One way of seeing a life is as an ascent followed by a decline. A slow crescendo to the climax of adulthood, followed by the long, sad diminuendo (followed, one would hope, by rapturous applause from the audience, rather than people just shuffling off while twiddling with their iPhones).
Of course, on some measures this view of life is pretty accurate. Physical fitness, for instance, generally peaks in early adulthood. But hey: you can choose your own metric. Take the capacity to achieve gut-bursting excitement at birthday presents, for instance – I’d say the optimal age for this is about 6 years old. Or take the ability to synthesize information from various different sources – this is actually best done by old folk, who can bring to it the wealth of their experience.
In the last Sunday Assembly we saw exemplified various different ways of looking at ageing. The Assembly was hosted by Allan – a late stand-in for Noel, who was out with the ‘flu – who demonstrated the wisdom and confidence that can come with age. Alex read Lewis Caroll’s classic ‘You Are Old, Father William’, a light-hearted celebration of the variety of talents that can be accumulated over a lifetime. And Vicky, who provided the main talk, showed the effects that the physical deterioration associated with ageing can have on reading.
Vicky – one of our own, of course – is a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Leicester. She explained how technology is used to record the eye movements of readers of different ages, and how this reveals age-related differences. In particular, the eye-movements of some elderly people in scanning text are prone to be less tightly controlled, which can lead to problems with comprehension. Part of Vicky’s research is to discover ways in which these problems can be lessened, by changing various features of the text. So as well as being interesting, her research also promises to be socially valuable.
The Assembly was also notable for the antics of Dance-Master General Shantanu. Keen Shantanu-watchers have been noting with interest his increasingly frenetic efforts to whip the Assembly congregation into a rhythmic, move-busting frenzy at song-time. Who knows where it will all end?
We must also give thanks to Yasmin Shaikh, a representative from our chosen charity Age UK. She participated fully in the Assembly, and came out to say some well-chosen words about the organisation later.
Props also to Ajith, the architect of, and head chef for, the Vegetable Pulao (with yoghurt accompaniment). He was ably assisted by Kay and Amarjeet. And if one foolish person was laid low by his decision to take an extra chilli and eat it in one go, no blame attaches to the chefs; it merely goes to show that I have not yet acquired the wisdom and experience of maturity.