Changes (1)

A while ago a colleague of mine, Myra Giesen, pointed out to me that the body changes and therefore the relationship between our bodies and our material environment changes with age too. I saw a couple of instances of this playing out in practice recently during visits to Beamish Open Air Museum.

The first was during a reminiscence session. The old lady had shown an interest in the iron sitting on the range. Of course, cast iron irons are heavy things and the lady no longer had the strength in her hands and arms to lift it as she once might (more likely, as she might once have seen her mother doing). I took the opportunity to lift the iron and hold it so that she might take hold of it without taking its weight. “That’s cheating”, she said.

In another session, some unfinished proggy mats and proggers were left out at the organiser’s request. One of the ladies had, in the past, been an expert proggy mat maker. She had a go but, as she commented a few times, she had gout in her hands and she didn’t have the strength to force the progger through the hessian. What did she draw from the experience? The discussion was quietly and tactfully moved on.

Occasionally, I go to Beamish with my family for a day out (rather than for work). During our visit we rode on one of the double-decker trams. As I sat on the hard wooden seat I noticed that the elderly couple in front of me took up rather more width than the notionally 2-person seat allowed. This became a theme for discussion amongst other passengers. 2 older ladies on the other side of the aisle struck up a conversation about how they found that they kept putting on weight recently without really understanding why and how they too were once like the skinny young women they could see around them. Another lady commented, as she walked down the aisle to get off the tram, that she was obviously a lot thinner when she first used these trams. For these ladies the tram seemed to be less an experience of how things once were but how they are now different.

About Bruce Davenport

Research associate at Newcastle University. Previously a museum educator and researcher.
This entry was posted in ageing, embodiment, museums, Objects. Bookmark the permalink.

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