STORIES FROM THE HILL 9: THE CENTENARIAN
There used to be a time when it was the homeless who would be labelled the “invisible” people who walked the streets of our towns and cities. Now, with the introduction of “The Big Issue,” they have a visible presence. This is certainly true of our beautiful city of Truro. Not all are like Nick in the photograph. Some others attract attention in the evening as they sit in a shop doorway or congregate in one of our parks, especially if they happen to be under the influence of alcohol or some other substance.
Today there is a much larger group of “invisible people” who barely get a passing glance. I am referring of course to the elderly – our supposed senior citizens. Remember when you were younger and you would give attractive members of the opposite sex “the eye?” You would hold your glance just that second or two longer than normal and, if you were courageous, break into a smile or raise an eyebrow of two. Or perhaps it was just me who did these things. Few of us look into the eyes of the aged.
Once you take the lump sum and run you become “yesterday’s (wo)man” – almost overnight. You’ve surrendered your position in the pecking order and lost your status. Notice I couldn’t bring myself to use the big “R” word. It takes some time to re-adjust to the new reality. Sadly our identities can be so wrapped up in our jobs and professions. I am relatively new to all this and, for the record, I wouldn’t return to the classroom for all the proverbial “tea in China.” I have happily moved on and am busy reinventing myself, thanks to my video production skills. I do wonder (and sometimes fear) what it will be like if and when I reach my 70s and 80s in this country of ours. Will I become a burden on my family and the state? We don’t happen to live in a culture where the accrued wisdom associated with age and experience is something to be prized, unlike some less “developed” societies.
Of course, if you make it to 100 years of age, not only do you receive a card from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, but also media interest. Why else, some might ask, would a Headmaster, his Alumni Relations Officer and a videographer traverse the country other than to pay a visit to a centenarian? Am I fast getting into dangerous territory here? I hope not. In deed this is simply not the case with us. Just explore the previous blogs in this series.
Valentine’s Day 2019 will now live long in the memory. I caught the 8:25am London-bound train from Truro station, was picked up by Nick and Nanci at Reading before being chauffeur-driven to Markyate on the old A5 road, outside St. Albans. There we met up with John Roser. John was on the Hill between 1928 and 1932, and went on to Latimer House in Fitzroy Square, London before making his way in the world as an engineer. John turned 100 back in September and still lives on his own. A carer calls once in the morning and again in the evening.
We were made aware by John’s son Colin, that John suffers from dementia and that we would have to play things by ear. Sadly John is no longer a hoarder and he has ditched a lot of his childhood possessions, including all but one photograph of him as a teenager. Having seen my mother go through the various stages of dementia, before going on to glory a couple of years ago at the age of 96, I had more than an inkling as to what to expect. So I left the interviewing to Nick Seward (Head Master) and Nanci Austin (Development and Alumni Relations) and took a backseat in the proceedings. I set up my iPhone and Zoom H4NPro field recorder and captured 50 minutes of pure gold.
Anyone who has lived with a dementia sufferer will appreciate some of the symptoms: snatches of recollected memories, repetition of stories and unfinished sentences. Yet, despite this, it was surreal being in the presence of a former pupil who could recall Mr Young our Founder. Who else is there still alive who can remember the “Chippy Dick” or would use the cricket term “ dolly-posh”. I confess to editing out one of John’s colonial phrases that I had not heard since my childhood, when he spoke about the visit of an overseas Christian missionary in the late 1920s.
I did a two hour video Life Story of my mother when she was in her 80s – well before the advanced stages of dementia had taken hold. Watching it again recently, I checked out some of the historic references that she made about her work with the MOD during WW2 and found her to be spot on. The same was true of John Roser when he spoke about wearing clogs as a child growing up in Yorkshire.
Once the footage was captured, I was quite nervous carrying my iPhone and accessories around London that evening – even when I was dining in the Italian restaurant “Bizzarro” with my son in Paddington. That place reminded me of the BBC drama series “Life on Mars (2006).” I kept my leather satchel very close at hand.
By the time I boarded the 11.45pm GWR sleeper back to Cornwall it was job done for both Nick and Nanci. For me it was half time. The post production stage is where the real work and magic takes place. Editing is 10% technical ability and 90% creativity. This particular edit was probably the most challenging that I have done in recent years. I would have you know that I always want my video interviewees to look and sound their very best. So I will endeavour to take out as many “umms” and “errs” as possible, remove any negative comments that might suggest low self esteem and add some pace and flow.
A couple of years ago I signed up for Paddy Bird’s mammoth “Inside the Edit,” online video editing course. It was a huge investment of my time and money. It ended up like being at Film School and was so rewarding. I learned all the tricks of the trade and how to finesse a rough edit. There is nothing worse in my book than jump cuts or the inappropriate and over-use of a dissolve. No one, except the young YouTubers, would choose to use them. I discovered that the astute use of B roll – using primary and secondary associations – can save the day. Too much B roll and it becomes wall paper. John Roser’s video project was especially challenging because I couldn’t use the “invisible thread” I normally employ owing to his dementia. I couldn’t set up the interview where I would ask a question and my interviewee would respond in a full sentence that incorporated the original question, that would later be edited out. Likewise we had to offer verbal as well as non verbal cues which were difficult to edit out in the final version. My goal is always to remove my voice from the finished work. After all, the video life story is not about me. The only time you will hear my voice is when I am conducting a YouTube Live interview, usually at a football stadium.
[To view some of the episodes from Steve Massey’s Life Story on Video, please click the “Ex Professional Footballers” tab on the navigation bar at the top of this page.]
Every Life Story I film is different but John Roser’s was unique, because of the milestone that he has now passed. “We all have a story to tell,” says the youthful and irreverent YouTuber Aiden Rule in the opening promo video on this website lifestoriesonvideo.com. This is particularly true for those of us who have retired. I wonder what stories the old lady lighting up on the bench could share to camera? I don’t suppose she will ever get that opportunity.
How many of you reading this blog have plans to write your memoirs /autobiography or commit your treasured memories to video for posterity? For those contemplating this as part of the legacy to your loved ones, might I suggest you do this well before receiving a card from the Palace?
John Roser’s Video
Next video: STORIES FROM THE HILL 10: TEDDIE