John's 'glittering' career started when he became an assistant lecturer in Edinburgh University, back in 1964. It saw him specialise in Victorian fiction, write for The Guardian, publish 18 books, including' Last Drink to LA', a chronicle of his alcoholism and return to sobriety when he was 63 and his autobiography, 'The Boy Who Loved Books', when he was 69. John has now added 'The War on the Old' to his oeuvre, since he now believes : 'There's a secret war going on right now, in our midst. It's not between nations or classes, races or creeds. It's between generations — Young versus Old. The way I see it, a covert but State-condoned campaign is being waged against the nation's old people that amounts to nothing less than demographic cleansing.'
According to John, the weapons in this war are, at one level, attitudinal : 'the snarl, the snide, barely heard comment, the funny look. These days, I'm invisible when walking down a busy street. People bump into me and don't even register my mumbled protest.' He thinks this is because women have no interest in him and by implication, any old men. At the same time other men, 'ever ready for combat' saw him as : 'no threat. A masculine zilch.' He felt that : 'This is how it must feel to be a ghost.'
Since a war has been declared on the old, there are casualties :
* the 850,000 dementia patients who face a 'care lottery' where many of them will be neglected.
* the thousands who have surgery cancelled at the last minute 'mainly operations for hip replacements and cataracts, the ones most common among the aged. Who cares about those old wrecks? Go to the end of the queue, old-timers.'
* the 40,000 hospital patients a year who have 'do not resuscitate' orders secretly imposed on them without their families ever being told. 'Sentenced to death in secret.'
* those who are mistreated in care homes.
* the more than a million old people getting no help at all for basic care, such as getting out of bed, going to the toilet, preparing food or taking medication.
In John's eyes this means old men and women in Britain 'are being neglected or institutionally abused, even dying, in large numbers, unnecessarily and wrongly.' In fact, he believes that they are the victims of such systemic negligence — 'negligence so widespread that, common sense suggests, there must be an official policy behind it. A canny affirmative wink. Someone, somewhere, means it.' He calls it 'un-care' which is ''officially sanctioned. Malpractice, outright abuse and thoughtless neglect' which is, at best. the result of 'covertly sanctioned indifference' and at worst 'a clandestine policy of constructive negligence.'
John is fighting back and urges other old men to do the same and offers them some tips as they prepare for battle with the proviso : 'Your cerebral cortex will follow your biceps. But both can, to some extent, be preserved in good shape. The best advice from doctors is: 'What's good for the heart is good for the head.' :
* eat properly by cutting down on eating red meat, bumping up your intake of vegetables and fruit; avoiding salt and smoking.
* join a gym that emphasises body strength, not athletic fitness and exercise either there or on dance floors, which have a preponderance of younger members and avoid joining a clique with other old people.
* 'Get a dog to walk: It's not really 'exercise', but it is therapeutically de-stressing. And dogs love you unconditionally.'
* don't be palmed off with a quickly prescribed pill, because among the caring and curing professions there is often an unspoken sense that 'you've had a good run, time to let things take their course'. So, politely insist on prophylactic and diagnostic screening.
* never accept being categorised as 'seniors', 'the aged', 'the elderly' since 'such homogenisations are often no more than packaging, all the better to dispose of you.'
* avoid retirement, since it it is very hard to work yourself to death, but relatively easy to retire yourself to death. So something, gainful or voluntary, to fill the empty hours.
* be selfish and, if you are well-off, realise your assets and don't piddle them on the young.
John concludes : 'All these tips are things I have picked up from personal experience, observation and reading in the fight against what is being done to those at my time of life. Do all these things and, with luck, you'll emerge from this war in good shape. For as long as you're lucky enough to last.'