I’ll admit it. I’m reaching middle age. My knees hurt a little, and all the camerawork for Dateline over the last decade has taken its toll on my lower back.
My mum, bless her dear departed soul, used to often say ‘my bones creak’. I always thought she was kidding in some way. I now know she was not. My bones, they creak.
Suffice to say that I am probably at the perfect age to glean a great deal from a little visit to Humanitas – that pioneering residence of intergenerational living, situated in a gorgeous little medieval town just outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Humanitas is unlike any place you’ve ever been I suspect. At least that was certainly true for me, and over the years Dateline has sent me to an awful lot of places.
The place just has this quiet warmth about it and the normalities of age don’t seem to apply for some reason – young or old.
The best dancer I met was 84-years-old. The dirtiest old-fellow-sense-of-humour I encountered was from a very proper looking 21-year-old.
Kids play shuffleboard; octogenarians play beer pong. Youngsters and seniors display acts of friendship, intimacy and conversational candour that may simply not exist elsewhere.
In short: everyone talks about sex – a lot.
Perhaps my favourite of the many many ribald sexual conversations I overheard between a twenty-something and a ninety-something involved the retelling of a recent ménage-a-trois that had been successfully attempted by the dashing young man.
The ninety-something woman looked starry eyed, without a hint of judgement but simply pure wonderment – such things were just not possible seven decades ago in the same little stone walled apartments of Deventer.
'Such freedom to adventure' were the words spelled out in the syntax of chuckles, gasps, and approving smiles that accompanied her rapt attention.
What actually fascinated me was that this same woman told me that she no longer had any use for love. She had married very young, and had a large family, and a husband who she co-habitated with, but never accompanied on adventures of any sort.
Love was for stories, and she wanted to hear as many as she could. It stirred something in her that I suspect she had promised herself would never again be stirred.
It would be easy to dismiss this sort of thing as libidinous gossip, and it certainly was. But the truth is that the friendships that have evolved at Humanitas do seem to awaken something in both the young and the old who live there.
The young move slowly and more attentively through their bustling world. The elder residents have fresh stories to share, and an endless barrage of questions about the changing world outside the old medieval walls of Deventer.
It’s a lovely place. You should visit if you’re ever passing through Deventer.
Tell Mrs Hofsteede that I sent you.
See the full story, My 93-year-old Flatmate: