Men? Have your circumstances changed?

Valerie LipmanDr Valerie Lipman is Honorary Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. (553 words)

We don’t see much about the lives of older men in the field of social care. The focus tends to be on older women, partly because women’s life expectancy is longer and perhaps, because in the care field, women are more visible in the traditional care settings, such as day centres and care homes. Have your circumstances changed?’, a triptych of duets between an ageing man and a boy of about 10-12 years of age, stages the daily routine of a single older man.

The three short pieces, about 15 minutes each, are set in sequence in a kitchen, living room and bathroom, showing a different older man managing life on his own. The performance takes place in the windows of a former furniture shop in a former shopping mall in Islington, north London. There’s no dialogue but just a series of noises of daily living. In the kitchen the man accidentally tips his rice crispies all over the floor, the sink gurgles, he thumps his knife into an onion, and butter splutters in a frying pan on the cooker all against the background of Radio 2. In the living room the TV blares out quiz shows, football and the Generation Game. And in the bathroom we hear the toilet flush, medicines fall out of the cabinet and imagine the scraping of shaving and the sizzing of false teeth in the glass. Each of the men has been married, as illustrated by the wedding ring on the first man, a vase in the living room of the second man, which was a ruby wedding present, and a packet of sanitary towels found in the bathroom cabinet of the third. The presence of the young boy in each of the stories is intentionally ambiguous. He could be symbolising a care worker—helping with cooking and bathing in the first and third pieces respectively, and providing entertainment in the middle piece. Perhaps he’s the young version of the older man, or a witness to his own future? Or maybe he’s a magical vision who appears as and when needed, not planned for, but simply there to make life smoother and pleasanter?

Photo: Manuel Vason

Lu Kemp: Have Your Circumstances Changed? (2015). Photo: Manuel Vason

The play was put together by Artangel, an organisation that commissions and produces projects by contemporary artists and devised by director Lu Kemp. The story is drawn from the experiences of cookery classes for men over the age of 65. By the end of the course they’d learned to make an omelette. Support in older age is about helping people to continue their lives as well as possible in the face of rapid and never ending changes. A lot of this support in the current economic climate is about maintenance. It’s often not ‘care’. On the other hand ‘care’ in the sense in which it has come to be used, is often associated with the alleviation of worry, in that way in which people cock their head to one side when they ask ‘how are you?’. A semantic exercise about what to call ‘care’ and ‘support’ is not very useful given the enormity and growing needs at the current time. But perhaps we need to consider that whatever it is, it needs to ensure that things like empathy, thoughtfulness and attention are covered … with perhaps a sprinkling of magic to make one smile.

Dr Valerie Lipman is Honorary Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s.

About the show

Have Your Circumstances Changed? by Lu Kemp runs until 28 June 2015 at Former FADS shop, 2-3 Archway Mall, London N19 5RG.