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Howard's End: Beyond Senior And Beyond Repair

If I hadn't heard it myself I would never have believed that in this country there is an undertone of impatience, a stated 'be gone with you', an odour of ageism wafting in the stench of air which surrounds us all. John Howard writes.

He was old, but not much older than me, his face was wrinkled and sunburnt with time from obvious outside work and he walked with a heavy limp.

As he shuffled along holding his small shopping bag on a mostly deserted footpath, he was approached by three twenty-somethings coming from the opposite direction, and he was physically pushed aside along with the words, "get out of our way old man."

The shock made him lose his grip on the meagre shopping bag and it dropped to the ground with a thud, spilling a few apples and oranges onto the ground in the process, which then rolled into a filthy gutter.

As I bent to help him pick up his groceries I was surprised that I didn't see anger in his face, nor did I hear venomous words thrown at the backs of the departing young men.

No, I was shocked to see small tears gathering at the corner of his eyes before one or two started to roll down his cheeks.

It was all over in just a few seconds and after exchanging a few pleasant words, in which I discovered that at aged 78 he was actually on his way to work as a caretaker and gardener, each of us went on our way. In parting he said at 78 he was very lucky - he had a job.

I'm not sure if those young men had a job but their message to me was clear. Make way for another generation. You are old, ancient, frail, sick, senile, beyond senior and beyond repair. Go, sir, go!

But I sensed in this "old" man that retirement and death were the same thing to him. There was something that he truly and genuinely believed and for which he was willing to risk his very life: work.

He would not be moved by age. He would not go. He was not willing to cash in his chips.

And I say good on him - you are worthwhile and you mean something.

Stay, stay! Stay for all of us whose youth has, well, ripened, who see retirement as death's cosy waiting room - "Dr Reaper will see you in a moment" - who have no hobby except work and whose respite from work, if given a chance, is still more work.

Stay, for all of us who loathe golf and bowls, and want nothing to do with wood and glue, fish, fishing, worms, flies and the camaraderie of men who for some reason would rather stand up to their backsides in cold water with a fishing rod than sit in a warm movie theatre.

Most of all, though, stay for all of us who no longer are counted or valued by the television networks, the magazines or even the newspapers. We are too old, not worth the cost of a subscription - demographic detritus.

We buy nothing we're told. Be gone, be gone and make way for some jerk of a kid who thinks it's cool to say "cool" a lot.

The country needs, but won't recognise, the value of the undefeated, the indefatigable, the obstinate. What should matter and be used by this country, is this man's wisdom, work ethic and endurance.

But it doesn't, so in the words of those three twenty-somethings, "get out of our way old man."


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