A Ceremony to Honour Later Life in Horsham District

Horsham Circle of Life Festival, Opening Celebration -May 28th

It was at a meeting at the Drill Hall last autumn that the then, chairman of Age UK Horsham, Denis Cummins asked the question: ‘Has anyone got any ideas as to how we can ‘Celebrate Later Life in Horsham District?’ I put my hand up and the opening ceremony for Horsham Circle of Life Festival was the result. The week-long Festival was opened by Cllr. Kate Rowbottom and the afternoon included music, song and story-telling to feed the soul, also the following ceremony, led by Jean Francis – OneSpirit Interfaith minister.

‘Today, we are gathered, to honour and acknowledge ‘Later Life in Horsham District.’ I would like to recall some of the pearls of wisdom that have been shared with me, while collecting ideas for this ceremony.


I Googled:  ‘What is an elder’ and the answer came up: ‘An elder is someone who has earned respect from their community for their wisdom and knowledge.’


‘Most elders within our community will have experienced birth, life and death in many shapes and forms during their lifetimes. Many will have left school at an early age, going straight into the workplace, often carrying out hard manual labour, to help support their families. Many youngsters were evacuated; people went to war; in many cases resulting in hardship and health challenges. Women fought for the vote and were pioneers in bringing about changes for women’s rights. I would also like to honour those who have witnessed and adapted to huge social changes in their lifetime, in an effort to make the world a safer and better place for the generations to come.’

‘I asked, a number of people the question, ‘What advice would you pass on to others, based on your experience of having lived a long and hopefully fruitful life?’

• ‘I asked, 105 year old Vi Slark who lived in a nursing home, this question many years ago. I will never forget this amazing woman – she said: ‘When I go to bed, I plan exactly what I’ll do next day, whether it be to walk to the end of the corridor on my Zimmer frame, write a letter or poem, or maybe do some embroidery.  Oh and to find the light side of life, that is probably the most important point tip I can offer. Vi gave me words, written in her own tiny and beautiful handwriting. It seems appropriate that we hear the words today in her memory as they reflect her infectious humour.’


Susie reads:  ‘What Are Seniors Worth?’

‘Remember, old folk are worth a fortune,
With silver in their hair – gold in their teeth, stones in their kidneys, lead at their feet and gas in their stomachs.
I have become a little older since I saw you last and a few changes have come into my life frankly, I have become a frivolous old girl. I’m seeing four gentlemen every day.
As soon as I wake up Will Power helps me out of bed.
Then Arthur Ritis shows up and stays for the rest of the day. He doesn’t like to stay in one place very long, so he takes me from joint to joint.
After such a busy day I’m really tired and glad to go to bed with Johnny Walker. What a life! Oh yes. I’m also flirting with Al Zymer.
PS: The preacher came to call the other day. He said at my age I should be thinking about the hereafter.’
I told him that I do, all the time, no matter where I am. In the living room, upstairs, the study or the kitchen, I always ask myself: what am I here after?’
‘Then I asked more people a similar question: ‘What is your recipe for a long and hopefully active life?

• Mary Greening replied: ‘Curiosity and Margaret Moor said downright nosiness.
• I read the following on Age UK’s Facebook page and I quote:  Flossie Lewis says she’s 91 years old and badly crippled. But just because her body is starting to go doesn’t mean her personality or character should. Taking walks, watching politics and writing a little light verse help keeps her as optimistic now as she was at 15.
• Born in 1914, Kathleen Simms credited her secret to a long life to her ‘feisty attitude.’
• Nancy Clay was 101 when I asked her: ‘What is your recipe for a long and active life?’ ‘Have a daily challenge, she replied cheerfully, ‘I knit at least one square a day and when I pass away I intend to be wrapped in the rug I’m working on at the moment. I really must get on dear!’
• Hilda Craven, when asked the same question, said: ‘Fresh air and activity in the great outdoors is my recommendation.
• Phill, who sadly passed away last month at the age of 94, said: ‘A long and healthy life is all to do with being lucky enough to have healthy genes. ‘And he proved it, until the very end.
• I couldn’t resist including this comment I read in the County Times: When a gentleman was asked: ‘What is the best thing about being 104 years old?’ He replied: ‘There’s no peer pressure!’
• Kevin answered my question with: ‘I was brought up in the war, I learned to be thrifty, we wasted nothing and everything was a challenge, we re-used and re-cycled.’
I too remember gas masks and ration books and feel delighted that we are’ as a nation, being encouraged to re-cycling and re-use once again.
I’m sure this will bring back memories for a few of us.’


Christopher reads: ‘The Green Thing.’

‘At the supermarket checkout, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.
The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.” The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.” He was right — our generation didn’t have The Green Thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Western Australia. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled fountain pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one power point in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?’
As I asked the question: ‘What are your tips for a long and happy marriage? I was all too aware that there are many people not lucky enough to still have a partner at their side. Many people, who no doubt felt their lives had ended, have found meaningful ways and the strength to re-build a new way of life. We honour and admire their courage.’

• ‘Norman and Freda who celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary this year, answered my question unanimously: ‘Give and take.’
• Ron and Joyce Fletcher have been married for 53 years. When asked said: ‘Our joint faith.’
• Geri Williams answered my question with a chuckle: ‘Instead of having a row with my husband, I walk away, pick up the phone and let rip to my best friend.’
• Never go to bed on a squabble and know when to shut up was the answer Freddie offered as May nodded in agreement!
The other day I took a close look at a tea towel I was given, probably about ten years ago. It is now thread bare and the words almost undistinguishable because it has been washed so many times. Once I’d managed to decipher the words hey confirm that we have been witness to so many changes:’

Susie reads: ‘We are the Survivors.’

‘We were born before television, before penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods
Xerox, contact lenses, videos and the pill.  We were before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ball point pens, before dishwashers, tumble driers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip dry clothes….and before man walked on the moon.
We got married first and then lived together (how quaint can you be?) We thought ‘fast food’ was what you ate in lent, a ‘Big Mac’ was an oversized raincoat and ‘crumpet’ we had for tea.  We existed before house husbands, computer dating and ‘sheltered accommodation’ was where you waited for a bus.
We were before day centres, group homes and disposable nappies.  We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, artificial hearts, word processors, or young men wearing earrings.  For us ‘time sharing meant togetherness, a chip was a piece of word or a fried potato, ‘hardware’ meant nuts and bolts and ‘software’ wasn’t a word.
Before 1940 ‘Made in Japan’ meant junk, the term ‘making out’ referred to how well you did in your exams, ‘stud’ was something that fastened a collar to a shirt and ‘going all the way’ meant staying on a double decker bus to the terminus.
In our day, cigarette smoking was ‘fashionable’, ‘grass’ was mown, ‘coke’ was kept in the coalhouse, a ‘joint’ was a piece of meat you ate on Sundays and ‘pot’ was something you cooked in. Rock music’ was a fond mother’s lullaby,
‘Eldorado’ was an ice cream, a ‘gay person’ was the life and soul of the party, while ‘aids’ just meant beauty treatment or help for someone in trouble.
We who were born before 1940 must be a hardy bunch when you think of the way in which the world has changed and the adjustments we have had to make.
No wonder there is a generation gap today – BUT  we have survived’

‘Having listened to those words it occurs to me that the tea towel is out of date already, no mention of ; mobile phones, on-line banking, information at the touch of a button,
I would like to offer you a few words to finalise this ceremony?’

‘May today, there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others.  May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are.  Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us. Thank you.’