With adverts for graduate schemes piling high in my inbox, I can’t help but feel the pressure to start carving my career, to walk the well-trodden path of many university students that begins with my move to the big city, and ends up at successful settled suburban life when I hit my thirties. And although I know there’s little chance that I’ll buck the trend and leave Cambridge to live in a commune for the rest of my days, there’s a large part of me that wants to rebel against this expectation about what shape my life will take. The illusion of there being an ‘order’ that ought to be followed.
We’re so used to the idea that one’s in their prime during their twenties and thirties that we’re burdened with the belief that we may become a successful and enterprising individual now, or not at all. So many of history’s greats are celebrated because of their success in their early years: Mendelssohn composed his spectacular octet at 16, Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane at 25 and Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon aged 26. As a result, we mistakenly jump to the conclusion that geniuses and prodigies are one and the same.
But as Sigríður Níelsdóttir, an Icelandic gran and the star of the arthouse film Grandma Lo-fi proves, this is most definitely not the case. At the tender age of seventy, Sigríður Níelsdóttir started recording and releasing her own music straight from her living room. Seven years later she had 59 albums to her name and more than 600 songs; an eccentric myriad of compositions mixing her pets purrs and coos, found toys, kitchen percussion and Cassio keyboards. Before long she became a cult figure in the Icelandic music scene. Grandma Lo-fi follows this funky lady over 8 years, capturing the most creative period of her life. A late bloomer, we might say, but only ‘late’ by our standards of what the right time for success is. Look around, and there are many whose main achievements come years later than is commonly expected: Julia Child didn’t start teaching cookery until nearly 40; Clint Eastwood directed his first film at 41 and Joseph Conrad barely spoke a word of English until he was 21 – he published his first work aged 37.
It’s understandable why this myth has developed – in a world which worships the supermum who has a fantastic career and can juggle three children, achieving ‘everything’ is certainly made easier when you reach for success in your early years. But as Sigríður Níelsdóttir shows, out twenties are not necessarily our only defining years, nor are we on a steady decline forever after. Our achievements come in all shapes and forms, and like Grandma Lo-fi, it would do us no harm to shake up the order in which we attain them.
Grandma Lo-Fi: the Basement Tapes of Sigríður Níelsdóttir will be shown tonight at 8pm on the roof of The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge as part of the Cambridge Film Festival. £10 concession tickets for students and picturehouse members.