Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why the best is yet to come from our golden oldies

The author Kazuo Ishiguro once said that youth gives an author his best creative years. The subtext being that, as we grow older, creativity naturally declines.

That idea, thankfully, is just a social stereotype. There are numerous examples to counter this claim, not least the formidable and prolific PD James, still writing in her 90s, and our own national treasure, Seamus Heaney, who last year presented us with the beautiful meditation on life and death, Human Chain.

A few Christmases ago, I was driving with my 89-year-old grandfather. We rarely see each other but on that occasion he was in particularly expansive form and related a never-before-heard story (to my ears anyway) of a daring great-great aunt from Cork.

Meanwhile, a septuagenarian friend is working on the most fascinating memoir, the experiences related therein I could never even have guessed at.

Some of the stories I have heard from these and other older friends have served to remind (and chide) me that the young are not the only ones who have wild adventures to relate.

These stories are important ones, too, as unless told and retold, they die with the originator. They also give us an insight into a past that has changed dramatically but that we are still connected to.

These are people who have lived through one, maybe even two world wars, or women and men who have experienced the turbulence and excitement of the sexual revolution.

This May, the Bealtaine Festival, which celebrates creativity in older age, from dance to cinema, painting to theatre to writing, gives older people the opportunity and the encouragement to explore their artistic side.

The organisation Age and Opportunity invites local authorities, arts centres, libraries, active-retirement groups, care settings, community groups and clubs from every part of the country to run events that celebrate creativity in older age.

Everyone has a story to tell, none more so than older people and often there is the added benefit that older age offers the free time to dedicate oneself to creative pursuits. (That is, if you're not being drafted in as a free babysitter for your grandchildren.)

Often, older people like to talk about their earlier days and their youth, and these reminiscences can provide satisfying source material for memoirs, songs, poems, diary entries and even the basis for fictional stories.

The theme for 2011's Bealtaine festival is taken from the poem At Eighty by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, OBE, and goes "push the boat out, whatever the sea". There are opportunities all over the country during May to do just this.

Roddy Doyle's writing centre, Fighting Words, is running three writing workshops in May to help older people gain more confidence writing or even just to help get you started -- often the most difficult part.

At each workshop, participants will write in response to timed exercises designed to trigger the imagination and, perhaps more importantly, to be fun. No experience is needed and these workshops are suitable for those with all levels of education.

If writing is not your thing, there are endless permutations of activities and events on offer, all accessible on the Bealtaine website,, or by calling 01 8057709.

The festival is an all-too-rare chance to express perhaps long-dormant skills or to discover new ones.

So why not push the boat out this year . . . new waters are beckoning.

Bealtaine runs from May 1 to 31; Fighting Words places are strictly limited to 15 participants and the deadline for booking is May 3. The workshops will run three Fridays in May -- May 13, 20 and 27 from 2pm to 4pm. Call 01 8944576 or email

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