Being ninety we are
the generation whose fathers fought
in the First World War
Old age is a bit of a mystery. How did we get here? How much further are we going?
‘Old men ought to be explorers’ – old women too, for that matter. But the line is from TS Eliot’s East Coker, his deeply personal poem written in 1940. Confronting a fear that he might never write another poem, Eliot produced a long muscular discourse on human life, the second of the Four Quartets, full of memorable lines and the lingering refrain. ‘In my beginning is my end’.
Eighty years later our days are full of endings. In a pandemic there is no exploring, not in the wider world anyway. Old men and women restricted to the safety of their own homes are faced with the daunting prospect of endless confinement. Even worse, the risk of living with an invidious new form of age discrimination: It’s for our own good! So, as John Harris writes in his Guardian column: ‘there is talk of those aged over 70 – millions of whom are fit, active and as involved in their communities as anyone else – being instructed to carry on living under lockdown.’
Covid-19 wreaks havoc across every generation. We grandparents fear a blighted future for our grandchildren we long to be near, we foresee the lost livelihoods of so many of our children, in furlough or jobless. John Harris highlights the injustices and iniquities compounded by life in lockdown but warns of the dangers of stereotyping the old as burdens on society; entrenching a cultural aversion to old age. He ends with a comment from a Birmingham community worker that stuck in his mind: ‘Javed Iqbal, explained that he had lost 11 older relatives to Covid-19, a loss not just to him and his family, but to wider society. “These are the pillars of our community: our elders,” he said.’
The elders of any family are a living timeline; the walking, talking human link between where we have come from and where we are going: lifetimes, as TS Eliot saw it, ‘burning in each moment’. Perversely, in the wars evoked by politicians it was the flaming of youth untimely snuffed out. Such thoughts emerge from a new poem, written before the pandemic, the reflections of a man in his tenth decade, walking by the river near his home. And wondering…
Officially Sir Charles Fraser – he was knighted in 1989 when he was still a partner of the Edinburgh law firm WJ Burness – the name is well known in the Scottish corporate and civic establishment. A pillar, you might say. But Charlie is a man of many other parts: bagpiper, gardener and, now, poet.
Being Ninety is the opening shot in a first selection of poems privately published, exploring far and wide – nature, urban jungle, global warming, science, war, travel, change, poetry – and published here with his permission.
Alzheimer’s is cruel.
Contemporaries sit in box-like rooms
and stare. No papers, no books.
Photographs trigger few memories.
Sentences begun are rarely finished,
causing frowns of frustration. I too
get annoyed when putting a nut on
a bolt and fail to get the thread the
first turn. Being ninety we are
the generation whose fathers fought
in the First World War. Distant memories
stir. Mention is made of Ypres,
The Menin Gate, The Dardanelles.
Home again I walk by the river,
sidestepping willow herb and
hogweed. Katie, sniffing as
she goes, scampers ahead.
Mallard dabble in the shallows,
a dipper flits to the next stone.
As our fathers left contemporaries
on the fields of war and wondered
at their own survival, so I being
Featured image: Hogweed by Andy Magee CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Colour pic above: Image made by nature protector Natubico; www.vivism.info CC BY-SA 3.0