finally found itself at ease with their sexuality. But when I went to see a group of older gay men who meet to discuss issues affecting older gay people and asked what these were, they said: ‘persecution, depression, suicide, homophobia.’ Continue reading

A word about words

A photograph of the word 'Old' on a wall‘Older people’, the subject matter of this website, has a euphemistic ring. It sounds weaselly. Older than what, or whom? Babies? Toddlers? Teenagers? It’s a phrase that reminds me of the old Jonathan Miller joke: ‘In fact, I’m not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish.’ It prevaricates and quibbles and refuses to come out and say what it means, leaving open the option that it could be referring to a group who are older than, say, a class of 10 year-olds.

The relative term has grown in popularity because the absolute one – old – is so loaded with cultural baggage. ‘Old’ is used so often as a synonym for bad that we’ve stopped noticing. It conjures images of ‘tired’ or ‘finished’ or ‘obsolete.’ This is also true of its satellite words: think of ‘sunset industries’, or ‘ageing infrastructure’ or conversely, ‘young cities’. (I was tempted to write ‘vibrant young cities’ there, because that’s the near-automatic second adjective). Words that began simply as chronological designations, open to all sorts of evaluative layerings, have become rusted over with self-loathing notions of decline and decay.

Continue reading