Why Nobody Wants To Be Called Middle-Aged

 

Has anyone ever sat down and wondered at their old photos? It’s my lovely little sister’s sixteenth birthday today, and so we’re sat around, looking at photos from when we were both just tiny tots. And it’s hilarious. I was a victim of the perpetual bad hair day, and my sister just looked like a thug, with the biggest baby head I have ever seen. She also had an adorable little top-knot. It made her look a little bit like a teletubby. Does anyone remember tellytubbies? I used to quite like them.

I also quite enjoy looking at what your parents used to look like, twenty years ago before your teenager strops and tantrums turned them grey, or bald, or thin, or fat. It’s even more strange to look at them in long-forgotten holiday photos, before you were born, when your Mum was still blonde, and your Dad carried a slightly more svelte figure than you’ve ever seen. It’s really, really weird when you realise your mother was the dead spit of you, and therefore you catch something of a glimpse at what you will look like in middle-age.

I always think the phrase ‘middle age’ has slightly negative connotations. The Middle Ages, in Britain at least, were dark, and smelly, on the whole. Technology hadn’t begun to advance, and people had come to something of an intellectual standstill. Illness was rife, death was more common than a bucket of sewage on the head, and to add to this predicament, religious order was still a serious issue. As in, well, there wasn’t one. I think I’ve found the reason why nobody likes to be referred to as middle-aged.

And then there’s the problem of after middle-age. Old. Elderly. An older person. Nobody would ever want to be referred to as old, and I can imagine being unbelievably irritated if somebody had referred to me as old, even if I was about ninety-six years old. Anyway, I have to go, and carry on my excursion down memory lane. I apologise for my collection of thoughts on age; I’ve never known what it’s like to be old, but I suppose one day, it’ll creep right up on me.

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“Romantic Moderns” – Alexandra Harris

I honestly have met a lecturer who is so engaging that it’s admirable; Alexandra Harris, the author of Romantic Moderns, came to lecture as a part of the “visiting speakers” seminar series that the English department is holding. Her lecture focussed on “Ancient and Modern: Landscapes in the 1930’s and 1940’s”. And it was honestly fantastic.

Professor Harris explored, in a very dynamic, engaging fashion, the relationship between artistic portrayals of the British landscape in mediums from advertisements for petrol, to abstract painters such as John Piper, and the literature and culture of Britain at the time. At the time, nationalism was prominent in Britain, and as the Second World War approached, it became only more vital in the consciousness of the nation. There was however an artistic disagreement between the classical and the surrealist in terms of what would best represent the cultural present of the United Kingdom; Paul Nash explored in particular the relationship between internationalism and indigenous works and used surrealism in conjunction with landscape portrayal. This created an inviting familiarity and at the same time disparity with the British landscape and what people believed they were aware of within it.

Professor Harris also however moved on to explore the relationship between Virginia Woolf specifically, and the landscape of Britain itself. Woolf used to speak her writing aloud as she walked on the moors, allowing them to become part of a very physical rhythm and construction and in this way, she connected her literature to the rhythm of her walks. She found a strong archaeological connection between half remember nursery rhymes, and texts that “bumped” into one another; her own individual perception of literature shaped her physical connection to it.

Literary pilgrimage is a phenomenon in itself, in that English Literature seems to have a landscape attached to it; consider for instance the physical movement over land in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or The Picture of Dorian Grey, which considers a more mental journey over landscape, specifically against the idea of the mentality of death. These pilgrimages therefore can be considered as both physical and mental and manifest themselves across most kinds of literature. Woolf herself considered both the landscape; in her unfinished work, The Waves, she examines physical landscape in conjunction with the mind; however in A Room of One’s Own, mentality is examined alongside the static nature of a home.

Harris’s lecture was fascinating; I feel distinctly privileged to have been able to meet such an admirable academic.

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