Lest we forget…

The latest joke on ageing came my way when I was in England. It was about the newest chair lift. It is very fast. It is so fast that you can remember why you went upstairs! I think I have always found myself in dilemmas resulting from forgetting why I have arrived in some part of the house or other. It’s not a problem of ageing – or multi- tasking (which, despite myths to the contrary, men can do as well as women) but more the way my brain relegates the activity to some weedy area where the imperative to do this or that rolls into the long grass. I remember my mother shrieking in amusement as she found herself pouring sugar down the toilet instead of tea leaves. She was under fifty at the time and lived, sparkily, into her eighties. It also seems to be true that we live in an era where ageing is the enemy of youth, beauty and advertising executives; so much so that we are sensitised, like hypochondriacs, to the slightest sign that our faculties are on the decrease. This is how we prepare ourselves for that last great occasion in our lives – the moment of death. As our vehicle gradually slows, we seem conditioned to view the scenery through the windows as less colourful, less verdant, more deserted and monochrome, more night than day, when, in fact, it is not the case.

Here in Ghana, parties are for everyone, whatever age. Zimmered up, old men cavort and eye young flesh with mischievous grins and old women shake their bums, invitingly, like they always did. Holding on to vitality and a colourful environment seems a paramount drive.

Ageing can also lead to mellowing, whatever we remember or forget but the other end of the spectrum is not uplifting at all. I don’t mean the capacity for the elderly, especially in the west, to become slippered up for a dreary two or three decades of doing little except look out of the windows of their lives as described above, but the psychology of those who want to exercise power to tighten their dying grip on existence and their hatred for the young, who will continue to live on for some time, after they, themselves succumb.

Mugabe, for example.

He is an obscenity and, as in many a state in Africa, his single minded addiction to power, at the expense of his own country’s people, is a horrific reminder of how ageing can also lead to a complete indifference to the suffering of others. Whatever memory loss he suffers, it does not include how to torture, starve, murder and despoil. His contemptuous challenge to other African states, yesterday, that they hadn’t the bottle to try to topple him, is based on a terrible truth. Leaders around this continent will not condemn him because they know that what goes around comes around and they, themselves, are all too often busily storing up enough personal sins to bring War Tribunalists running to catalogue their acts of depravity.

It behoves us all to grin at the usual shortcomings of our memory systems when they involve involuntary lapses of the sugar-in-toilet kind but not to pretend forgetfulness at the terrible plight of those who must endure the tyranny of dictators, especially those who have made lifetime careers of it and will continue on their destructive paths to the very end..

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