Conway (2003) 'Ageing and Imagined Community: Some
Cultural Constructions and Reconstructions'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/2/conway.html>
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Received: 29/10/2001 Accepted: 7/5/2003 Published: 31/5/2003
It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the images of their communion. (Anderson 1983: 15)
Heritage has a habit of creating symbols that render otherwise disparate phenomena self- evidently related. Indeed, some would aver that this is precisely its function: to invent a strong, shared sense of 'imagined community' where history reveals little concrete evidence. (Blaikie 1999: 151)
it is possible to understand modern society as comprising a series of small nationalistic communities. Organisations, institutions, schools, firms, factories, businesses, are all microcosmic nations, competing with each other, demanding allegiance and a degree of self-sacrifice, and offering, in a small way, the promise of ordinary heroism, and a fictive immortality in their continuation beyond the limits of individual biography. (Seale 1998: 56-7)
The persistence . . . of the 'sentimentalized death of the other' which . . . assimilated the monumentalizing aspect of early industrial attitudes to death to a romantic sensibility, has provided the funeral business with its principal opportunities for profit and growth . . . The genius of which is to perpetuate the memoralizing impulse . . . while simultaneously catering for the opposite wish to put death and the dead out of mind . . . Hence [American] burial grounds as huge but beautiful parks, with markers flush with the grass so that the eye of the visitor is not distracted by morbid signs. Hence too, the persuasive rhetoric of grief therapy, which rationalizes and shapes the memorial vocabulary as a controlled abreaction scientifically designed to get the grieving over their grief so that normal life can resume. Hence finally, embalming . . . temporarily preserving and beautifying the corpse and providing the bereaved with a 'memory picture' . . . of the deceased in pleasant repose, as both happy in death and irrevocably gone.
'I had looked after people for so long. I'd done a lot of caring for other people. Anyhow, I do a lot of charity work. I help people and I do charity work . . . I go to hospital [to befriend patients and families] '
No, my mother used to run lots of charity events for people in need, and we used to have garden parties . . . We used to do all sorts of things. We used to have whist drives, bridge drives [sounded like] . . . You name it, we did it. As mother got older I took more and more control . . . fashion shows . . . Oh, we had wonderful things as a family. We raised about £15,000 [in 1943].
' a bit of good news instead of all this bad news . . . it makes me so depressed . . . when I live on my own. When you have got somebody to talk to and you thresh it out. Well, THAT'S THAT. But, I mean, when you live on your own, it really affects you.'
Yes, the times in which we live. ((pause)) I am too old for the times in which we live. I was saying this to a fellow across the way the other day. He said: 'well, I can give you forty years my dear, and I'm too old for the times in which we live'. ((laughs)) No, not nice at all. I mean, you have to lock your doors as if you live in Fort Knox. Well, my next door neighbour [an older person] was burgled.
It's a spiritual thing. It's your spirit calling to another spirit . . . I had the most enormous experience. I mean, it was there and it was gone. The veil moved aside for a split second . . . It was a lovely summer's afternoon . . . and I just looked up and it was a wonderful experience . . . The feeling that I had seen a little bit behind the veil.
No, I don't need anybody else, thank you very much . . . I have got a wonderful book by Dr Clare Weeks on self-help for your nerves; she was on TV. After her first talk on TV she received 1200 letters from sufferers . . . [these and the other books she reads are] wonderful; filled with such confidence and encouragement.
All me spare time, days off, even mornings off duties I got stuck into the gardens, because I loved gardening. And I made a really good job of it. In fact, I was complimented two or three times from the offices about what a difference I had made to it . . . I was on top of the world. I couldn't have felt better.
Mr Jones: Well, you were meeting different people, coming up for MOT'S and that. Well, I just used to check the oil and the tyres, see if the lights were alright and, err, braking lights, you know? Generally messing about. Cleaning garage up, sweeping up and all that kind of thing. Anything to fill me time in . . . I really enjoyed it and I was there for nearly thirteen years.
SC: Thirteen years?
Mr Jones: Oh aye.
SC: Did you get paid for that, then?
Mr Jones: NO, NO, NO, NO . . . He offered, but it was . . . just something to do . . . I was meeting different people, mekin meself useful to someone and payment didn't enter into it.
SC: Was it a big shock when you stopped work?
Mr Collins: No, it was a delight. I retired early [at sixty-three] because . . . these idiots . . . were telling me how to do a job that I had started thirty years earlier. I had the prospects of having a major barny by half past eight every morning. So I said on the Monday early retirement, and on the Friday I left. They were as glad to be shot of me, as I was to leave . . . the young idiots they brought in . . . this is industry today though, isn't it. This is why things are in such a state.
Mr Collins: The thing is you can't take any notice of expert advice about this sort of stuff because they are all contradictory. One bloke says do this, eat that, and another bloke says don't.
Mr Collins: The thing is if you tried to do a comparison with people our age then you can't because they are all dead. ((laughs)) You can't do that so we must be alright. ((laughs))
________________ SC: How would you like to die?
Mrs Collins: I wouldn't.
Mr Collins: Not yet I think - with a smile on your face. ((laughs))
SC: What do you think makes you the way you are now, then?
Mr Collins: Well, I had a good Victorian upbringing by me mother, which meant that when you met a lady on the street you tipped your hat, and said good morning . . . Now I wear a soft felt cap and I still tip my hat to the ladies. I get a right riling by certain people, and it doesn't bother me one haporth because my mother told me to do that; and please and thank you. She taught me to do all those sorts of things . . . I am still living under the good influence of my mother, you see.
Mrs Billington: I like Austria and I like Germany . . . That's were we go [for holidays] . . . and the people . . . I suppose again at my age, I like the old... I cling a bit to the old times . . . I like the values of the olden times better than I do today . . . in Austria and Germany . . . you could put your bag down and leave it for a week and come back and it would be there . . . and you just know what type of people they are . . . They are old world. They have a sense of value and . . . honesty which . . . we haven't got in this world today.
Mrs Billington: I had a lot of boyfriends. But no hanky panky. That was the difference between us lot and you lot. There was never any hanky panky with any of us. And that to me is where today's people slip up.
Take retirement, that's another thing that isn't a bit like you imagined. Everybody says: 'well that will be wonderful.' IT'S NOT WONDERFUL AT ALL, because you take yourself with you.
2 The conclusion and its sub-title are inspired by Blaikie's (1999) imaginative use of Kundera (1989).
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