Old (LentBlog5)

That isn’t me in the photo, though it could be.

A bald man in vaguely sportif clothing trying to take an arty photo of the Serpentine Gallery installation (2012) and look young at the same time.

It can’t be done.

When did I first notice that feeling? If I am honest, about ten years ago. Maybe longer. Let’s be generous. Ten. Which would make me 45. Ish. Give or take.

Let’s get a bit more honest now. Fifteen years ago, as I approached 40.

It works like this. You are sitting on a bus or a train, or walking down the road, and you look up at the person who is sitting across from you, or wants the seat next to you, or is approaching you

not because you want anything from them, but just to show you are another human being who is in the same space as them,

and, young or old, male or female,

they look right through you.

These days, of course, there is an excuse. People are glued to their (head) phones.

In the pre-smart phone era (hands up who remembers that?) there was just

looking away or looking through.

Actually, looking away actually isn’t it. It is through. I am looked-through. I am invisible. I have become invisible.

I’m not a threat, I’m not a threat, I am not a threat to you I mutter silently as the person sits down or approaches on the street.

But what I am is old.

Maybe this is not the right explanation. Maybe we are all so lost in our own little (phone) worlds that no one looks up at anyone any more. I don’t know.

I talked about it with a friend at work and he said he had actually come out the other side of it. After years of being looked through he now gets kindly looks from old and young alike at bus stops, near stairs and on streets because he has got to the stage (his words) where the lack of threat is even more visible. ‘Basically I look really ancient now. And that makes people look at me kindly.’

I’ve had it in other ways as well. There I was, still thinking (I thought, just with a bit more knowledge and experience, a few more health scares and disappointments under my belt) like I did when I was seventeen, talking about creativity to a large group of students.

And to show that I could improvise and depart from the PowerPoint (it was a creativity lecture, after all) I began a tiny wee riff about Joni Mitchell, mentioning a recent programme I had heard about her on the radio.



One hand went up in recognition. In a hall of about a hundred.

Maybe they lost me at ‘radio’. They definitely lost me at ‘Blue‘.

Never again, I told myself. Stick to the script.

But it happened again the other day again, in another lecture to some even younger people.

I was trying to get a discussion going about how teachers are portrayed in films: as messiahs (Freedom Writers, Dead Poets Society), or geniuses (Good Will Hunting), or wizards (Harry Potter), or outcasts/needing rescuing (Educating Rita, Full Nelson). These are mainstream films, I thought to myself, as I put the slides together. I won’t need to put the titles below the pictures. Everyone knows that image of Robin Williams standing on the desks, don’t they? (‘Captain! My Captain!).

You could have heard the proverbial.

They loved the picture of the wizard.

But not before they had to help me remember the words for ‘Professor McGonagall’. My very own brain-fade, right there in public. A voice in my head said ‘Do your homework, Wilson!’ The thing is, I had. Some things you cannot prepare for.

Like feeling old.

Old? Me?

It was too late already.

The bus-feeling came over me again, my top lip sweaty, still with half the lecture to go, as I stood there, spouting, asking questions, giving it everything, actually educating, feeling ancient and sounding worse, the whole room looking right through me.


  1. Ah Ant! I recognise this so well. Even though I’ve got to the dotty old lady stage and can safely beam at passers by . Twice now lovely young men have given their seat on the tube up to me. They’re all wrong, obviously. I am actually 34. Ah well. What are good days of the week for coffee? I can’t do Wednesdays? Much love Olwen X Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes, you are talking to me, looking at – not through – me.
    When strangers, younger than me, started addressing me in the “endearing” French term “Mamie” (for grandma) I went into a fit every time. Still do. Call me Madame, Mrs., whatever…but not Mamie. I am not your mom, nor your grandma, nor your…
    And then, I was sitting beside an old lady in an airplane. Illiterate, she asked me to fill out her immigration papers. I looked at her passport. She was younger than I. Damn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, Anne Arthur! My niece and other assorted young people sometimes say ‘Awww!’ when I’ve said something as though my opinions are rather quaint and sweet. Grrr!


  3. Yesterday my 8 yr old American granddaughter ( who lives in a high tech household) asked me to explain the ancient family catchphrase “Slow down, George. it doesn’t start till 7.20.” It comes from an old TV commercial advertising the publication the TV Times. This led into a long explanation of there being a time when there were only two TV channels, and no way of recording them, so if you wanted to see a particular programme you had to be in front of the telly at a set time, and if you couldn’t be there, you’d miss it forever. She was suitably gob-smacked.
    As for your students – anyone who has never heard Blue should be pitied.


  4. Interesting to see that men experience this, as well. These are common feelings for middle-aged women, and it starts much earlier for us!


  5. Awwww (hugs) you have to understand that eye contacts is rather scary for the younger set. I am 53 and I suppose I’ve been officially “old” for a long while now. I mean, middle aged implying that I am half way through life and life expectancy being somewhere around 80 then anything above 40 would no longer be middle aged. Since we don’t have a name for anything over middle aged except old then LOL old it is? See? Haha but, none of that matters because I perfected the art of being invisible while I was still young. I rather like being able to people watch without being noticed.


  6. Getting old. Feeling old. Being old. I just passed the middle milepost myself. after being run over by a baby carriage whose maternal driver decided not to notice me. I don’t feel any worse for my sudden aging realization, but certainly apart, away from a life I once enjoyed. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect and feel a connection to a fellow traveler.


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