by Laurie Fitzjohn-Sykes, director of research, Tomorrow's Comapny Read the original article here. It is now 25 years since Tiny...
Voices of Progress is a research project where we interview people from all walks of life and ask them about what progress means to them. Each week in 2019 we will be featuring one of our inspirational voices. To find out more or nominate a Voice, please get in touch.
Ruby is a volunteer at a hospice. For her, progress is about the way we live, and a desire to see us move back to greater reliance on ourselves and on the support of communities. For Ruby it seems to be about a recognition that there are natural patterns in life and that we are losing sight of them, which is eroding what it is to be human and what appreciating life really means. Ideally, Ruby would like to find a way back, but she acknowledges that will be difficult. She is also concerned that technology advances are making that route back harder, as indeed is the mad way we live and work now. Progress for Ruby seems to be about investing back in community, in young people and in finding ways of ensuring that older people are included in society and that they make a contribution, but also that they are ‘allowed’ to die naturally when life’s course is run.
Ruby: I was born 4 years before the war in 1935. I was a shy and timid girl, and quite highly strung. As the war broke out it was decided I should go and live in Somerset, just south of Bristol. It was a real wrench and I was devastated when my mother left us to go back. We could see and hear the bombing raids coming in following the light of the river right into the centre of the city.
I hated school in the main. When I left, I went into the catering industry with the view to becoming a manager of a big restaurant, but I ended up being a PA instead, working for a number of CEOs and Chairmen, some of whom still contact me to ask if I can help on bits and pieces of work. I married a Quaker and became part of a family from a long line of Quakers, on both sides of the family. When I officially retired I visited a hospice and there I am still. I’ve been doing things in hospices for 11 years now.
Working in the hospice has changed my life. I don’t feel I do anything, but I am told I do a lot. When I say to the Chaplain that I don’t understand why people are so grateful – I say its not about me, it’s God’s work, but he says: ‘No. There is some of God; but there’s a lot of Ruby’.
There was one man who was dying and the only pleasure he got in life was having a smoke, so I would wheel him outside. I mean what’s the point in saying it’s unhealthy to someone who is dying: Those are the kinds of things I try to do. I was talking to a friend the other day, about this work and she gave me this article in the Sunday Times, it’s very gritty, its called a ‘Time to Die’. Given my age, I think about this quite a lot.
When I was young, people used to just ‘pop-off’. You know they’d be ill for a couple of days or a couple of weeks and then they’d die. And it was accepted that this was the way that life is. Death was an accepted part of life. Now with modern medicine we keep on resurrecting people, people who would have died. I don’t think it is right. People, most people that is, don’t want to live forever. They want to do their work, run their course and then let go, move on, leave their stewardship of this world to the next generation.
Finance does of course come into this. Thousands of people with dementia are being kept alive. A life of being and not doing. Someone sent my friend a birthday card with many happy returns and she was livid. “We don’t want many returns, we have lived our lives!” she said. Of course this brings us back to money too.
My sister is five years older than me and is in the very advanced stages of dementia. She lives in a lovely care home, and has three lovely daughters. But if she is taken ill they call out the doctor and if she can’t be treated there and then she is sent to the hospital, whereas if she were left untreated she would probably die. And that of course is the way it used to happen. Life would take its natural course. We are moving away from the old way. Where a GP would just give an extra dose of morphine to someone in extreme pain and she would slip away gently. Not doing that causes everyone distress.
Norman: Putting to one side extreme illness, when you talk about a life of being and not doing – does that stem from a fear of not being valued?
Ruby: Yes it does. I don’t think society values older people. And so, if you have finished your usefulness. Then you should be allowed to go.
Norman: So, if you saw older people more involved and more valued, then that would be different, it would be better? You wouldn’t feel like you were a burden?
Ruby: Yes, that’s right, but that isn’t how it is today. It needs to change. We have oceans of news about the NHS. I was thirteen when the NHS came into being, little could Aneurin Bevan have known that it would explode as it has. Before the NHS you would not have gone to the doctors unless it was serious because it cost money; people relied on home remedies and rest unless you were very unwell. Today people go to the NHS for the slightest thing and just expect it will be there without any thought. The greed of this, of just expecting to get what you want when you want it. We now live in a world of wanton waste. A throw-away society where nothing is valued. We buy lots of cheap clothes – When I was growing up there was an unwritten rule that you wouldn’t buy from countries that had slave conditions for their workers and you had to make do with what you had. People learned to sew and knit and mend. It brought creative arts to life, people used their imaginations.
It applied to food. People made up dishes. Like Lord Woolton Pie. (He was a Minister). The pie was just left-over vegetables with a bit of cheese and flour sprinkled on the top.
People had enough but didn’t have luxuries. You see we don’t look after each other anymore in the way we used to. It’s tragic that it takes times of austerity and war for a sense of community to re-emerge. In times of trouble or shortage people shared, not only giving of themselves but also giving what little they had. People didn’t expect too much. People became very creative and imaginative. People had to make do, but that became a blessing. This is the world I was brought up in. It’s like Brighton rock, the values run right through me. I can’t take credit for it, its just how I was made, and I’d be like this even if I was a multi-millionaire.
It’s difficult to address the lack of community. I don’t know that community centres are the answer, whether the government can help build up little groups with facilitators who could enliven things. Particularly with older people and help people to talk and to share. Not big communities, just small ones where people could get to know each other. We could have young people involved helping to stimulate the conversations. But children always seem to be busy, they have a massive amount of things they seem to need to be doing, being rushed from one set of extra-curricular activities to another. I’m not sure. It is so difficult to put the pattern of life back the way it used to be.
Technology frightens me. The world is going mad it seems. When London became the global financial centre, everything became 24/7. It can’t be doing us much good. People don’t have time to just be. They don’t have family meals. This was the place where you learned conversation and manners. People just eat on their own now. Maybe graciousness has been lost.
One of my friends who likes to keep up with all the latest gadgets, well they got one of those ‘Alexa’s’. You can ask it anything – and it gets it for you. They asked me to ask for something, and I said ‘‘Beethoven’s 9th’’ and hey presto there it was, playing instantly. But you know, they have stopped using it. Partly because it listens in to every conversation, recording your whole life. But they found that it was taking away their excitement and the pleasure in having to look for things and discovering new things, and their curiosity. When everything is instant, it sort of destroys those parts of you. It makes you less human in some way.
...it was taking away their excitement and the pleasure in having to look for things and discovering new things, and their curiosity. When everything is instant it sort of destroys those parts of you. It makes you less human in some way... _______
Despite all of these advances, there are lots of young people these days who no longer seem to get a chance in life. You know there is a huge amount of budget that could be redirected from keeping people alive who really should be allowed to die and could be put into helping to build up young people and the communities they are part of. I get upset when I hear of children on sink estates, perhaps with a mother who is a drug addict. They don’t have a chance in hell of getting out of there. And I thought if I had the money I would give young people swimming pools and lectures to help them realise there was a way out of these conditions. That’s what progress looks like.
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