Monday 29 June 2009

Britain - a country where old men drive new convertibles

It is a beautiful, sunny, monday morning and I've been out driving my convertible and it amuses me to see that the other convertible drivers I passed, who had their hoods down, were all about my age and wearing baseball caps like me.

I would say that, on the basis that Britain has more convertibles than any other country in Europe, most of them here are driven by old boys like me.

Why do I say this ?

1. Convertibles are expensive to buy.
2. Young people don't have much money and have a mortgage and kids.
3. Older people have a pension lump sum to spend, no mortgage and no kids.

Result :
One last indulgence for old men - the purchase of an open top car to be enjoyed in our increasingly warm British summers.

Friday 26 June 2009

Google indicates that Britain is a bleak country for old men

If you put 'Old People in Britain' on a 'google' search, the titles of the sites you find make depressing reading :

My highlights are in bold.

'Survey finds 4% of older people (340,000) abused in their homes by family.'

'Britain's elderly 'bankrupted' by care bills'.

'Old people being robbed of the will to live by loneliness.'

'Quality of life getting worse for older people. report say.'

'Old people at risk from listeria poisoning if they ignore 'use by' dates.'

'Eight elderly people every hour die during winter in Britain.'

'Alzheimer's Society condemns daylight robbery and drugging.'

'Policy Library - Marginalised and depressed : Britain's older people.'

Well fellow baby boomers - not much to cheer us up here, is there ?

Thursday 25 June 2009

Britain's 'baby boomers' today

During the dark days of the Second World War between 1939 and 1945, millions of couples in Britain postponed the decision to have a child. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of women became pregnant either in 1946 or early 1947 and gave birth in '47. I was one of the babies of that year as was the entrepreneur Alan Sugar, and the musicians David Bowie, Elton John, Ronny Wood, Brian May, Dave Davies, the actor Jonathan Pryce, the writer Salman Rushdie and the wife of Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles.

As children we stretched the resources of the state. In 1952 new primary schools were opened to accommodate the surge in numbers and then new secondary schools. The South London Comprehensive I went to, had 2,500 pupils. Then came the new universities of the 1960's - Kent, Warwick, Essex, York and the one I attended - Sussex.

And now collectively, as we reach state pension age, we are once again stretching the resources of the State. The women of 62 are there already, the men like me, will be there in 3 years. We are an expensive problem and will continue to be, until our numbers begin to diminish over the next 20 years or so.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Paul, Deliah and I.

It was my bithday last thursday and it felt good to know that, at 62, I was a relative youngster in comparison with singer, song writer, Paul McCartney who was 67 and cookery book writer and T.V. presenter, Deliah Smith who was 68.

Time for a little philosophy. Very few people know the time and date of the most important day of their lives - not that of their birth, which in my case was in a hospital bed, in a thunderstorm in Lewisham, London, at 3 o'clock on a wednesday morning. No, it is the date and time, 9 months before, when they were conceived.

I wish I hadn't gone down that path. It's made me realise that I'm almost a year older than I thought !

Monday 22 June 2009

Monarchy - a place where elderly people can do useful work

There have been 12 monarchs of 'Great Britain and the United Kingdom' since it was formed with the merger of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707. Most of these were long-lived. They were all in the job for life, with the exception of George III who was stood down on account of his insanity, and Edward VIII who abdicated because he wanted to marry a divorced woman.

In terms of age, our present Queen Elizabeth II is out in front and still there at 83, before her, Queen Victoria lived to the age of 82, George II to 77, William IV to 72, George V to 71, Edward VII to 69 and George IV to 68. I suppose it could be argued that these men and women led pampered and privileged lives, which could explain their longevity in past times, when life for most ordinary people was hard, poor and relatively short.

Like the members of the House of Lords, our monarchs too, are unelected and therefore undemocratic. We had an elective monarchy in Anglo-Saxon England, from the 7th to the 11th centuries and election means that, in theory, you can choose the right person for the job. From the political point of view the greatest asset in having an hereditary monarch is that they can be prepared for their constitutional role from a very young age.

The greatest asset in having a monarch at all is explained by the word 'experience' Queen Elizabeth meets with her incumbent Prime Minister on a regular basis. Since her coronation in 1953 she has met with Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Wilson again, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and now Brown. So Gordon Brown 'might be' and no doubt 'is' given advice by a woman who, to some extent, has seen it all before - eleven times before. There must be some virtue in that.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Should the title be : ' Britain is a country for young, but not old men' ?

I spoke to my daughter the other day about blogging. If the measure of a successful blog is the number of visitors your blog gets each day, then her blog is successful. She gets many, with the lion's share coming from abroad - the U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia, Slovenia and Turkey and more.

I asked if she could give me a bit of publicity on her blog - perhaps just a casual mention of my blog, but she didn't think that was a good idea. She suggested that I might get more visitors if I had a more positive title to my blog. ' Britain is a country for young, but not old men', has a bit of 'plus' and a bit of 'minus', but it hasn't quite got the feel of the original title. Of course, I could artificially inflate the number of my visitors on my 'sitemeter', but that would offend my English sense of fair play.

On balance, for the time being, I think I'll blog on with the original title.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Why can't democracy in Britain be a place for old men ?

The equivalent of the 'undemocratic' House of Lords in the American system of government is the 'democratically' elected Senate.

The 'unelected' members of the House of Lords do exercise real power. They spend 60% of their time discussing new laws and can delay the passing of these for one year if they choose. They spend the other 40% of their time questioning the Government and debating issues and policy.

In the year 2000 there were 688 members of the House of Lords and 55% of them were over the age of 65 and I have no reason to doubt that the figures are similar today.

So, it is pleasing to note that older men and women do play an important role in Britain today. They have a say in making the laws which bind us all. This is good, a recognition the age and experience do count. The great irony, however, is that we didn't choose them, which is not good. The vast majority were appointed by the Queen on the advice of the then Prime Minister. The fact is, that if we had chosen them, we probably would have gone for younger representatives -witness the fact the members of the House of Commons, who we do choose, have an average age of 52.

I conclude that old age and democracy in Britain today are 'apparently' incompatible and evidence would suggest that can't have a fairer system of government and a recognition of the contribution of age at the same time - but wouldn't it be worth a try ? After all, the 'average' age of U.S. senators is 62 !

Monday 15 June 2009

Was Victorian Britain a Country for Old Men ?

I've been looking round, questing, turning over stones, trying to find if this country of ours was ever a place for old men. Yesterday I peeked into Shakespeare's England and concluded that it wasn't much of a place for old men. If I dig around in the later 17th century, where the philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that life was 'short,nasty and brutish', I suspect I'll find the same.

Victorian England might be my best bet. Queen Victoria herself was on the throne for 64 years and was 82 when she died in 1901. Improvements in living standards meant people were living longer and although men dominated society, I have the feeling that old men and women were both given respect in a way that they are not today, namely because they were old.

Shakespeare's England was no place for old men

William Shakespeare was 52 years old when he died in 1616. He was fortunate that, at that age he was still alive, since, high rates of death in infancy and early childhood meant that 40% of the population of England died before they reached their mid teens. This explains why the 'average' life span for a man was 47 years and for those who lived in London it was 35 years for the rich and 25 for the less affluent.

In his life he was apparently fortunate not to have succumbed to the smallpox, measles, malaria, typhus, diphtheria, scarlet fever, syphilis and plague which afflicted people at the time. The latest theory, from a German Professor, is that he died from lymph cancer. She came to this conclusion by studying his portraits which show a lump above his left eye which would have caused, around fifteen years of increasing pain, before it killed him.

If she is right it appeared around the time he was 35 years old and writing 'As You Like It' ? Was he losing his hair at that time too ? Certainly, he had a great understanding of the infirmities of coming old age, when through Jaques, in Act II, Scene VII, he said :

All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.......
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans hair, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Now that I have reached the sixth age, I don't have long stockings which I now find baggy to wear, but I do have old jeans which are tight around the belly and lose around the thighs. However, my voice hasn't changed yet and doesn't 'pipe and whistle' when I speak.

As for the last age, I'm already half-way there, since I have little or no hair and my eyesight is poor. However, my sense of taste is good. So hopefully, I'll retain something with me when I enter the seventh age in the run up to the final state of 'sans everything'.

Friday 12 June 2009

Urban Britain is no place for old men at night.

I live, along with 250,000 other people, in the Medway Towns conurbation, in North Kent and my perception is, that it is now no longer safe to go out at night, particularly in the most attractive of the three Medway Towns - the City of Rochester.

My perception was recently confirmed by a T.V. programme which showed the police dealing with a hordes of young, drunken revellers on a Saturday night in the City and listening to the spoken testimony of a 40 year old woman on the website : 'Kent Police Re-appeal for witnesses after Rochester assault', issued on June 4th.

In her own words, she was walking home, after a night out with her boyfriend in Rochester at 12.30 a.m., when a man ran up and punched her in the side of the face in a random attack. She fell and hit her head on the ground. In hospital she was diagnosed with an indented cheekbone and two breaks in her orbital socket which required titanium plates in the socket, presumably to save her sight. In her spoken account of the attack she is both composed and articulate and it makes very chilling listening. The police have the man's image on C.C.T.V. and seven months after the attack, are still appealing for witnesses.

Medway Council is aware of the problem of the perception of night crime. On its website it says that : ' Fear of crime prevents many people, particularly older people from doing the things they might do, such as going out at night....This is, despite the fact that crime in Medway is actually lower than the England and Wales average'.

As a Medway resident, it is heartening to see that they have set up a 'Community Safety Partnership' to deal with this and other issues. Unfortunately, none of this helps to assuage my fear that, going to a restaurant or pub in a town or city at night is dangerous and my belief that, it is safer done in daylight. This not just for the old, but apparently, anyone.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Who profits from being old ?

In our society, only stage and screen actors can earn a great deal of money for 'appearing' to be old and these days, some of them who are old, still get paid a lot of money because they are old.

Orson Wells was 25 when he played, with the help of facial prosthetics and make up, the seventy eight year old newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane in 1941, expiring with the enigmatic words, " Rosebud", on his lips.

Charlton Heston was 33 when, in 1956, he played with the help of grey hair and beard, the Old Testament Prophet, Moses, in 'The Ten Commandments'.

Dustin Hoffman was 33 when, in 1970, he played, with the help of facial prosthetics, the, over one hundred year, old Jack Crabbe - the only survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Kate Winslett was 22 when, in 1997, she played the ancient Rose DeWitt Bukator, again with the help of prosthetics - the only living survivor from the Titanic disaster.

Marlon Brando was 48 when he played the ageing Mafia don, Vito Corleone, in the 1972 film, 'The Godfather'. His distinction was that, while the other four 'played' at being old, Brando 'was', with help of simple tissues, stuffed inside his cheeks and his slow speech and deportment, convincingly old. When you are in that 'old' category, you can recognise the genuine thing.

Monday 8 June 2009

B.T.- No company for Old Men or Old Women

I read in my Sunday newspaper of the case of a 88 year old lady, suffering from Alzheimers, who had made calls to the 'speaking clock' all hours of the day and night. The poor old thing had made one thousand calls every quarter and had chalked up a bill of £1,500.

When her daughter tried to obtain a refund, B.T., a multi-million pound company, offered £360, representing the last quarter's bills.

The Newspaper investigator followed up the case but reported :
' I got absolutely nowhere with B.T. It refused point blank to reconsider its initial offer and, as you have not accepted it, even this has now been withdrawn.'

Britain today. Sad.

Friday 5 June 2009

China - a country for old men

China is governed by a 'gerontocracy' - a word meaning 'government by old men' based on the three Greek words 'geron' ( old ),'ontos' ( men ), 'kratia' (government).

China has the fastest growing economy in the world and a population of over one thousand million people.

The President of China, is arguably, behind President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, but who in the West can name him ?

He is, wait for it, the 69 YEAR OLD, Hu Jintao.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Britain 1940 - a country for old men

The last time, and as far as I know, the only time, when a large number of older men did something of national importance for Britain was in 1940 when they volunteered to join the Local Defence Volunteers, set up to repel the imminent threat of invasion from Hitler's Army which was 22 miles away on the French coast. The volunteers were later renamed by Churchill as the 'Home Guard' and immortalised in the T.V. series 'Dads' Army'.

On the evening of 14th May 1940, millions of people turned on their radio sets to hear 'Secretary of State for War', Anthony Eden, make this announcement :
'Since the War began the government have received countless inquiries from men of all ages who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Well now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of such men between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five to come forward and offer their services'.

Two hundred and fifty thousand men gave in their names in the first 24 hours and I have no doubt a large number were over 60. The oldest volunteer was a Scottish ex-sergeant major called Alexander Taylor, who served to the age of 80, had fought in the Sudan in 1885 and probably inspired the T.V. series writers Perry and Croft to invent Corporal Jones, who had fought the 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' in the Sudan under General Kitchener and told Captain Mannering that when it came to bayonets and the enemy
" They don't like it up them,".
I note that 'Dad's Army' is still running on one T.V. channel, forty-one years after the first black and white episode and after most of the cast have 'passed over'.

What did these old men achieve in 1940 ? Certainly, they and the younger volunteers would have been no match against the full might of an invading German Army.
One ex- army officer wrote : ' What could we have done if the coming day had suddenly spewed Huns from the skies - except run like hell, and even that would not have been much good for many of our grey beards. As a military force we were a gigantic bluff.'

The historian Norman Longmate thought that the role they played was to provide an outlet for patriotism which inspired the whole country and changed its attitude to war, in what were undoubtedly, the darkest days, in its history. I'll go along with that.

In 1940, perhaps for the last time, Britain was a country which needed, recognised and used its old men for the good of all.

Monday 1 June 2009

Dandling in Britain today

Seeing young children being 'dandled' on the seafront at Herne Bay, reminded me of family holidays fifty years ago in my Uncle's chalet, just down the coast at Swalecliffe. Here, I can be seen making noise with pots and pans and floated in the sea by my Father and Brother.

I first came across the verb 'to dandle' in a poem by Sir Walter Ralegh called 'Farewell to the Court'. It means 'To dance a child in the arms or on the knee.' He wrote :

Like truthless dreames, so are my joies expired,
And past return, are all my dandled daies.'

I am heartened by the fact that, as I was dandled, in this case, in the sea, so too, there is much evidence of 'dandling' by parents, going on in Britain today. A continiuty of good, in a sea of dubious change.