New Internationalist

Editor’s Letter.

February 1995

with attitude


My great-aunt Marjorie celebrates her 100th birthday this month. It seems more than chance that she and I have both been writing and thinking about ageing at the same time. Marjorie has just written and published her memoirs, and I have been working on this magazine. Marjorie’s story covers things which for me are just part of history – and dim and distant history at that. She writes of Queen Victoria’s funeral procession, the end of the Boer War, the outbreak of the First World War. She writes too of the days before cars or aeroplanes, of travelling around in ‘dogcarts’ and carriages.

Nikki van der Gaag Her life has been rich and varied, but perhaps the most astonishing thing about it for me has always been her refusal to let age stop her doing what she wanted.

As a young woman, she was educated in South Africa, and came back to England to be trained as a singer. During the Second World War she worked in a munitions factory. Then, like so many women, she became a ‘carer’ and looked after her ailing mother for many years.

When her mother died, Marjorie was already in her sixties. But a different kind of life then opened up for her. She took a Landrover by boat to South Africa and drove it, sometimes accompanied, sometimes alone, to Zambia. There she met and later married my great-uncle. During the following 20 years they travelled extensively – often camping in a tent. She rode a camel and an elephant for the first time in her seventies, and when they subsequently ‘retired’, it was to found a church in Spain. My memory of them there as a child is of climbing the mountain behind their home and struggling to keep up as they strode on ahead.

My great-uncle is now dead and Marjorie lives on her own in Surrey, having returned to the UK shortly after her 90th birthday. She cannot now do all the things she would like as her eyesight is not good and she is physically frail. But she maintains a sense of humour about the whole business of ageing. On her failing sight: ‘There are advantages even in having bad eyesight. If I could see, then I would have to look at myself in the mirror every day. And I would see that I was nearly 100. As I don’t feel any different than I did when I was younger I think this would be quite a shock!’ Lack of sight does not prevent her continuing interest in what goes on in the world, and she is often more up-to-date than I am.

I am sorry that her eyesight means she will not be able to see this issue. In it we unveil a new NI Interview section and Alan Hughes has redesigned the magazine to give it a fresh look. It seems rather appropriate that an issue on the old should be the first to have a new design.

But at least Marjorie will be able to hear it on tape. She has dedicated her book ‘To the next generation’. I would like to dedicate this magazine to her.

Nikki's signature

Nikki van der Gaag
for the New Internationalist Co-operative

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

This feature was published in the February 1995 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 264

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