Remembrance Sunday: A chance to celebrate the contributions of older citizens

We need to celebrate their successes, not patronize them

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The Independent Online

Apparently, I need to be a little more upbeat after last week’s column; “brighten the (i-reading) public’s mood a little”. Thank you, reader Matt Simmons for the suggestion. I do miss the daily interaction with readers since passing the i editor’s baton to the talented Mr Duff – although we can still ‘chat’ on twitter.

Well, I’m in an upbeat mood, despite getting soaked to the skin on Saturday, this getting dark at 4pm nonsense, and the arrival of Christmas ads season. What’s buoying me in the weight of so much obvious provocation? It’s partly how much more inspiring, important, and uplifting I find the Remembrance Sunday commemorations each year.

However, what’s cheered me most was a tiny nugget of information I gleaned about the magnificent Andrea Camilleri. If you have never read one of the Sicilian author’s novels, or watched the television adaptation of Inspector Montalbano, his most famous character, you are missing out. The books are intriguingly plotted but laugh-out-loud entertaining; and the TV series is blissful escapism, transporting viewers to the southern Mediterranean, a world where lunch with white wine on Enzo’s terrace stops for no crime investigation. Yes, I know the women are either vamps with red lipstick, skin-tight dresses and full cleavage or slightly frumpy, mothers, but it’s Sicily, and not a million miles from what you see there!

The nugget about Camilleri, who had been a stage and television director, is that he was 53 when his first novel was published, to almost universal lack of interest, and 69 before the first Montalbano appeared. Those novels have now sold more than 10 million copies around the world and the television series, which ended its BBC4 run on Saturday, airs from Australia to the United States.

Camilleri is now an award-winning, acclaimed octogenarian, admiringly caricatured in the Italian media as a rasping-voiced, chain-smoking curmudgeon. The real-life town in which the series is set, Porto Empedocle, even formally added the fictional “Vigata” to its name to cash in on some of the tourist Euros the series’ popularity brings. Camilleri is still going strong.

That’s the smile that came to me as I watched the Remembrance Day coverage and heard young people observe how amazing the elderly gents (and ladies) looked, all spruced-up and shiny-shoed. Why the amazement? Yes, they all have so much in their past for which we should be grateful, but we still have such a dismissive attitude towards what older people can do today in our present, and in the future. We need to celebrate the successes and contributions of older citizens not patronize them. We should be motivated by their achievements. So, here’s to you, Signore Camilleri, an inspiration to us all.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live @stefanohat