Hit & Run: SimplicITy computer delivers over-50s to the digital age

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The Independent Online

If social networking is something you do at the bingo hall, windows require (net) curtains, and a Mac is to be worn in the rain, chances are you're old. Because, apparently, old people don't do computers. Things like Twitter and spreadsheets only bother them when they're on the One O'Clock News. But anyone watching the BBC's lunchtime bulletin yesterday will have seen a pensioner called Betty using a computer designed to deliver her generation to the digital age.

SimplicITy looks like a standard PC, with a traditional keyboard and mouse. But instead of the potentially bewildering array of windows, folders and widgets that crowd the desktops of the average operating system, SimplicITy's home screen has a handful of buttons leading to e-mail, the internet, chat, documents and your profile. A "go back to square one" icon takes you back to, well, square one.

The new set up was launched yesterday by Discount-age.co.uk, a money-saving website for older people founded by former Blue Peter presenter, Valerie Singleton. Everything is written in VERY BIG LETTERS and if things get tricky Valerie, 72, pops up with a tutorial like a cuddly version of Microsoft's defunct talking paper clip. If SimplicITy were a person she might talk really loudly and say "dear" a lot. Which raises the question – are attempts to drag older people into the digital age as patronising as assumptions about bingo halls and net curtains?

It depends who you ask – Betty seemed to be loving her new toy – but she's 80. SimplicITy is pitching its wares at the over-50s. Hit&Run's mother, Gilly, is 53. Does she need Valerie's help? "No I bloody don't!" All right, Mum, calm down. "I get annoyed enough as it is when people offer me seats on the bus but I really don't need to be shown how to write an email. I've been using computers at work for almost as long as you've been alive."

Gilly's a whiz with her MacBook and she's also got a smartphone, so has no use for the Emporia Talk Premium, another new big-buttoned device designed for the "over-50s" that aims not to scare the horses by only offering the option to make calls, set and alarm and send texts. But SimplicITy (were those capITal letters really necessary?) isn't for people like Gilly. Nor, one imagines, will it find favour with Bill Gates, 54, or Twitter-maniac, Stephen Fry, 52. "Half of over-50s don't have access to computers," Singleton explains. "We want to help those who are put off because they are nervous."

Simon Usborne

One careless owner: buy Bernie's bric-a-brac

Victims of Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff will be pleased to hear that the man himself is being made – quite literally – to sell the shirt off his back to recoup some of the $20bn he owes. Madoff's property and most of his belongings will be auctioned off by the Feds in an attempt to pay back some of the people that he fleeced.

An eye-catching sky blue satin New York Mets jacket emblazoned with the name of history's biggest con artist is among the haul, although anyone brave enough to wear it in public surely risks being pelted with rotten tomatoes in the street by those unaware that its former owner has been imprisoned for more than 150 years.

Next up is a vintage Bill Blass mink fur coat. While it may not appeal to animal lovers, it might help towards soothing the ruffled feathers of those who would rather flay Madoff alive and wear his own well-oiled hide over their pinstripe suits.

Not forgetting of course, Lot 350, a blue and white striped golf umbrella replete with the Madoff Securities insignia embellished proudly on its upper brim. Further proof that, if you get caught ripping people off to the tune of $65bn, it never rains but it pours.

Harriet Walker

Buddies on the box

I see Sarah a few times a week. She's a blonde, bubbly mother of three who works part time. I like her, although recently I've also been seeing a lot of Faye and her family – but the two don't mix. These women aren't my colleagues or neighbours, they're the matriarchs of the fictional families that Sainsbury's and Tesco, respectively, use to advertise their wares (although 'Sarah' is a made-up character, 'Fay' is actress Fay Ripley). I'm obsessed with them. Every couple of weeks I get a new snippet of background information. Sarah's daughter Megan is something of an eco warrior; Faye's husband is forgetful when it comes to anniversaries. I can't wait for Christmas round theirs – except I'll only get about 30 seconds to see them.

Rebecca Armstrong

For Caine and country

Things were simpler in the days of National Service, or so thinks Michael Caine, who espoused its benefits at the premiere of his new film, Harry Brown. "Put [young people] in the army for six months," says the actor, who served with the Royal Fusiliers. National Service has proved useful for many of Caine's fellow creatives. Bill Wyman served with the RAF in West Germany where he first heard rock 'n' roll on American Forces Network radio (AFN). Tony Hancock joined forces comedy troupe The Ralph Reader Gang Show, and John Peel first became fascinated by radio after hearing AFN when stationed in Wales. As Caine would say: "Not a lot of people know that."

Rob Sharp