With more than 1,000,000 old people, Portugal has one of the largest (proportionate) ageing populations on an ageing continent.
I live with about 35 of them.
There is a tradition in most of Asia of reverence of and respect for the old. Here in the West however, owing the urbanization of society, the disintegration of the extended family-unit and the frenetic nature of people’s life-styles, we stick our old people into Care-Homes where they are sometimes neglected and disrespected.
I am not in such a Home, but even so dining downstairs can be a depressing experience indeed – the atmosphere muted, senescent and crepuscular. The three carers, who are nearing the end of their working day, are impatient to get home and who can blame them.
After the meal, which is rushed through at record-breaking speed, the walking wounded stagger off to their rooms while the wheel-chair brigade are briskly lined in the hall up in front of the elevator; one or two of them are dribbling slightly from the corners of their mouths.
They are patient, silent and exhausted.
And what am I (also a wheel-chair job) doing? I have stayed at my table near the double doors of the dining-room and am writing this.
There’s quite a crowd of them, by now, waiting for the 8.00 take-off; the queue is tailing back into the dining room, the last two old dears are sitting here beside my table; they are both wearing black; one of them is telling off the beads of her rosary and the other pulls a tired smile at me. I smile back. The others are all in serried ranks now, as though on a tired and murky Gatwick evening, waiting waiting waiting.
Oh, ye daughters of Jerusalem, cry out, cry out!