All the reasons why I loathe Saga Magazine and the values it represents were vindicated last week with the publication of its "wise list", the 50 people who, in its opinion, have made a unique contribution to our lives. The fact that the magazine could find only nine women worthy of this dubious accolade should perhaps be a cause for celebration rather than despair. What is "wise", according to the editorial, is a quality distilled from a "great and varied" experience of life, "coupled with intelligence and humility, and the skill to apply this to wider surroundings". A job ad in the Guardian's Life section, or indeed Michael Howard's own full-page manifesto in that very organ last week, reads more cogently and enticingly than this grey and worthy exercise in the January issue of Saga Magazine.
As a target reader can I make a loud and determined plea for the over-50s to be allowed, and even encouraged, to grow old disgracefully, to drink, take drugs, be childish and self-indulgent, wear unsuitably youthful and fashionable clothes and to loathe pets, stairlifts, chintz furnishing fabrics and horribly practical Rohan clothing? Can the over-50s please be allowed to indulge in stupid diets, embark on dangerous trips without a guide, go to clubs and jump the queue and not give a toss about their pension plans? I know the over-50s make up 44 per cent of the population, and the phrase "grey power" is about as well worn as my favourite slippers, but the fact is my generation comes in all shapes and sizes, rich, poor, idle and busy. We may amount to 70 per cent of the wealthiest people in Britain, but our pensioners and widowers probably make up a generous proportion of the poorest as well. It is highly simplistic to equate the Saga view of the world with the reality.
First, let's take a look at Saga Magazine itself, printed on rather uninspiring floppy paper and full of advertisements for conservatories, railcards, duvets, flowery sofa covers, anti-burglar grilles for your windows and sensible spectacles. In this respect it bears a remarkable similarity to the ads found in that bastion of the right, The Daily Telegraph. Then we must never forget that Saga is a commercial group of companies intent on flogging everything from holidays to insurance to cars, and that its shareholders have grown rich with this clever piece of marketing strategy. Indeed, in the January issue of the magazine its own companies have taken so many pages of advertising - for everything from pet insurance to pension schemes and investment advice - that you might wonder why it doesn't give this magazine away, instead of charging £2.20 for it.
Its editor, Emma Soames, came to the job from The Daily Telegraph, and that is where its values firmly lie, with readers' letters on everything from the appeal of JF Kennedy to council tax and the euro. Out-of-focus pictures of glamorous actresses such as Jessica Lange are just the small piece of icing on this particular cake.
When there is a magazine for my age group that is printed on paper as glossy as Vogue, and features fashion that is sexy rather than cosy, then we will be achieving something. And when we can compile a whole issue that doesn't feature Mavis Cheek or Libby Purves, then we'll be on the right track. The wise list is full of dreary worthies, from PD James to Bob Geldof, Lord Saatchi and WF - "Bill" - Deedes. Where's the danger factor? Where are Will Self, Ruth Rendell, Verity Lambert, Keith Richards, Van Morrison? There's only one word to apply to its findings and that is smug, and there's nothing more ageing than that.
On Woman's Hour last August I said that when I am a pensioner my generation will be the one that transforms the idea of care homes into places as desirable as the entries in Hip Hotels. We aren't going to buy the idea of spending the rest of our days in lounges that smell of rotting cabbage. The generation that gave the world Philippe Starck, Ikea and Habitat will settle for nothing less. I was deliberately being provocative, but those remarks sparked a huge mailbag from people who agreed with me. Saga Magazine, in all its right-wing cosy complacency, sells us short.
A cut above the rest
A great deal of disgraceful behaviour took place on Sky One on Tuesday, in the first episode of a hilarious new drama series Nip/Tuck. This is the worthy successor to Michael Mann's classic series of yesteryear, Miami Vice, and is rightly on the shortlist for a Golden Globe for best drama series in the US next Sunday. I don't think I've laughed in shock so much since the first episode of Six Feet Under. When it comes to satire, all we can come up with is the ludicrous Footballers' Wives. Take my advice and tune into Nip/Tuck if you want to see the real thing.
It focuses on the business and private lives of two plastic surgeons, Sean and Christian, in glamorous Miami. Sensible, worthy Sean is having a mid-life crisis, while Christian is partaking of every treat going - from drugs to kinky sex. In the opening episode they not only end up giving a paedophile a face-lift but one of them gets a botox injection in the willy from an aggrieved husband. A liposuction operation goes badly wrong and thick yellow fat is sprayed all over the walls. Joely Richardson is Sean's sexually frustrated wife, who wants her boobs lifted, and her son is a confused teenager who's desperate for a circumcision. Christian ruthlessly beds a girl and tells her she'd be better with a nip here and a tuck there.
When he asks her to dinner she replies: "I don't eat, I'm a model." Our fearless surgeons dispose of a body by dumping it in the Everglades, covered in packed hams to lure crocodiles. Earlier in the evening I had spent 30 minutes in the Northallerton, North Yorkshire, branch of Tesco, where fatties trundling babies in push-chairs clogged up the checkouts. It can only be a matter of time before Granada rips off Nip/Tuck, and what better place to set the British version than the north of England, where too many women think that a pair of sweatpants and a loose-fitting top cover up the result of a diet of chips and stodge.