Catherine Brown

Broadside Against Ageism

June 2015
Menzies Campbell

Menzies Campbell


“My parting advice to graduates? Beware ageism.


It’ll be starting right around now.


The feeling that twenty-one is old, and not good.


You only get more old. So crack this one now.


Ask yourself what it is that matters most.


Is it your sperm count? Your fifty-metre butterfly time? Your epidermal elasticity?


Then art thou lost.


Is it porousness to languages? Fecundity of youth slang? Attractiveness to paedophiles?


Then art thou long lost.


But beware mature get-outs.


Is it clitoral exhuberence?


Then are thou art lost after forty.


Is it your PB at Ironman Triathlon?


Then art thou lost after fifty.


Is it the culmination of your career?


Then art thou lost upon retirement.


Is it being rich in unspent days?


Then art thou the poorer from morn to dewy eve, from day to day today.

Like a miser, you would rather hoard than be forced to spend, because nothing that your money can buy could compensate you for its loss.


So let time, in which all these things have their being, stop.


Is it reading later pages in the Book of Life than anyone who has ever lived before?

How wise shalt thou be, reading page 2085 of Volume A.D.! How much more knowing than Cameron Churchill Cromwell or fusty old Caesar, who knew nothing of gunpowder never mind the iPhone 70. How fashionable your clothes, how absurd their old-style hats and togas. How much asymptotically-closer you to knowing the great grand story’s The End.


And should a thief break into your Hatton Garden safe-box and steal your days? Should the book be slammed shut and you ordered out of the library by a careless bus driver or cancer cell? Would not contempt for age then flush envious? Would it not then be the old who had their days safely banked – lived and not unlived?


Embarrassed or regretful birthdays are abominations.

Birthdays, like wedding anniversaries, should be celebrations of existence and continuation – and if marriages are valuable, what of lives?

Birthday cards enjoining their addressees to mock at themselves for not having died are also abominations.

They are not, one suspects, on sale in car-bombed Kabul.


Basically life, if not exploded, accumulates. Like a CV, with every tangerine sunset supped, pain sustained, and wasteland of ignorance laid to flower, an addition.


Or a journey, ever more interesting. Why stop and think of retreading a preceding mile?


Teaching is putting up signposts.

It is helping the younger to get older faster.


And the end of all our exploring?


If the problem with old age is its proximity to Death, then ageism contradicts itself, since its logical solution is suicide.


And if the problem with old age is infirmity physical and mental – what are they to those of infancy, to which we do not object at all?


To say nothing of eternity, which embraces the CV sub specie aeternitatis.


So be vigilant against ageism the destroyer – the legitimate spawn of the cult of youth.


Battle it wherever you find it.


History may even be on your side.

By the time of the iPhone 70, 2015 ageism may appear as 1950s sexism and racism do now.


And know that nobody is old.


Not in Old Testament terms, where Methusalah died at 969. He might have known something by then; the rest of us are just getting started – the lyf being so short, the craft so long to lerne.


But we can still live lots.

If we don’t drag our heels.

If we don’t see age as wasting life but as life.


That’s what I’d say.”


More from: Reflections

Catherine Brown