In times past – the 19th century for example – a well bred girl’s two options of work were often to be either a governess or a companion to an elderly woman. And in the 20th century you still had the heroine of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca start out as the companion of a rich old lady on the Riviera. But nowadays, you’d have thought, no one would willingly admit they lacked company – and yet the companion seems to be coming back.
Women tend to live longer than men. Families don’t always go on living in the same place. A lack of company is often the worst of getting old. It sounds better, of course, if the employed friend is called a secretary or an assistant (and if the need is really considerable the older woman may need a carer – which is not the same thing).
There are various arrangements entailing swapping a decent living space for a hard-up youngster who is good company. But surely a youngster would not have the same tastes and preoccupations as a bored senior? Maybe not, but there is one way in which the very difference in age may make such an arrangement vital in a way it never was before. The young person, with any luck, will have the entire universe of the internet – emails, Skype with distant offspring, Amazon and smart phones – at her finger tips and broaden granny’s horizon to a fantastic extent.
It does not quite fulfil the dream of whoever said that a teenager should be given away with every computer, but it could still help some seniors actually enjoy being dragged into the 21st century.