It comes as quite a shock to realise that you are the oldest member of your family still living. I realised this last Friday when I learnt that my one remaining uncle passed away aged 94 on Thursday (the same evening as Nelson Mandela).
There may be some distant half-cousins still alive somewhere, but as far as my immediate family is concerned, I’m now the oldest, which is quite a sobering thought!
It made me realise, though, how perceptions of age have changed. When I was a child in the 1950s, I thought my grandparents and great-aunts/uncles (who must have been in their 60s and 70s then) were positively ancient. My grandfather always wore a tweed three-piece suit (jacket, pants and matching waistcoat/vest). He also had a fob watch on a chain which always fascinated me. No way could I ever imagine him in jeans, or even an open-necked shirt! However, it wasn't simply the way they dressed (usually in darkish or neutral colours) but also their lifestyle, which appeared to be very uneventful, apart from occasional visits to family or friends.
My parents’ generation, in contrast, seemed to be more active than the previous generation. They had holidays overseas, took an active part in community groups (my father, for example, was still teaching First Aid when he was in his 80s), and, unlike my grandparents, went out in the evenings, to the theatre, cinema or a restaurant.
So what about this present ‘older’ generation? I think we tend to be much ‘younger’ in our outlook than previous generations. Maybe that’s something to do with growing up in the ‘swinging sixties’, which, although we didn’t realise it at the time, really was a time of social revolution.
I was 45 when my first grandson was born, and someone said to me at the time, ‘Grandmas don’t wear jeans and drink pints of beer.’ My response was, ‘This one does!’ And ‘this one’ has, I think, continued to maintain a ‘modern’ outlook (apart from some of the pop music my grandsons favour!).
Many of my friends are now in their 70s and 80s, and are still as active as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Having said that, some of my grandson’s friends are well impressed that his grandma can use a computer and is even on Facebook, so maybe all grandmas aren’t necessarily the same!
This all leads on to the question of how we portray the ‘older generation’ in our novels. The parents of a 20+ year old heroine today would (generally speaking) have been born in the 1960s or early 1970s, the grandparents in the 40s or 50s.
I think we need to take account of the fact that today's ‘older’ generation is becoming younger, not in age of course, but in outlook. Today's grandparents are no longer like the Dowager Duchess in Downton Abbey (much as I love her!). If she was alive today, she’d probably be off on an Amazon River adventure like one 85 year old I know.
I’ve tried to make the parents of my heroes or heroines true to their age-group – and not the stereotypical parents or grandparents of yesteryear. Grandmas no longer sit in rocking chairs and knit socks –I can vouch for that!