It’s not an easy lesson to learn, especially if you have been around for a long time and become accustomed to people paying attention to whatever you are saying, even when it’s a lot of rubbish. But it is a lesson everyone has to learn as they grow older: younger people simply don’t pay attention to you. When this infuriates you, as it does me from time to time, I tell myself that I was exactly like that just a few years ago.
I recall gatherings where there were older colleagues or relatives trying to be a part of the conversation. I also remember how we, the younger lot, would only half-listen, nodding but not caring a fig before excusing ourselves to join our contemporaries. I also remember the resigned look on the faces of the older people who would have liked to excuse themselves too, but could not because they had come with someone who was going to stay past midnight. They would then go and sit down in a corner and just watch patiently, declining both food and drink because it was simply too late in the evening for them. Once in a while, out of sheer politeness, someone would join them for a few minutes. On the whole, however, they were on their own.
I have reached that stage now, as indeed many of you must have too. Even without this virus thing I was always quite selective about the soirées or professional gatherings I attended. But now I have stopped altogether because what’s the point of going somewhere if no one cares whether you came or not? It’s triply worse when you tell them you are not coming, and they reply “I understand, Sir/Uncle. Take care.” But on balance that part is fine.
I have devised a cruel form of revenge. I arrange gatherings, professional or private, where the average age is 70, and I have invited one or two youngsters to attend. Then we all ignore them, treating them like waiters.
What is not so fine, however — but should be — is when your own children start treating you with unctuous consideration when it comes to your third whiskey — sorry, no more — while ignoring you otherwise completely. You try to say something and realise that they are quite oblivious to your bleating and are going on with their conversation, heedless of the fact you are telling them they have got it all wrong. The thing, you see, is they don’t accept that they are wrong; they think they are right. And that’s the only thing that matters to them, as it did to all of us when we were young too.
But being a nasty and clever fellow, I have devised a very cruel form of revenge. Once or twice a year I arrange gatherings, professional or private, where the average age is 70 only because I have invited one or two youngsters to attend. Then we all ignore them, treating them like waiters if it is a gathering of old colleagues and sons/daughters/nephews/nieces. Believe me, it’s fun to see how utterly bored they get. The trick is to invite no more than three of them, two boys and one girl or two girls and one boy. I have noticed that while the girls manage to get through the evening in good humour, the boys are ready to start climbing walls. Sometimes some of them get drunk because the booze is free and their wives are not there. I tell you, it’s great fun.
For some reason, retired women command a lot of respect and attention from the younger crowd. I thought of this as one of those great mysteries of life till one of the older ladies told me that having been ignored all their lives, they have learnt how to handle it. “By accepting old age with dignity,” she said, “you men should try it.”