When I was in my sixties, my children referred to me as a ‘wrinkly.’ Now that I’m in my eighties they call me a ‘crumbly.’ Crumbly Corner is various ramblings and rants vaguely related to Autumn Voices themes.
In April of this year I was a cruise lecturer on a Saga cruise to the Canary Isles and Azores. Saga cruises, as most of you probably know, are aimed at retired and elderly folk, and the average age on this cruise was well into the eighties. These 70, 80 and 90 year-olds were certainly living proof of one of the central themes of the Autumn Voices project – that creativity and self-expression do not dry up with old age. Painting and sculpture classes, a choir, dancing lessons and concerts were all well attended, as were lectures on topics as diverse as astronomy, the workings of the brain, and the street children of Colombia (hem, hem!). The excellent library was always full of avid readers, and, by the very fact of being on the cruise, these late lifers were still expanding their horizons, visiting new places and experiencing different cultures. Far from approaching a stage where they were beginning to give up creative activities, many of my fellow passengers told me that, since retirement, they had become involved in a whole range of new activities. Some of the ones I heard about were gardening, quilting, dress-making, writing, painting, collecting old maps, travel and travel diaries and photography. Zimmer-frames, wheelchairs and walking-sticks abounded, but inside their minds these people were still young, still capable of curiosity and wonder and proof of the saying that you don’t grow old, you become old when you stop growing.
On the week beginning Monday 24th April, for five evenings, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a 15-minute slot under the title of Late Style. 10.45 pm isn’t exactly peak listening time, but it was certainly well worth tuning in. Five writers over 70 – the two English novelists, Paul Bailey and Penelope Lively, and three Scottish poets, Vicki Feaver, Diana Hendry and Douglas Dunn were talking about writing in later life. What they had in common, I think, was courage. The courage to face up to the losses and the physical and mental trials and tribulations that old age was already bringing or was likely to bring; and the honesty to write about it unflinchingly. Vicki, Diana and Douglas are all taking part in the Autumn Voices project. These three were also the focus of Second Wind (Saltire Series No. 9, 2015), a joint publication by the Saltire Society and the Scottish Poetry Library for which they were commissioned to write about their own ageing process. As the Introduction to this excellent booklet says: ‘Here are poems that spark fresh thinking and challenge the orthodoxies surrounding ageing.’