Friday, July 19

In praise of older women

On Mother’s Day this year, Auckland Council held one of their free concerts showcasing the Town Hall organ. The concert comprised a variety of music played by two organists, accompanied for some of the programme by other musicians (the Auckland Youth Choir and a violinist). The full house audience that the event attracted enjoyed themselves a lot. Even when they featured the premiere of a piece by a young Māori, dedicated to his mother, no-one rushed out screaming at having to listen to the Māori language (although admittedly the composer had not included the word ‘Aotearoa’). 

Around this time, many Aucklanders were worried that the Council’s planned budget cuts would put an end to events like this. Mayor Wayne Brown obviously had the scalpel out for the arts. But I was heartened by gaining some unexpected knowledge at the concert. The Council rep on the Trust that oversees the Town Hall organ was my local Councillor and Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson. She plays the instrument and is also the direct descendant of the mayor who gifted the original organ to the Council in 1912.

Not only that, but Wayne Brown owes Clr Simpson. Earlier the same week, flooding had struck Auckland again, and again, she had saved Brown’s bacon. Brown was in Sydney, so she had to contact him about handling the crisis – she needed to take the initiative in getting a State of Emergency declared. He couldn’t afford to screw up again. Clr Simpson was however experienced with gormless men, being married to former National Party President Peter Goodfellow. This chap had overseen some spectacularly terrible candidate choices for the last general election – a series of young guys with their brains firmly lodged in their crutches.

As the concert was on Mother’s Day, some of the audience would also have been grandmothers. I’m always in favour of grandmothers and can declare there’s no conflict of interest here since I am not one. Grandmothers are almost always very dedicated to their grandchildren. For the non-grandmother, this can have odd consequences. Some months ago, I was in a café with three grandmothers, all holding forth about their own descendants. Problem was, they took no notice of anything the other grandmothers said, so it was rather a cacophony. I zoned out and, given my musical bent, started thinking of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. There’s a bit that goes:

King of kings and Lord of lords
King of kings and Lord of lords
And He shall reign forever and ever
Forever and ever.

This is usually sung with a certain amount of creative repetition, going up the scale, and comes across very impressively. But if you’re each of you doing it as a solo with different words, and with your part getting louder with each iteration, it can be confusing, and indeed seem to go on ‘Forever and ever’. 

On the other hand, doting grandmothers are less of a risk than doting travellers. Haven’t those of us on social media encountered often that post, ‘Our trip to Paris / Paihia / Machu Picchu’, with the display of photos including the dreaded moniker ‘+ 117’. Haven’t some of us posted these things, too?

Seriously, though, grandmothers (and grandfathers) sometimes have to pitch in to help their grandchildren, and to do this in difficult circumstances. Their sons and daughters have encountered crises – poverty, separation, desertion, addiction, death – which render them unable to care for their own children. So the grandparents need to take up the task, and at a stage of life where their own health, their employment and/or their financial resources might make this onerous, despite their strong affections. There is more awareness of this predicament than there used to be, and there is some help available from the state. It’s inherently an anxiety-inducing situation, however, and the commonness of the plight of many grandparents still gets less attention than it should. 

On a lighter note, what would I, as an older woman, appreciate? Honestly, at the moment I’d like less of the cheap-as-chips chivalry which has some men fixated on who goes into women’s toilets. The internet is full of guys standing up for the rights of women not to have trans people in places that the guys have verbally elevated to ‘women’s spaces’. Believe me, I was stuck in that traffic on the day of the last flooding, trying to get from Westhaven to Meadowbank, with movement impeded by buses in full apology for not being ‘in service’, while people stood round waiting for cancelled public transport. My 40-minute trip took four hours, and my anecdotal survey of older women in similar straits later revealed that what they had most wanted en route was access to a public toilet. And if we finally got that, we didn’t care who else was in the vicinity.

I do have one caveat, nonetheless. I don’t want any of those brains-in-crutches cis National candidates anywhere near women’s toilets. Jake Bezzant used revealing photos of an ex to impersonate her online, and married MP Andrew Falloon sent explicit images to numerous women. Desley, you can keep scum like this away from our toilets, OK? 

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