Monday 31 August 2009

Britain's hospital wards - no place for sick, old men

John Humphreys, the B.B.C. Radio 4 interviewer on the 'Today' programme, had two features on hospital care for the elderly on Thursday and Friday last week. It was pretty sobering stuff, based on the most recent report published by the Patients' Association.,%20people%20not%20statistics.pdf

On Thursday Michael Summers, Vice-Chairman of the Patients' Association spoke about :
" cases of dirt, being left in their own urine,soiled beds, blood around the bed...nurses not being available to treat them...a whole panoply of lack of dignity, a lack of care and lack of compassion."
The point was made that the majority of nurses treat us well, but here we have an unusually high number of nurses letting the profession down.
On Friday John Humphreys interviewed 2 nurses - Bob Purcell a nurse of 40 years experience and Rachel a graduate nurse with 2 years experience. He made the point that hospital care has changed dramatically : what had once been a few days in hospital was now a few hours ; nurses now do many jobs once done by doctors. He asked the question : Has the care and compassion been lost ? Before the interview he related some of the e-mails he had received after the first programme :

' The nurses did not speak to the patients, except to bark orders.'

' I watched as a nurse walked away, not to return when I told her that an elderly and confused gentleman had soiled his bed when he couldn't find the lavatory.'

' My mother was forced to walk to the toilet, despite crying out in pain when she tried to stand. I asked for a wheelchair or bed pan and was refused both.'

What was heartening was, to listen to Rachel, the nurse of 2 years experience confirm that nursing was about compassion and care. Bob with his 40 years experience made the observation that with young people with acute problems were whipped in and out. It was in the long stay wards and elderly care wards that the quality of care was lower.

I surmise from all this that :

If I am young and ill I'll be treated O.K. and it will be a quick in and out.

If I am old and ill and staying in for some time, there's a good chance I'll suffer from neglect.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Britain in 1964 - a place for Manfred Mann

I didn't know that 'nostalgia' was, like other Greek 'algias', originally a disease. It was homesickness as a disease based on 'nostos' meaning 'return home' and 'algos' meaning 'pain'. Now it means a 'sentimental yearning for some period in the past'. I had a touch of that today when I saw that the band Manfred Mann were Number One with their version of 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy' 45 years ago.

I was able to draw on my auditory memory and sing out loud :

There she was, just a walking down the street
Singing," Do wah diddy diddy, diddy dum, diddy do".
Snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet,
Singing,"Do wah diddy diddy, diddy dum diddy do".

She looked good,
she looked good,
She looked fine,
she looked fine,
And I nearly lost my mind.

I am mindful of Tim Lott's argument that the past isn't real and only the present 'is', but I'm sure that Tim would agree that, a little nostalgia letting me to go back to my version of the past is permitted. So I am allowing myself to go back to August 1964 when I was 17 ( now 62 ), Paul Jones the singer was 22 ( now 67 ) and Manfred Mann was 26 ( now 69 ).

I was studying for 'A' levels, had a saturday job at C & A's, a pretty girlfriend called 'Heather' and drank with my mates in the 'Three Tuns' in Blackheath Village every thursday night.

I felt good, I felt fine
In that very special time.

Do wah diddy diddy, diddy dum diddy do.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Britain - a place where philosophy can help old men

I figure that most men, when they reach a certain age, ask questions about their lives. Perhaps, like me, they think more and more about the past and less about the present. They try to avoid the future altogether, for the prospect of continued decline is bleak indeed. Which is why I found an article in a Sunday Times magazine entitled :

No time like the present
Clinging to the past and fearing for the future is ruining the here and now, warns Tim Lott

so apposite.

The first point that he made which struck a chord with me is, that we think of the present world merely as the end of the past. ' So it is easy to forget that the past is actually the result of the present. It is the present, not the past which is powerful.'

These are difficult ideas to follow. They seem to turn everything on its head , but the argument says that, the way we are the people we are now explains why our predecessors were the people they were then.

'The present is all there is. It is everything and everywhere. Even our thoughts about the past take place in the present.'

People, he argues are in a hurry. We are in a panic to get as much as possible done ' before it all collapses into nothingness.'
He confesses that at 53 he has 'settled into the present and it is a much more comfortable place to be. In reality, it is the only place to be.'

So I'm asking myself should I, like Tim Lott, try to settle into the present and , difficult though it may be, see Britain today as a place for old men ?

Sunday 23 August 2009

Old men in the U.S.A. - beware the 'Searle Freedom Trust' - no friend of yours

I came across an apparently, benign, You Tube video called :
'Save Sonny Episode 1 - Pimp my Walker'. I add the link below.

Closer investigation revealed a very nasty attack on old Americans, delivered with the aim of turning young Americans against tax payments to Social Security and Medicare, in favour of investing for retirement in private accounts.

* In Episode 1, Sonny asks his Uncle why he " has had to pay $32 of his first pay cheque to FICA ?"
His Uncle tells him that "these are Government programmes that take money from old people to give it to young people."

* Three old ladies turn up on souped-up, electric, disabled scooters and mug him for his money.

* Sonny is told : " When FICA takes your money, it is combined with everyone elses and then distributed to the elderly - on average, the wealthiest group in the country."

* Sonny tracks the old ladies and finds a room marked 'Trust Fund' which contains lots of money. One of the old ladies then punches him out of a first floor window. On the ground he says : " I go home. There's got to be a better way."

* It takes Sonny 4 more episodes to find that better way.
His journey takes him to :

' Episode 2 - Boom Baby Boom '
' Episode 3 - Policy Warriors '
' Episode 4 - Broken Trust '
' Episode 5 - Run Sonny Run '

Of course, it is in the last episode that we learn that : 'today's kids can and should be able to save for retirement in private accounts.'
Who is behind this heartless portrayal of old Americans as nasty and greedy. What is their motive ?

I tracked down the video maker to 'Lineplot Productions LLC' in Cambridge Massachusetts.
They are apparently, 'an animation studio that focuses on describing complex financial and economic issues to broad audiences.' They say that : 'we are very appreciative to the Reason Foundation, who is distributing Sonny through Reason TV. And we deeply thank the Searle Freedom Trust for providing a grant to make this work possible.'

( My emphasis on poor grammar )

So there it is : 'The Searle Freedom Trust' - the money behind a campaign to turn people against tax payments for social security and pensions in favour of the open market and it doesn't care if it uses and reinforces the nastiest stereotypes of old people to do that.

America - the land of free enterprise and opportunity and No Place For Old Men.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Britain - a place for old, daytime drivers

One of the questions I asked myself before I went to Germany was:

' Are most convertibles in Germany driven by old men ?'

The answer I've come up with is 'No'.
The 20 - 30 convertibles I saw, were mostly driven by 30'ish men and young women.

The other thing I observed was the quality of driving in Bavaria.

Our nephew took us to Munich Airport at 140 k.m.p.h. and I felt 'safe'. There was excellent lane discipline on the motorway - no dawdling and you got out of the way if a car at 160 k.m.p.h. was coming up behind you.

On my first day driving back in Britain :

1. An elderly person pulled out in front of me on a roundabout. I did something I rarely do - I hooted.

2. We drove behind a car doing 20 m.p.h in a 30 zone. The driver, another elderly person, suddenly signalled left, to go into her drive.

3. On another road, a jeep with trailor attached, pulled out in front of the car in front of me , causing both of us to brake.


Britain is a place for old drivers in the daytime - but a dangerous one.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Goodbye Bavaria and your happy opas and omas

This is my last post from Germany - we fly back to Britain today.

On Sunday evening we went to a funfair in the town of Wolzach. There were the usual attractions and ways of getting adults to part with their money that you see anywhere in Europe and those garish paintings which must also be pan-European.
It was a warm central European evening and the ground was full of extended families - Mum, Dad and the kids and granny 'oma' and granddad 'opa'.

We met my friend Siggi and went with him and his wife and son to the beer tent. I didn't have my camera, but the picture above gives some idea what it was like. About 1,500 people sitting at trestle tables, talking, drinking and eating and served by strong women in dressed in 'dirndls' and carrying 10 glass tankards of beer in their hands.
At the end of the tent a traditional Bavarian brass band played traditional Bavarian music. It was hot and noisy and, as I told Siggi, " completely unique to this part of Germany and therefore the world."
Sitting at tables around the hall I could see a good sprinkling of grey heads and this heartened me.
I briefly left the beer hall because Siggi's 10 year old son needed someone in his bumper car and I foolishly agreed to ride with him, after all fun fairs are places where men become boys. I returned to the tent a bit shaken up, but otherwise O.K.

Bye, bye Bavaria and your happy old men.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Bavaria is a county for old men - confirmed

This is me and my new Bavarian friend, Siggy ( Siegfried ) outside his village this morning. He's a bit sweaty because he's just run 14 kilometres through the countryside with my brother-in-law. I rode behind them on a bike.

Siggy is an interesting man. He told me that his family have lived in the village since 1680, which is probably when records began. He lives in there in a big house with farm buildings attached. He grows hop vines, but his main job is as the manager of a slaughter house in the town of Ingolstadt. Siggy told me that they slaughter about 20,000 cattle a year as well as pigs and sheep. He also told me that Ingolstadt was the home of the 'Illuninati'. This was a secret society of freethinkers set up in the 18th century and thought, at the time, to be behind the overthrow of governments in Europe.
Before that it was home to a renown medical school in the Renaissance and was also the where Mary Shelley's Doctor Frankenstein created his monster in her 1831 novel.

There are 3 generations living in Siggi's house - him and his wife and 2 children and his 87 year old father.

On friday we had a party to celebrate my brother-in-law's 60th birthday. The venue was a room in Siggy's house with stone floors and pillars, which had once been the cattle pen.

In the evening the room was filled with about 40 people, lots of bonhomie and good food and drink.

On Saturday morning we went back to the house at 10 o'clock to clean up. Siggi's father appeared, poured himself a beer from the barrel, got himself a helping of left over trifle and sat down in the courtyard to read his paper.

Is this the secret to longevity in Bavaria ?

Friday 14 August 2009

Berlin - a city with a supermarket for old men

Ever practical, the Germans have opened their first supermarket for senior citizens in Berlin.
I have some questions :

Will the idea catch on and spread to other German cities ?

Will the idea take hold in Britain ?

Would middle aged people shop there or avoid it for fear of being labelled as 'old' ?

Tescos, smelling potential money, have taken an interest in the findings and have submitted a planning application to develop a supermarket within the Campus for Ageing & Vitality on the former Newcastle General Hospital site.

This is all serious stuff. Nothing to do with making money out of old people. Apparently, 'the proposed mixed use of the Campus for research, commercial and retail use, will provide a unique opportunity to study an everyday activity which has important implications for healthy living'

And the 'Institute for Ageing and Health hopes this is the first step towards research looking at the ways in which older people shop and what they buy, giving scientists a better understanding of the relationships between nutrition and shopping behaviour and how more effectively to promote a healthy diet'.
All very laudable.

Leading the group visit, Professor Jim Edwardson, Chair of 'Years Ahead', said, “This will be an exciting opportunity to find out how supermarket shopping can be improved, not just for older people but for many others who could benefit. Retailers need to address the needs of an ageing population and the opportunities to support healthy lifestyles and independence – not just in relation to nutrition but across a wide range of other services that supermarkets increasingly provide.”

I must confess, the video clip did make me smile.


Thursday 13 August 2009

Germany-no country to cross the 'Geritol Gang'.

A crime took place in a holiday home on the lake above. It is called 'Chiemsee' and is in Bavaria not far from where I'm writing this post. It involved a 56 year old German-American financial advisor and 5 elderly Germans, 3 men and 2 women with ages ranging from 60 to 79. The story is bizarre and was reported in the 'Sun' newspaper in Britain and others around the world.

James Amburn returned to his apartment in the town of Speyer after a night out in June. He was hit from behind with a zimmer frame, tied up with masking tape, as he said later : " I looked like a mummy. It took quite a long time because they ran out of breath". He was then taken to a lake called Chiemsee where his abductors, the 74 year old Roland and 60 year old Willy were met by Roland's 79 year old wife, Seiglinde. They were later joined by the retired doctors, Iris 66 and Gerhard 63.

The kidnapped Amburn ran an investment company and on his advice the group had invested 2 million pounds in Florida property and lost it all in the financial storm.
The Chief Prosecutor of Traunstein said later : " They were angry because they invested money in Florida and lost it all."

Amburn claimed he was kept chained up and almost naked in a cellar, was fed soup twice a day and periodically beaten up with a chair leg and burnt with cigarettes. He said they threatened to kill him and did sustain 2 broken ribs. Their motive was clear : they were using force, captivity and intimidation to get him to somehow 'cough up' the money.

On the occasion of being allowed to smoke in the garden, ( perhaps the 2 doctors objected to him smoking in the house ?), he escaped over the garden wall only to be pursued by car with his captors shouting : "Stop that man ! He's a burglar !"
Two local men stepped in and pinned Aubam to the ground and he was taken back to the seller and he says, another beating.

Amburn wrote out a message to a Swiss bank asking them to transfer money, but here's the clever bit : when asking for insurance policies to be called up he put in call up 'pol-ice'. Someone in the bank picked it up. The house was surrounded by 40 police from the anti-terrorist squad and Aubam was freed and the assailants arrested.

The 'Geritol Gang' - named after the arthritis drug, but emanating from the U.S.A. are awaiting trial. They could get 15 years. If they do the maximum stretch they will be out at the age of 94, 89, 81 and 75. I have the feeling that they will be given far less than this on account of public sympathy and their age.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Bavarian families- the secret to happy old men

Yesterday, I had a parallel experience in Munich, Bavaria to one I'd had in Hadlow, Kent last week. I went to the Botanic Gardens which are said to be the 'Wisley' of Germany, with a long history and 14,000 species of plant. The 'Secret Garden' at Hadlow College could not compete with this, but that didn't matter, since I was 'people watching' and not 'plant watching'.

My observations confirmed that, in Southern Germany at least, three generations of family do things together. I surmise that this keeps the Bavarian old folk integrated and helps to give them a meaningful existence.

Why do I say this ?

When I visited Hadlow Garden and restaurant in the morning and afternoon, I saw middle-aged and elderly couples and groups of 3 or 4 of the same age. I can't recall seeing many people younger than this or any young children at all. The German Botanical Garden and restuarant was different. Grandparents strolled with daughter or daughter-in-law and young children - 3 generations engaging the gardens together.
One group of 3 women had us debating. I said it was " great grandmother, grandmother and granddaughter". My wife and brother-in-law disagreed, saying that the youngest was only 16 years old and therefore it was daughter, mother and grandmother.
It didn't really matter. The point was that the 3 generations were enjoying the gardens and each other's company together.
I think that it is the Bavarian sense and expression of family ties which go some way to explain why, in this part of the country at least, German men and women live long and no doubt largely happy lives, in their fading days.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Germany is a country sympathetic towards old men

I thought that while I was over here in Germany, I'd do a bit of research on old people over here.

I find that, in a population of 82 million, 1 in 4 are over 60 and that after Japan and Italy, Germany has the third largest population of old people in the world. Apparently, the majority lead independent lives and live close to their children. They set themselves new goals and actively make use of their leisure time.

Financially they are taken care of because the 1957 Pension Reform gave them a full share of the nation's wealth. Poverty in old age in Germany has not been done away with, but being poor in old age is lower than that of other age groups.

Having said this, the retirement age for the state pension has recently been raised to 67,in order to avert a future pension crisis as Germans live longer.

What I found most interesting was the concept of the multi-generational house. In 460 districts and municipalities, families can get help and advice if they want set set up one of these houses. The idea is simple. There are strong emotional bonds between grown up children and their parents and grandparents and grandchildren, so why not get them living under one roof ?

With that kind of reasoning, Germany 'sounds' like a country sympathetic towards old men.

Monday 10 August 2009

Bavaria is a county for old men

I'm on holiday in Bavaria in Southern Germany, staying in a small village to the north of Munich. While I'm here I'm going to turn over a few stones, ask a few questions, see if this is a place for old men.

Last night we went to the town of Pfaffenhoven. It was a special occasion, the one sunday evening a year when permission is given for stall holders selling ´bric a brac`, to set up business around the edge of the the town square. The cobble stoned square is ringed with large, gabled buildings with facades painted in pastel colours. Dominating all, the white Catholic church, complete with steeple and clock which indicated `VIII`.

I started by looking at the goods on the stalls. Finding nothing likely to appeal to me, I graduated to studying the people. They were far more interesting. There were thousands of them strolling around the square on this balmy, central European, summer´s evening. There were little kids with their parents and grandparents, teenagers, young couples and elderly couples.

What did I observe ?

Well, those ´getting on` a bit like me, were visible and integrated, not invisible and isolated. They were out and about enjoying themselves at night.
Now, I have to be careful not to read too much into this, it was, after all a special occasion. I asked my brother-in-law Christian, "Could and would old people come here to enjoy food and drink, in the open, on a normal summer´s evening ?" Without hesitation, he said "Yes."

What might explain this ? Well, this was in Bavaria in southern Germany, which is traditional and family-orientated, unlike the towns and cities of the Protestant, industrialised north. So I conclude that Bavaria, at least, is a county for old men.

I wasn`t in the City of Rochester in the County of Kent last night, but I´ll posit that if I had been, there would have been few, if any old people around, but a lot of loud, besotted youngsters in the bars and on the streets and a police presence. I have no doubt was the case in towns and cities across Britain.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Britain - a country to profit from lots more old men

Stock market investors must be aware that, as the millions of post - Second World War baby boomers move into old age, there will be money to be made from :

An increased demand for :

private homes

Saga holidays

zimmer frames

walking sticks

carpet slippers

incontinence pads

hearing aids

meals on wheels


Germany - a country for old men ?

I'm off to Germany. I've been there many times over the years, but I haven't been since I started this blog, so I'm going to try to get answers to the following questions, which produce 'affirmations' in Britain :

Is German T.V. a place for old men but not old women ?

Does social class dictate how long Germans live ?

Are most convertibles in Germany driven by old men ?

Do Germans become invisible when they get old ?

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Britain - even less of a country for future old men

I have been surprised to find that, in future, Britain will be even less of a country for old men, than it is now. This comes from a pensions expert and former economic advisor to Downing Street called 'Ros Altmann'. Incidentally, isn't it strange that 'altmann' in German means 'old man' ? I found out about her in an article in the Observer Newspaper written by Ruth Sunderland.

In the article, entitled 'The Britons who can't afford to become old', Ruth paints a picture of a future Britain where men and women have to work longer and longer. She said that pension experts warn that Britain faces a retirement crisis so huge that it could eclipse the 'credit crunch'. If we continue on our present course, Britain will simply not be able to grow old and we have to accept that we will have to work longer, consume less and save more.

Ros writes : ' Altmann is not alone in issuing dire warnings about our collective failure to provide for the future : economists and actuaries are unanimous the U.K. is no country for old men - and it is even worse for old women.'

Some facts :

* The average private 'pension pot', will give a single man of 65 less than £2,000 a year - £38 a week.

* A 'pension pot' of £100,000 will, at current rates, yield an annual sum of £4,500 - £86 a week.

* At present 9,000,000 people rely on a state pension of £95.25 a week or a reduced rate of £57.05 for those, mostly women, who have not paid enough National Insurance contributions to qualify for the full rate, mainly because they took time off work to bring up the kids.

* The 'National Pensioners' Convention', has said that about 820 old people fall into poverty each day. Only in Latvia, Spain and Cyprus are you more likely to end up old and poor.

So, what is the way forward ?

The message is clear : Today's old men are better off than those coming up behind them, who will have to work longer.

I return to Ruth Sunderland, who painted this in her article describing a retirement party in 2039, where glasses were raised to the company's longest serving employee who, at 83 was leaving, after 60 years of service. In the room, the youngsters in their 50's and 60's knew that they had to work several decades before they could afford to retire.