We’re 54 years apart, Alan and I. You might assume the generational differences would stop us from understanding one another, almost as if there were a persistent white noise in the background. But there are countless moments when we forget our age gap – when we are debating our favourite-flavour muffin (chocolate vs. poppy seed), or listening to each other’s deeper anxieties.
Alan has navigated many dark moments over his 86 years. He has no family, so he struggles with the lack of human conversation. This was compounded by a femur operation he underwent in April and by technology replacing face-to-face socialising.
In fact, tech is Alan’s biggest source of worry – so I decided to help boost his confidence. “What’s the flashing vertical bar?” he asked once during a Google search. It was humbling to realise how much I’d taken my knowledge for granted. The answer was the cursor.
Occasional confusion aside, Alan’s gratitude and humour never wane: “I think you should make yourself a stiff drink now, Zoë,” he chuckled at the end of one email-troubleshooting call.
In the time we’ve been speaking, he’s learned how to watch a YouTube video, access his Facebook account and find information online. Ashamedly, prior to signing up, I doubted whether I could spare 30 minutes a week to speak to a senior citizen. We speak for two hours a week now because the reality is that it’s a privilege to be able to make such a difference to the older generation.
It’s not a one-way thing, however. The stories – about his time as bandsman in the army, how he’d sneak out at night to go lindy hop dancing in the 1950s and his journey of self-exploration after the suicides of his two children – are both uplifting and inspiring. That’s not to mention Alan’s impressive morning routine of weights and Pilates; he’s my Mr Motivator, if you will.
Voicing our friendship on the Power of Us podcast cemented my appreciation for dear Alan. Despite society’s systemic disregard for the elderly, his own personal adversity and the pandemic, Alan’s positive outlook shines through: “I feel very fortunate because I’ve got my car and a pension,” he often says.
Alan and I have a profound connection regardless of age, and that’s probably why after our second call he said we were soul buddies. So, when he thanks me after every phone call, I remind him that he is a source of immeasurable wisdom and comfort – and all older people should be reminded of that.
The Power of Us
Building greater, more sustainable economic growth can improve the lives of everyone in the UK.
This is the goal of inclusive capitalism: using money and investment as a force for good, to create real jobs and better infrastructure to transform the UK’s cities and towns and tackle the biggest issues of our times such as housing, climate change and ageing demographics.
It’s something businesses, communities and individuals can all get behind and work together to achieve – and it’s why Telegraph Spark has teamed up with Legal & General for The Power of Us, a campaign that aims to identify the challenges facing society, then use some of the UK’s brightest, most innovative thinkers to help solve them.
The Power of Us: the future is in your hands.