My mother has recently been reading Team of Rivals, the biography of Abraham Lincoln written by US author Doris Kearns Goodwin. The heavyweight tome was an acclaimed bestseller and followed an earlier biography of Franklin D and Eleanor Roosevelt which won Kearns Goodwin the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 and which my mother has also read.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” Ma said, “if Doris came here to give a lecture? I’d love to hear her talk in person.” And then she laughed at the absurd notion of a presidential historian and Harvard PhD turning up in a small corner of the Midlands where award-w
inning, internationally celebrated writers are few and far between, despite the frequency of the bus service.
But five minutes later, after a swift search on the internet, we had the next best thing. There was Kearns Goodwin in our kitchen or rather on YouTube delivering a 20-minute lecture in 2008 to a gathering of intellectuals in California about what the world can learn from American presidents past.
She spoke with great insight and authority, as you’d expect, but also humour and warmth about Abraham Lincoln, how he revived a faltering political career to win an against-the-odds election victory and how his love of English literature shaped both his thinking and his oratory.
It was a vivid example of how the internet can instantly expand one’s horizons and my mother was delighted by the experience, all the more so because, like a sizeable portion of her generation, she is not an internet user; as many as 6m Britons over 65 find the internet a mystery.
The Kearns Goodwin YouTube performance has given her a taste of the possibilities now but I’ll also be pointing her in the direction of our feature on p17 about Race Online, the national campaign to encourage more people – of all ages – to use the internet with help from their peers.
It includes one 105-year-old who has recently discovered how, from tracing old friends to rediscovering favourite bands of the past, the internet can enrich your life in any number of ways.
Talking of rich lives, Joan Bakewell’s has been as exciting as it has been fulfilling, so far. One of the generation of women journalists who broke through into a male-dominated world in the 1960s, she has maintained a high-profile media career into her eighth decade, despite the industry’s obsession with youth. Yet even Dame Joan has bumped up against ageism professionally, as she tells interviewer Maureen Paton on p5: “The only people over 70 on TV now are David Dimbleby, Bruce Forsyth and David Attenborough.”
Meanwhile, if you’re one of the millions staycationing this summer – or just looking for a day out – take a look at our centre pages where you’ll find a wealth of ideas. They include the annual Isle of Wight Garlic Festival where among the attractions there’s a garlic beer.
That’s one thing the internet has yet to crack, of course: smell . . .