Out with the Old and in with the New?

Updated: Jun 8, 2018

Gillian Dalley, Summer 2018

We’re told that it’s good to move on, don’t live in the past and keep up with the times and I’ve been trying to observe that maxim. To that end, I started on the cupboard in my study this morning – planning to clear shedloads of files dating back some 20 years and more. But it turned out to be less a salutary and invigorating exercise and more a bittersweet angst-laden encounter between past and present. It made me sit down and think hard.

I’d forgotten how experienced – and even competent – I had been in my earlier life. The realisation came as a surprise. Although I’ve written my CV many times, rehearsing the catalogue of posts I’ve held, the lists of articles, reports and books I’ve written, and organisations I’ve worked for, I’ve never really dwelt on their significance as a record of a ‘career’. But coming across the written record of those times now made me see things rather differently. The hard evidence – the research papers and other publications, the minutes of countless meetings chaired or attended, all types of other work-related ephemera – sat there in sealed boxes waiting to be shredded. While I had remembered much of it in the abstract, the detail surprised me. Reading some of it now, 20 years on, I confess I was impressed. What – me? I asked.

But that led to greater reflection. I realised it’s been a part of me that I’d consigned to the back of my memory – perhaps associated with the growing public invisibility that most women in their seventies experience (and writing those words now alerts me to this absence of a presence). Those younger than us are unaware of our past, our experience, our views, our value. We are started on the slope to oblivion, unable or unwilling to knock sharply on the table and say – hang on! stop! listen to us – our lives may have something to tell you and our knowledge and insight may be useful! Scientific progress may be built by standing on the shoulders of giants according to Newton – but, who knows, at a less exalted level, even on the bent backs of old women.

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