Thought for the day

I was watching recently that rarest of beasts, an English-language programme on HK television. They are few and far between but occasionally worth 30 minutes of my time. I eschew the K-Pop programme. I am more into Köchel numbers than Korean soda music.

This particular programme was about care homes for the elderly. Watching it I suspect the true tags should be elderly, infirm, poor and without family. Quite depressing. I thought we were supposed to venerate old age. The programme mainly concerned the workers in the home, their low wages and the percentage of workers who were from the mainland rather than local to HK.

It was evident that although they undertook the work in a compassionate and dedicated way, most of them would rather have done virtually any other job. They did it, they said because they could not find any other work. One woman confessed to being illiterate and uneducated. The others probably fitted the same bill. One described the work as ‘dirty’. The homes were little more than dormitories as far as I could see, partitioned cubicles for the residents and bunk bed dorms for the immigrant workers. It was a sad picture. The amount of government subsidy for places in these homes seemed to be the bare minimum and so the homes themselves could afford little beyond the basics. They were I suppose profit-making enterprises. How much profit I don’t know and certainly reinvestment looked meagre.

As we approach the traditional season of consuming to excess it struck me as immoral that what are little more than poor houses still exist in a developed society, as HK claims to be. I admit I have my doubts.

I recalled one photo that I took a while ago. It is one I come back to often. Of course I have no idea what is going on in the mind of either party. Perhaps I misinterpret the glance. I always call it mind the (age) gap.

The age gap-2


And then I remember a much happier old lady. In her 70s when this was taken, this scan is of a print that has faded with age – my maternal Grandmother, Priscilla Davies. I think of her at Christmas as we were sent for on Boxing Day 1970 and she died on the 28th December. I remember how distraught my mother was. Grandma Davies had a big family, was loved by all and died at home with her closest around her. A short illness. Bronchitis I think was the official cause of death.



I hope that wherever you are you are surrounded by those who are nearest and dearest to you. And if there are elderly folks out there who are alone, look out for them and maybe treat them to a mince-pie or two. But easy on the sherry. And spare a grateful thought too for the carers.

Happy Christmas everyone, whatever your beliefs or otherwise.

24 thoughts on “Thought for the day

  1. Care work is a badly paid job wherever you go in the world, with little value. In Britain it is mostly East Europeans doing the work now. There was a case recently of a woman who died because her care agency was raided by the border agency and all their workers were illegals. It’s sad that we put so little value on the job that British nationals won’t work for the pay and conditions offered.

  2. Happy Holidays and best wishes for a happy 2014, Andrew!

    I think this is the perfect sentiment for the season. Perhaps we could try to consume in a little bit less excess (for one), but as we celebrate, we can hardly appreciate where we are now without acknowledging *why* we’re here.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Andrew. I worked with old people in hospitals and nursing homes for a while and the patients taught me so much; my goodness I have a lot to thank them for. Where we are living now, deep in the heart of rural Andalucia, there are lots of old people but because of the way life is lived here, olives and farming, families seem to stick together so the older folk are always well cared for and loved. It was a different story in Indonesia and I hate to think about what it must be like to be old and alone in London. A really very depressing thought. I think Rod has hit the nail on the head with his comment.

    But, I don’t want to end this comment on a low note, NO! I want to say thank you for another wonderful year of your beautiful photographs, your thoughts, your fabulous humour and great gift for storytelling. Here is wishing You and Yours, a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Here’s to Many More! Thanks, Andrew. Lottie 😀

    • Empress, you are always a ray of sunshine in our lives. I hope you and Pete have a wonderful first Andalucian Christmas. Thanks for all the fun this year.

  4. Truly fine thoughts for this time of the year, Andrew. “Advanced” societies claim to be more aware of the needs of elderly citizens, but unless one has family and means, end of life is not always comfortable, dignified or pleasant. As you say, it is reprehensible that modern society still has “poor houses” which is what most nursing homes operate as…if all are lucky enough to find residence. There are many good ones and my father was quite fortunate to end up in one. He was admitted without my knowledge by another concerned party and receives good care which is amazing as he ended up penniless aside from a small pension and Social Security which together are just enough to maintain his care. Why I am just barely involved is not a story for this posting.
    It is hard to compare the terrible conditions in HK to those here in the States, but some here are truly disgusting and there are numerous reports of abuse.
    In the condensed Wall Street Journal that is included in our Sunday paper was a reference to the book that lies next to the current Pope’s bed and how it condemns worshiping of golden calves….interesting statement in the WSJ of all things…if only that message would ring a bit truer in modern societies.

    • BTW…your Grandmother has the look of a delightful woman with a lot of kindness in her heart.
      Your first picture, as you state, is hard to make assumptions regarding who is thinking what. The younger woman appears to be somewhat dismissive of the older woman, but it is never easy to read such motion in a still and her eyes may simply be traveling without any indication of her thoughts. She may even be thinking of herself in those old clothes some day. There is much to mull over in the picture and I can understand why you return to it often. As someone once said…an enigma wrapped up in a riddle.

  5. Hong Kong’s government occupies what may easily be within the top ten most valuable pieces of real estate in the world (reclaimed waterfront Tamar). I ask why? For ‘the people’? Almost 1 from 5 living below the poverty line- it’s appalling.

  6. I really like the mind the (age) gap photo. The old lady who appears to have all the time in the world versus the young girl without five minutes to spare, such a contrast, and very poignant.

    My mum has spent the last year between hospitals and care homes. Ideally I’d have preferred her to move closer to me so I could just pop in to care for her, but her stubbornness to do so when she could, and her frailty now, it appears that is how her life will continue.
    Some care staff have been excellent, but for others, she’s an ‘old woman’ which for them is just a means of earning a wage.
    Your nan does look very happy in the photo. Happiness is so important in old age.

  7. Where my mother stays, now that her dementia is so bad, is light and clean, and she’s surrounded by capable and kind caregivers. But not far away is a nursing home where the residents are indigent, and it is very sad, difficult place to visit. How we care for our youngest, oldest and most vulnerable says a great deal about our countries, and it’s not good.
    Your photographs have been inspiring and enlightening this year, Andrew, and I look forward to seeing more. This picture of your grandmother is very dear.

  8. Thoughtful and insightful. Old age is not funny and it worries me a great deal even though I still up and “running” just not as fast as I’d like. The elderly are a huge problem in many societies and it is here is the US as well. Some care homes are ok and some or not ok. If you have the money then your care is good. Most people don’t have the money.

    Wonderful photo of your maternal grandmother. She looked happy and well in that photo.

    The photo of the old lady and the young girl/woman is typical of how younger people often view the elderly. Total disdain and not realizing that they too will one day look like the old lady. That photo really pains me for it speaks volumes. Believe me as someone who has spent years studying facial expressions since it was pretty much a part of my job in psychiatry. Facial expressions seldom lie.

    Happy Christmas to you and Ms Ha.

  9. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful piece. It is sad that these old folks’ home are in such conditions and that the care-taking doesn’t seem to be regarded as a well-respected job (at least not well paid enough to attract other qualified individuals). I’m sure that most elderly folks who are alone would appreciate someone taking the time to chat with them.

    Lovely picture of your grandma and happy holidays to you and your family too!

  10. Love the portrait of grandma. She lives in memory — not a bad place to animate.

    As for the walking woman, I’ll give you the child-of-poverty street-boy analysis: She’s perusing the bag in the elderly woman’s hands, an automatic response to potential prey. Nothing of philosophy in her eyes. An instant calculation of potential gain and loss.

  11. Very thoughtful piece Andrew, and photo. I wonder if the girl, subconsciously is thinking, will I be that old? I remember turning 64 and remembering the old Beatles song.
    With a globalized economy many families are scattered now and there is not even the opportunity for caring for our elder relatives with visits or shared residences.
    It is a looming crisis both economic and social.
    It is also a disgrace that we, in ‘civilized’ wealthy societies, do so little for our valuable seniors. We used to value their knowledge, experience and wisdom, we now see only burden.
    Thanks for raising these thoughts at this season.
    Blessed Christmas to you and your family Andrew, with thanks for your posts this last year. I hope we will have long exposure to your talents, and enjoy the great depth of field of your enquiry.

    • Thank you Rod. What scares me about the crisis is simply the scale of it. And of course I fear being one of the uncared for.

      You have given us much fun and food for thought this year Rod. I wish you and your family, near and far a joy-filled Christmas. I guess you will be working on the 25th?

      • Thank you Andrew. Actually I have the 25th off – seems like the church is about the only operation that actually closes on Christmas Day these days – strange world.
        Actually we celebrate the birth of Christ late on Christmas Eve – following the Jewish understanding of day. The day ends at sun-down and the new day starts. So after dark Christmas Eve can be counted as Christmas Day – I know the church can rationalize many things, but we get to home with family on the 25th 🙂

  12. I like the photos. So many of our older relatives seemed to suffer from bronchitis. I am sure there is a reason but I am not feeling bright enough to come up with a sensible hypothesis right now.

    Older people always get my sympathy and not just because I’ll end up being a solitary old woman – assuming I live that long. In the health service we often spoke about the single old people living in quite posh houses, and yet, they were cash poor and couldn’t afford to heat them, keep up to them or even eat particularly well. Why didn’t they sell them you may ask? Maybe they didn’t want to give up their past. Who knows?

    I await the return of the workhouse myself. As the working age in the UK continues to increase towards 100, I assume people will be forced to work until they drop and if they can’t get paid employment, some bright spark will announce the idea of a house where you get food and lodging in return for work.

    Sad times when we can’t look after our older people. That’s one reason I am fond of my Spanish neighbours, the two 80-year-olds always have someone around or to call on. Even us from time to time!

    Seasons greetings to you too.

    • And to you and Partner, Kate. A rising retirement age will not just affect the UK, I suspect it is going to be a much wider phenomenon. And on that cheery note…….

  13. Thank you for that. Some very poignant photographs. There are more lonely and old people on their own than ever, it is very worrying and very sad.. Although it does not solve the problem, I heard our local primary school arranged for the children each to write a Christmas poem, draw a picture and decorate the envelope. Each envelope has been delivered to an elderly person in the community living on their own. I happen to know it has brought many a smile to many a face.This simple gesture works on so many levels.
    Happy Christmas to you and your family. Keep that shutter snapping.

    • Thank you Geoff. Small gestures such as that of the children sending poems are I am sure appreciated more than they can ever understand.

      Best wishes to you and the family and I look forward to a photo-filled 2014. My goal is more quality, less quantity!

I'd be delighted to hear what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s