Sunday 31 May 2009

Herne Bay - a place for the very young and the old

Sitting outside the ' Petit Poussin ' restaurant, in front of the Palace Pier in Herne Bay on the Kent coast, I observed the to and fro of visitors along the seafront - a number of children in push chairs guided by their parents and a number of old people in wheel chairs guided by their carers. Toddlers assisted in walking on their reins were matched by the elderly assisted in walking on their sticks.

A little further along the promenade the teenagers performing magical stunts on their bikes were matched by pensioners speeding along in their red, mechanised carts.

Forty years ago, I was a twenty year old student living in Hove on the Sussex coast. In those days I wrote the occasional piece of pretentious poetry, which in my vanity, I have preserved. The piece I wrote about the sunday seafront now seems apposite :

As long as a sunday sea
Soaps the beach Where whisky-scented anglers
Sit in hope.
A brigade of walking sticks
Will pass along the prom With gouty, varicose companions.

Sea gulls scream
At sadistic school boys'
Catapulted stones.
While hands which once
Would have intervened
Are now, pocket-deep,
A web of blue arthritic bones.

Unheard too
Those cold soliloquies.
Issued from loneliness
Carved in despair
Served in a whisper
And fed to the breeze.

The lines I wrote all those years ago are now rich in irony, since my sciatica may well necessitate me using a walking stick and falling in step with that brigade of walking sticks along the Herne Bay Sea front.

Friday 29 May 2009

The soothing balm of age

I have a theory that, if Britain was populated by only the very young and the very old, it would indeed, be a peaceful, country for old men.

I have reached this conclusion by observing Grannies and Grandads push granchildren in shopping trolleys around supermarkets, while the Mums and Dads are at work. I haven't once seen a child 'play up' a Grandparent.

I have a theory that the presence of the Grandparents puts the child in that same, 'calm, submissive state' which the 'Dog Whisperer' on T.V. achieves with his unruly charges in the canine kingdom.

This is frequently, not the case in other trolleys being pushed, by younger Mums and Dads. Here, screams and tantrums often abound.

The soothing balm of age

If you visit my local supermarket in the daytime, you could be forgiven for thinking that a large number of women over 60 have already had successful fertility treatmant. You might reach this assumption after seeing a number of them, often assisted by male partners, pushing pre-school children in shopping trolleys. Of course, this is granny and grandad looking after the grandchild or children, while Mum and Dad are at work. They are performing a useful social service and it is interesting to note that you never see the children play up,which is not the case in other trolleys, where young Mums have to deal with the screams and tantrums of their unruly youngsters. I think the presence of the elderly relative puts the child in, as the Dog Whisperer on T.V. would say, " a calm submissive state."

If Britain Britain was populated by only the old and very young, it would most cetainly be, a country for old men and a peaceful one at that.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Wembley Stadium - a safe place for older men

On Saturday I went by coach to Wembley Stadium with my wife and friends to watch Gillingham, our local football team play Shrewebury. I don't know much about football, but this was the 'League Two Final' and it meant the winning team would get to play better sides next season.
I counted the heads of 10 grey and/or balding men on our coach, about 20% of the passengers. Apparently, there were 38,000 Gillingham supporters in the Stadium. On the basis that 20% of them were old boys like me, there were 7,600 of us and who knows how many old boys at the Shrewsbury end.
It was a perfectly safe and peaceful environment. The game was good natured and Gillingham scored the winning and only goal when Simeon Jackson headed in the ball in the last 4 seconds of normal time. I clicked my digital camera and recorded the precise moment the ball went into the net. My friend Del Boy, who has supported
'The Gills' all his life, says I should send the picture to the Club, but make sure they know that I retain the copyright. I think I'll do just that.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Sad beard, black beard, grey beard, no beard.

I'd had a beard since my early twenties. It was composed of a lush, dark growth and fitted the 1970's. My first attempt at a moustache at the age of 19 had been a thin, blond affair. An attempt at the Mexican, 'Zapata' shape, which I'd tried to make more impressive by adding a little black, shoe polish.

Last year I shaved off the beard I'd had for 40 years, because I was convinced people made the assumption that men with grey beards were old men - at the margins - to be ignored. Am I right ? Do I have any evidence that I have become 'more prominent' and 'less invisible', without my beard ? This is difficult to measure. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that I 'think' I am less invisible.

When I was a student at university over 40 years ago, at 18, I grew my first beard. It was a thin, wispy affair, a pale imitation of the beard of the singer Manfred Mann. I very much admired the thick, black beard of a 17 year old student who, like me, was studying History. He came from Wales and after we became friends, he rather cruelly told me in his deep, Welsh voice : " John, that(pause), is(pause),a sad (pause), bad (pause), little beard" and he was right.

He was a radical in those days and took part in the Grosvenor Square demo directed at the American Embassy, in protest against the Vietnam War. Recently, I saw a photo of him on the University 'Alumni' website. He is now the 61 year old Vice-Chancellor of a Welsh University. When I saw his photo I noted that he looked nicely tanned and no longer had a beard. I suspect he hasn't had one for some time.
Beyond the beard, I reflect on how 'yesterday's rebels have become today's Establishment'. Maggie was right : it is (pause), a funny (pause), old (pause), world.

Friday 22 May 2009

The good trader

Today, I found the antidote to 'Jason' the rogue trader, in the form of 'Mark', the good trader. He was recommended to me by my neighbour across the road, who reported to me Jason, the rogue, lifting the ridge tiles from my roof. When Mark 'priced up' the job, we played a game, whereby,I said : " I'm asking myself are you just saying this to butter me up ? " His reponse seemed honest.

Having said this, he gave me a reasonable quote and when I phoned him to confirm the job he laughingly said : " So you fell for it then." I liked that.

When he started the work today, I told him that : " If I feel good about what you are doing, I will call you Saint Mark".

This man was so honest that, when it came to settling up, he confessed that he hadn't needed to do all the work we had initially agreed and so only charged me half the price.

Now, I know Mark is a businessman, who works on recommendations and he knows I will now recommend him as an honest trader, but he somehow restored my faith that, in some respects, Britain is still a country for old men. And, yes, as he left, I blessed him and said : " Go on your way Saint Mark."

Thursday 21 May 2009

A mantra for the elderly

In order to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that,'I am being taken advantage of because I am getting older' and in so doing, think myself into the role of being a victim, I have formulated a simple solution in the form of a mantra. Now, when I think I'm being 'taken for a ride', I think the words :

'This could happen to anyone, not just to me, because they think I am old and stupid'.

I have applied it retrospectively. So to the garden patio builder, who borrowed my wheel barrow and then took it away with him in his van when he left, I said : 'This could have happened to anyone, not just me because he thought I was old and stupid.'

To the 'Drain Doctor' who spent 2 hours unblocking a drain on a job which could have taken 30 minutes, I said : 'This could have happened to anyone, not just me because he thought I was old and stupid.'

And last, but not least I said it to the 'rogue trader' who levered up the ridge tiles on my roof.

I have the feeling that I shall be saying my mantra on a number of occasions in future, but there again if it is true, there is some solace in thinking that, in some respects : 'Britain is no country, not just for old men, but for anyone'.

Wednesday 20 May 2009


A neighbour sent me an e-mail saying that
her Mother said : " He's not old."
her Daughter said : " He is old ".
her husband said : " He needs a big dog".
she said : " Excellent blog, will look forward to further updates."

Of three old friends, the first told me on the phone that the blog was "crap".
The second said that I'd "lost the plot".
The third e-mailed to ask ' Is the 'l' in blog silent ?'

And then there was the 'follower' who signed in as me,'wittily' mis-spelling my name as 'Jonh' and in 'sites I've joined' added : 'Britain is no country for old men.' And in 'activities' added :'Watching Britain is no country for old men.' I did see the funny side of this and had to laugh.

A cousin from New Zealand e-mailed to say : 'We know you are well - we read your blog - keep it coming.'
A friend in France wrote : 'I love your blogs John.'

Another friend agreed with the posting about telephone banking saying : ' after the automated creature has asked for your number and then after the confusion and waiting, you actually speak to a real person, the shock of this means that you have forgotten your name and what you were doing on the phone in the first place !'

Another wrote: ' Just read the blog and, guess what, been there and done that! Eg. the same experiences, including lots involving driving.'

So on balance, I think I'll continue to blog.

Friday 15 May 2009

Is Colombia a country for old men ?

I ask, because the 'boys from Brazil' who cleaned the cars in the car park at my local Tesco supermarket up to Christmas, have been replaced by the 'boys from Colombia'. Either way, the Brazilians who were a product of Portuguese and the Colombians, who are are product of Spanish catholic imperialism, have all been kind and respectful.

Today, I had a chat with a 21 year old Colombian who goes back home on a 12 hour flight next month. He 'tells' me his Dad owns a big beer company in Colombia. I asked him to write down the name of the brewery company and the beers which it made, not because I doubted him, but because I was interested. When he goes back home he said he will go to University to do 'Business Studies'. He said his Father thought he was over here studying at college to improve his English, but he ,the car cleaner, chose to learn his English while making a bit of money and speaking to lots of different English people.

Was he lying to me ? I think not. What possible motive could he have for doing that ? His story was so unusual. It had to be true.

In my conversations with him he has always called me "sir" and treated me with respect. Is there a difference in the way that the Protestant states of Northern Europe and the North America and the Catholic states of Southern Europe and South America treat their elder citizens ? I have the feeling that may be the case.

I'm checking the cost of flights to Bogota and house-selling prices in my area.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Rogue Trader from Hell : Part Two

On the recommendation of Chris, the builder across the road, who told me about his observation of Jason, the rogue trader lifting the ridge tiles, I contacted Andy, a roof man, who will come at the weekend and give me a quote to put right the damage caused by the rogue. But I now find the rogue has also damaged my conservatory roof. When he put his 14 stone down on the roof to 'inspect' the guttering on the house above the conservatory, he didn't support himself properly with boarding. As a consequence, one of the twin-wall polycarbonate sheets has popped out of its seating and the roof is, therefore, open to leaks. I only noticed this, by chance, when I retrieved the small board he had used and left on the roof.

Today, I reported him to the 'Trading Standards Department' of my local council, with the proviso that, I did so 'in confidence'. I don't want him knocking on my door.

How many elderly people has this man defrauded ? How many more will he defraud in the future ? How many rogues like him are at work in Britain today ?

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Rogue Trader from Hell

Jason's a rogue trader, skilled in the art of taking advantage of the gullibility of older people, as I found to my cost this week.
On sunday he knocked on my door saying he was fixing the outside shutters for my neighbour, cleverly referring to him as "Steve" and "did I want any work done on the outside of my house?" I said he'd could give me a quote on replacing two sections of wooden fascia board. Jason had a look round and said he'd replace and paint the wood, paint the wood on the front porch and put sealant on the joins of all the gutters for £400. I gave him the go ahead.
On monday he told me the sections of fascia were not rotten and only needed a repaint. I reduced the price to £300. By wednesday all he had done was the painting but he'd 'discovered' that the mortar on some of the roof hip tiles was loose and they needed repointing. When I told him I wanted him to do only the work we agreed he turned both rude and nasty and told me :

" I've never come across anyone like you before. I'm only telling you what needs to be done and you won't listen. You keep interrupting me."

I decided to cut my losses, phoned him later that afternoon and told him that when came on thursday morning I wanted him to pick up his ladders and £200 for the work h'd done. He wanted £250. He in fact came that afternoon. After he'd gone, Chris across the road came to warn me about him because he'd watched him get up a ladder, look around and then quickly raise one of the hip tiles with a trowel. I found he'd done exactly the same on the back of the house.

During the course of the week, on different occasions, he asked me twice for £10 and once for a sandwich. I said I had no cash and no bread. He must have successfully done this many times before with old people. He was always asking questions. Even this was part of his strategy of gaining ascendancy by trying to undermine my confidence.
Him : " How much did this patio cost?"
Me : " I can't remember."
Him : " What d'you mean, 'you can't remember'?"

Jason, a clever, crafty crook. I'll certainly remember him.

Monday 11 May 2009

Telephone banking

Telephone banking is a great boon to the elderly. It provides the opportunity to pay bills and transfer money without the necessity of visiting the local bank , particularly in the winter.
However, 'advances' in technology are now making it more difficult. Whereas originally, you phoned and got through to an advisor, now a recorded female voice asks you to key in your 16 digit debit card number. That provides the elderly with the opportunity, on their handset, to miscue any one of 16 numbers.

It was by accident that I learnt that, if you ignored the instruction and the voice which said :
" I'm sorry I didn't understand that," you were put through to an advisor and could do your transaction in the good old fashioned way of talking to another human being.

Sunday 10 May 2009

In house communication.

I sometimes think my house is no place for an old man. My wife has the habit of talking to me and asking questions when she is two or three rooms away. At that distance and given the fact that I am a little hard of hearing , means that I frequently don't have a clue what she is talking about. My reply " I can't hear you. I can't hear you", forces her to visit me and tell me to my face what she is saying.

I'm thinking of solving the problem by buying a walkie talkie. She could have the transmitter and I could wear the ear piece.

Friday 8 May 2009

Big business banking on poor memory

Half way through February after the cold and snowy winter weather I considered the possibility of the house central heating breaking down and the high cost of getting an engineer out to fix it. That being the case I phoned British Gas and 'notionally' signed up to their HomeCare 200 deal. It guaranteed a call out within four hours and cover for all parts and labour. I didn't need the more expensive options covering things like water pipes.

In the first week of March the documentation arrived telling me with authority on their preprinted paper :

Your British Gas
HomeCare agreement
Here's what you've chosen - Homecare 400

It was £116 more per year than the deal I'd agreed to over the phone.

Do big corporations like British Gas make mistakes like this. I think not.

I phoned the company to make my displeasure known and cancel the agreement asking the question : " how many old people would look at that document and say to themselves: Did I really sign up for that ? Oh well if it says so in print, I must have done." Then go ahead and send the direct debit to their bank.

The advisor on the phone was apologetic and said that, as a mark of good faith, if I stayed with the original agreement, a £10 Marks and Spencer voucher would be with me in two weeks. I stayed with the agreement.

That was nine weeks ago. Needless to say, I'm still waiting for the voucher.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Safe places and unsafe places

My local B & Q on a wednesday afternoon, 'diamond card' day and 10% off, for the over sixties , is a very safe, respectful place. By contrast, for this old boy, Rochester High Street on a sunny, summer saturday afternoon a couple of weekends ago, felt a very unsafe, disrespectful place. It was the province of young people congregating in groups, occupying the pavements and forcing all and sundry, not just the old , to cross the road to avoid them. The two young girls cavorting on the pedestal half way up the stone memorial dedicated to local men who died in the First World War, did upset me. Younger pedestrians who saw these youngsters posing and having their photos taken by a friend on her mobile phone might have said :

" Just kids having fun".

I had an uncle who fought in that War. He was on a tram in Woolwich when a young lady came up to him, smiled and put a white feather in his button hole. He was 16 at the time, lied about his age and immediately joined up. My Grandparents decided not to intercede. He went into the trenches in 1915 and was gassed in 1918. When he came home at the age of 20, my Mother, his sister, told me :

"He looked like an old man".

Sadly, Britain has become a country with no time for old men and little or no respect for dead men.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Invisible at a petrol station

When you get beyond 60 you become invisible. I went to my local petrol station , filled up and went in to pay.
The cashier said : " Number ?".
I mean, what happened to "please" ?
I barked back : " Ten".
While I was doing my card transaction I became even more invisible because the cashier answered a call on her mobile.
" Yes, put the cat out and phone Gran. Yes. Yes.Yes. ".
I turned to the lady with graying hair behind me and said : " I can't believe this, she's having a phone conversation while serving me."
She said : " I know, it can be scary at times, but I try to blank my mind to it."
I said: " Dare I say it, you must be from the same generation as me."
The cashier offered no thanks, but I offered an exaggerated " Thankyou" and left.