One dark and stormy night, a Queen looked out of her palace at gloomy sky and noted that winter was finally on its way. This observation was also nudged by the appearance of snowflake packaged chocolate bars in the supermarket, and the arrival of the much heralded John Lewis Christmas advert.
For some reason, this has become a media thing over the last few years. While I have nothing against John Lewis (they are probably more decent than many employers with their stakeholder scheme for staff) or Christmas (although I don’t want to think about it until December), I don’t see why their advert is such a big deal, especially when it’s still early November. Actually I do, it’s a very clever marketing campaign that usually weaves in some kind of issue or extreme pathos. Last year was it not some possibly bisexual penguins? This year the ad is in partnership with a charity that aims to combat isolation in the elderly, one way is through awareness raising.
Of course that’s a worthy cause. And the advert is fine, if reliant on the usual musical trope of a cover of something popular by a blonde, achingly twee, pixie pop singer. This year it’s a young Norwegian no-one has heard of (or maybe that’s just me) and the song is Half a World Away, a song already loaded with poignancy from its association with The Royle Family. Apparently Oasis fans are enraged, so at least that’s another good thing.
So you might then argue that only the most cynical among us might fail to be moved and although, yes, I am usually that deeply cynical, I was moved. Especially watching it with my son, who loves the whole man on the moon idea, magic and anything to do with the booty-gathering fest that is Christmas. Who could fail to be moved by the thought of sad and lonely old people? But the cynical me wonders if the mum would be okay if she thought her daughter was communicating by telescope with an old man down the road? Would she be suspicious and tell her neighbours, who would go vigilante in turn?
We seem to have lost the ability to develop innocent and friendly communication in this modern, digital life. We’ve lost touch with our basic need to talk to people face to face, and to go deeper than surface chit chat. In my Scottish culture, emotional display is usually something to be done privately, something that only trashy, Jeremy Kyle type people do in public. Which is good if it avoids relentless street brawls over paternity, but sad if we all button things up too much.
One of the best ways for older people to combat isolation and depression, is by developing intergenerational friendships. Great if you have children and grandchildren or other family, not so simple if not. All is well until you retire from work and then bam! A new life needs to be forged, again not always so easy for the single, widowed or divorced. In my pre digital youth, we had more of a common language with the elderly. The world had changed, but not so much that they hadn’t changed and grown with.
I wonder how young people, who seem to speak a different language to myself and appear better at communicating with their thumbs than their mouths, connect with the elderly. At one time I was a youth worker, but if I ever went back to that job now, I would require a ton of patience and language training. And I worry that we are all sliding into that dangerous zone where electronic communication is easier and preferable than the human version. After all, we can present the best version of ourselves online, hiding the honest, scary bits. But it’s not real.
Perhaps some of it is about miscommunication at all levels and the rest, people’s busy focus on their own lives. For example, there are no doubt friendly older people, who fail to understand the fears and misgivings of modern parents around strangers, and in turn their well-meant intentions are questioned and misinterpreted. As a result, we lose sight of human kindness and a sense of community. No wonder we applaud and are so warmed by good news stories where people of all ages in a community come together to change things. It’s something that’s been rare in our world of late.
As Scots and even Brits, we are encouraged to hide our emotions. You might see it as stoic or buttoned up, depending on your point of view, but it amounts to the same: get on with it and don’t grumble. It can be a useful philosophy for when you need to get something done, but otherwise it’s futile, with a further downside that we also find it hard to express joy, outside of sporting occasions. And repressed, difficult emotions always come out in some way, whether it’s aggression, violence, addictions, risky behaviour, mental illness and so on.
A balance is required, of course. We can’t all go bleeding all over the place every day, or the world couldn’t function. But we shouldn’t be so afraid to be ourselves that we end up with social anxiety, wondering if we are doing and saying the right thing. It’s tricky negotiating the balance – we need some social norms to avoid chaos but they shouldn’t be so restrictive that they stifle our basic emotions. As long as you’re not some crazy horse, do your thing, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll like it or not, but that’s for me to sort out.
One of the reasons I’m thinking about all this, apart from now contemplating my future as a weepy, woman on the moon, is that I realise I need to relearn the game of modern dating. I have discovered in a short space of time that I am rubbish at it, constantly saying something inappropriate, or out of accordance with the rules. I don’t know what the rules are anymore and frankly, at my age, I don’t care what they are. Or at least I don’t think they should apply to a woman of my wise years, however I am discovering that like it or not, they do. And they haven’t changed that much, they’re just dressed differently.
In a quest to learn how to appear normal, I googled the rules of dating and what should come up but a refresh of that disturbing 90’s manual The Rules. It’s basically the same but with references to skype, Facebook and sexting (a no-no unless married). Not that I ever did the Rules, being shacked up with some hippy at the time (again, against the rules), but I remembered the sensation when it came out and this was pre-social media.
There were daft things like ‘be a creature like no other’, which mainly seemed to involve prowling around while flicking your hair. Silly, but really just a harmless thing for building confidence, but why use hair tossing, which is a fucking annoying habit? It makes us short haired chicks wish we had scissors. No really.
There were stringent rules, like not accepting a weekend date after a Wednesday. Or ever sending messages or phone calls first. Or having sex. Or enjoying yourself in any way, because all the time you were plotting how to be a restrained, fake version of yourself, in order to lure a man into marriage. Which was essentially the purpose of the whole thing – how to get a husband.
Aside from the fact that I technically still have one, I don’t want a husband. Even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t pretend to be a certain way to entrap a man into becoming one. So It was grim to see that the updated 2013 digital version of the book was peddling the same old bullshit. And joyful to read an article from Cosmopolitan on the subject, that reassured me that it really is okay nowadays to throw out some of those old rules about who says what, and when. And that it’s fine to be weird. Or old, or admit to having feelings sometimes.
As the article ends, instead of following their rules, why not follow the rule ‘just be your wonderful self?’
Who else can do it better?
Until next time,