Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A bit of a burden

'Really old like forty five' is a new play by Tamsin Oglesby, just opened at the Cottlesloe Theatre on the South Bank.  I heard about it on the Today Programme this morning.  It sounds very relevant and quite chilling.   The publicity about it says, 'There are just too many old people.  As a government research body seeks to deal the problems of a maturing population, a family addresses its own.  Lyn's memory starts to go, Alice takes a fall and even Robbie has to face the signs of ageing.  Relations are put to the test across three generations.  As are those who enter the increasingly sinister world of state care.                                           'Tamsin Oglesby's furious comedy confronts head-on our embarrassment and fear about old age.  It exposes a society in which compassion vies with pragmatism and, by asking unequivocal questions, it comes up with some extraordinary answers.'  I gathered that 'euthanasia' was part and parcel of the sinister world.

Baroness Warnock and Tamsin Oglesby were both interviewed, and what most struck me was Mary Warnock's bald and, to me, chilling statement that the elderly were 'a burden'.  Which is not a neutral word.  A burden is a nuisance, something you want to get rid of - the archetype in literature, I suppose, is Christian in 'Pilgrim's Progress', who was mightily relieved when his burden rolled off.

Is it a coincidence that a recent news item was about changes in demography in the countryside and local authorities telling the government it had underestimated the future cost of care for the elderly by £1/2 billion per annum, if I remember right?  Certainly the Baroness seemed to relate economic productivity to personal value.  It's quite a turn round from respecting old age for its wisdom and for our inheritance.  Baroness Warnock was introduced as 'the euthanasia campaigner'....  To give her her due, I don't think she was suggesting bumping off all non-economic units of production, and no doubt she would choose assisted suicide for herself.  However you can see how easily we could slide into the nightmare world of 'Really Old'.


  1. Did you hear the Richard Dimbleby Lecture yesterday (Mon) evening? It was written by Terry Pratchett, although delivered on his behalf by Tony Robinson. It was well worth listening to, lots to think about, even though I didn't agree with it all.

  2. Didn't John Donne say "No man is an island unto himself and each man's death diminishes me"? Feel that is relevant to this whole debate. Steve and I watched the Dimbleby lecture too. But it ended on the note of being about me and my choices concerning my death I felt. We don't live in isolation or die in isolation. We do seem to be living in a very self centred world. It was also rather uncanny how Terry Pratchet looked rather like Rowan Williams!!