What are the older men looking for?
Squeeze up, make some more room. No, we can’t! There isn’t any.
The thing is that there are too many of us to fit one street bench, and there’s a limit especially for older men with our spreading waistlines. Even if it is a long one, and the bench in the square looks that it is longer than usual. Demand exceeds supply.
Added to which it is obviously uncomfortable for us to sit on. The bench is made of stone, with a hard flat seat, and there’s no back to lean against. Of course it looks attractive lined up with the stone sculpted round balls, and functional too, but it isn’t possible to sit there for very long, even with the ingenuity of older men.
Maybe if I sit on my jacket. No, better not. I’ll get a terrible ticking off if I do, and it is all creased when I get home.
In fact, it is the clever ones who stand. From there they have a better chance of hearing more of what is being said. More than those sat at either end who can’t hear a word of what is being said more than two men away.
What did he say? Never mind, my friend. You don’t want to listen to him.
And stood up there’s also a better chance of making a monologue and dominating the conversation. The seated ones may wave their arms more trying to get their share of the speaking air space, but it is the stood ones who can control things.
Except that the driver sat in the white taxi parked behind the bench, a small thickset woman in a light blue shirt and black trousers, has turned up the car radio, and the mushy pop music is playing so loud that it is drowning out all the older men’s conversation.
At least they are out of the house! So she can get on with her chores, and the unmarried children and unemployed grandchildren who are still living at home can get on with their work, playing on their computers, or business, whatever that might be.
There’s one younger man stood behind the bench where the old men are sat. His mobile phone rings and he begins speaking loudly. As well it is an intimate conversation about sex, as if the old men don’t exist.
Shall we have sex too?
I don’t think your father is feeling well today, she says to her grandson. What is it Papa? Nothing, nothing. I am just going out now.
Don’t forget to buy the lottery tickets, she shouts after him from behind the front door which has just been slammed shut.
What are the older men looking for?
Each household gives us a job to do, a small task to perform while we are out. It is nothing too important, mostly something to keep us occupied.
It means a journey into the city centre. And at least the authorities are making an attempt to help. We can take the senior citizen free bus pass to the city centre, and walk from the bus stop and cross the road in reasonable safety now that most traffic has been excluded from the roads.
Apart from the bench it is empty in the square where we like to meet. Although the white stone bench’s design and civic location has its obvious shortcomings, it has been given a fine Mission Statement:
Needs (wellbeing, lifeskills, social capital) – helping to meet
Happiness (fairness, social justice, participatory politics) – contributing towards
Gaps (intergender, and intergenerational) – speaking across
In a word, community. Fine words…
But it has to be said that we recall with longing the old days when we could sit on the steps in the arcades, smoke our cigarettes, and look up the legs of the passing women as they came out of the smart shops with their shopping bags.
Oh, I shouldn’t have said that!