Solitary souls are not necessarily from one age cohort

In so many ways, older people’s lives are easier during these lockdown days

I had to explain to a radio researcher recently that just because I had written a column about the existential angst of solitary Sundays didn’t mean I was a reincarnation of Peig Sayers sitting with my clay pipe on the side of a turf fire repeating the mantra “Ochón, Ochón.”

You see, alarm bells rang when she said: “I’m not trying to put words in your mouth but has ageism got worse since the pandemic?”

I’m a jobbing journalist and I’ve probably done the same myself – that is, tried to put words in the mouths of the poor unsuspecting public, especially when a deadline loomed – so while I felt a modicum of compassion for the lovely cailín, there was no way I could allow her caricature me or my age cohort.

The poor pet meant well, she was probably in a hurry and had to report back to her producer with a list of ideas to fill slots for the high-profile national radio programme she serves.


So, after a robust discussion during which time I argued how complex and nuanced the subject of living alone and ageing was, I knew she was never going to come back to me.

I was clearly not going to be complicit in the favoured national narrative that everything to do with ageing is negative, depressing and bordering on catastrophic.

Isn’t life difficult enough for all of us these days, without being pigeon-holed to suit the melodramas or Nordic noir of our airwaves?

At this fragile time in our lives, it is not just Nphet and the Government that must be clear and careful about the message they convey to an increasingly frazzled population. The omnipresent media monster is the main messenger screaming in our ears from the moment we awaken to when we finally fall asleep.

The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the media’s obsessive compulsive tendencies, made it more hysterical, hurtling headlines around the place like a hormonal teenager.

However, just because there are brave battalions of us older women allowing our grey roots grow out doesn’t mean that anyone over 50 has suddenly become shadows of their former selves.

Yes, the cocooning diktat for the over-70s during the first lockdown was a blunt instrument that had to be tweaked. Yes, the splintering of our society into nuclear families has been brought into dramatic focus as grandparents have become isolated and unable, as in traditional societies, to play supportive roles on a daily basis.

However, the reality is that solitary souls are not necessarily from one age cohort. Aloneness doesn’t automatically mean loneliness. Existential angst doesn’t have a specific generational profile.

There were 399,815 people living on their own in this country at the time of the last census. It was almost evenly split between men and women with the numbers increasing with age, unsurprisingly: 39.2 per cent were aged 65 and over.

I don't have to transform my kitchen table into a
classroom, the back garden into a gym hall or the
bathroom into a science lab

But let’s put a positive lens on this domestic situation for a change. In so many ways, our lives are easier during these lockdown days.

I don’t have to homeschool either a toddler or a teenager, transform my kitchen table into a classroom, the back garden into a gym hall or the bathroom into a science lab.

The only educational stress I’m experiencing these days is when those contrabassoons of magpies fly from their perches in the bare trees and try to bully my pet robins, Rosario and Rowena, at the bird-feeding table. (Indeed, the torrent of abuse I shout at them has proven very good for my lung function.)

I don’t have to create perfectly baked sourdough bread or upside-down pineapple cakes. Neither do I have to rustle up all sorts of lockdown dinners with kale and quinoa and fresh turmeric and ginger because all our meals must be balanced during these unbalanced times.

In fact, if I feel like it I can stay in my purple and pink pyjamas all day and heat up a veggie korma dinner made by those effervescent twins from Greystones while binge-watching Schitt's Creek.

And, if I feel like it, I’ll take out my granny’s old clay pipe and get high – on my own company, of course.