By Susan Roberts
When I was in my twenties, I saw the movie Highlander and was entranced by the idea of immortals who had roamed the earth for centuries, living through every era. Unable to die natural deaths, they aged at a different rate from mere mortals. How strange it must be, I thought, to look like everyone else and yet to have lived through innovations such as penicillin and automobiles, and events like world wars – things which later generations could only hear about second-hand.
Imagine how enlightening it must be to have first-hand knowledge of what the world was like before certain things were invented. How exciting to feel like a knowledgeable sage to those around you who take for granted the many things that weren’t around when they grew up. Perhaps that doesn’t fit with the idea of a still outwardly young and virile Highlander, so let’s switch to the movie Star Wars because it offers a more appropriate image.
Imagine being like old Obi-Wan Kenobi who imparts the secrets of the Force to the junior Luke Skywalker. Luke’s lifelong desire is to be one of the legendary Jedi Knights, so he is fascinated by the guru who drops into his ears those pearls of wisdom about how he used a magnificent lightsaber to fight in the Clone Wars which were so long ago that they too have now passed into legend…
Whoa, let’s back up a bit and take a reality check here. Only in the movies, huh? There are no revered Highlanders and aged Jedi Knights around my house apart from the ones on my DVD shelf.
Old Obi-Wan might be a unique dinosaur of an old man who actually survived his own era, but if we remember Han Solo’s question to Luke: “Where did you dig up that old fossil?” we might have a better idea of today’s attitude towards the old and not-so-revered. Thirty years on, I am finally starting to know what it feels like to be an aged and arthritic Jedi Knight myself, and it’s not like Star Wars or Highlander at all.
This dinosaur has discovered that the world isn’t interested in the unique skill of using an old-fashioned lightsaber. Today’s juniors have little patience with someone who doesn’t understand the basics of a technological age that has surpassed even a Jedi’s youthful imaginings. Sometimes I think I’ve forgotten more things than some people will ever know, but then I remember that they don’t care either way.
Think about this. We were the famous baby-boomers. That awesome generation who listened to the radio broadcasts of the first man landing on the moon. (We listened on radio because many of us didn’t have television.) Time has galloped on since we wore the first digital watches and did our homework using our parents’ battery-operated calculators (which we weren’t allowed to take to school because using a calculator to get the quick answers was considered cheating). We played vinyl records – both LPs and 45s – and danced to the music of ABBA and the Beatles. During the school holidays we called our friends on heavy bakelite phones that had rotary dials, and we sewed our own clothes on our mothers’ sewing machines and learned how to knit.
We were the geeks of yesteryear – the library-obsessed kids who knew our way around the Dewey system and the wooden drawers of those nifty little catalogues that struck terror into the hearts of the more sporty-minded. We paged through actual hardcover Encyclopaedia Britannica volumes and wrote out our own notes for school projects in longhand. And by the way, we used cursive (now known as joined-up) writing, because it was fast. We were taught that when we reached university we would have to write down a lecturer’s words at the same speed at which he spoke them. A few years later we succeeded in doing that too, filling endless notebooks before we knew about endangered rain forests.
When we left home, we wrote letters to our parents because trunk calls were expensive and call boxes were hard to find. We did this well into our twenties and thirties, I might add. I was in my mid-twenties when I encountered my first fax machine, and was still trying to figure out the magic of how they worked when they went out of fashion twenty years later.
So how do we oldies deal with the new realities? Well, I became a writer. That way I can lose myself in the wonderful world of history that only I seem to remember, and which for many readers is just as farfetched as the world of fantasy. Since no one believes our history without a huge dollop of scepticism it may be safer to pass it off as fantasy anyway.
Did I mention that I miss my old typewriter?