Saturday 7 March 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: Low pension, no savings – no wonder OAPs are drinking
It makes a welcome change, after hearing for months about teenage binge drinkers, to be told about OAPs behaving in exactly the same way.
And in this instance, there is no likelihood of reading that it is the parents who are to blame – though, in some cases, I suppose you could blame the children, which again would make a nice change.
In seeking to explain why something is happening, it is quite often possible simply to link up disconnected stories appearing in the press at the same time. Thus it is with the oldie binge drinkers whose growing numbers are currently worrying the authorities, not to mention the NHS.
One story this week tells us that more and more pensioners are suffering as a direct result of the sudden and dramatic reduction in their savings. When you are lucky to get a return of 1 per cent from a savings account, this is hardly surprising.
Their pensions are also being hit for the same reason. But anyone who is thinking of carrying on working would take no comfort at all from another of this week's stories: pensioners who are campaigning to gain the right to work beyond retirement age have had their case rejected by the European Court of Justice.
So it looks as if it will only be the Fred Goodwins of this world who can be assured of a comfortable retirement starting, in his case, at the age of 50. But faced with such flagrant injustices and hardships, is it at all surprising that so many oldies are taking to the bottle?
What a spectacle over Gandhi
An Indian business tycoon has paid more than £1m for a job lot of Mahatma Gandhi's possessions including his spectacles. Vijay Mallya is head of a huge conglomerate that includes Kingfisher Beer and Kingfisher Airlines. He claims to be acting out of patriotic motives in insuring that the Gandhi relics are returned to his native land.
That is all very well. But even if he accepts that those spectacles are indeed the Mahatma's, how can he be sure that Gandhi had only the one pair? For all we know there could be lots of pairs of spectacles all over the place that once belonged to Gandhi.
Nowadays when you can buy spectacles quite cheaply in newsagents – I myself pay as little as £6.99 – it is possible to own a great many pairs for a very limited outlay. That is one of the many good things about the modern world and a boon to those of us who are by nature untidy, forgetful and prone to break things quite easily.
But the alternative is to go to an optician for proper prescribed spectacles which will cost a small fortune and are just as easily mislaid or broken. Gandhi would have had no option but to do this.
I cannot claim to be the possessor of any of Gandhi's spectacles, but I do have a pair that once belonged to the late Sir James Goldsmith and which are ideal for watching TV. After making a speech to the Referendum Party, Goldsmith absent-mindedly left them on the lectern. One of his listeners retrieved the spectacles and sent them to Private Eye, and so they passed into my possession. If there is ever to be a Goldsmith museum I would happily part with them – for a suitable fee, of course.
Don't let Darwin steal all the glory this anniversary year
After the the flood of books and TV programmes about Charles Darwin's 200th anniversary, it will be interesting to see if a similar fuss will be made about a much more interesting and amusing figure, Samuel Johnson, the 300th anniversary of whose birth will occur in September this year.
Somehow I doubt it. Dr Johnson is one of those great men that people may pay lip service to. But judged by modern standards he is a deeply unfashionable figure – conservative, inwardly tormented and deeply religious. We oughtn't to be so surprised that Darwin, the man credited with discrediting religion, is given the VIP treatment while the superstitious old fogey Johnson is relegated to the B list.
All the same, there will be books about the great man, but they will probably be boring and almost all of them written by Americans. One such, Samuel Johnson: The Struggle by Jeffrey Meyers, focuses on Johnson's practically non-existent sex life and advancing the "startling" theory that he was some kind of sadomasochist.
Startling it may be but there is nothing at all new about it. When memories are so short it is easy to regurgitate previously well-known facts as if they were new discoveries. As Johnson himself wrote, "It is observed that a corrupt society has many laws. I know not whether it is equally true that an ignorant age has many books. When the treasures of ancient knowledge lie unexamined, compliers and plagiarists are encouraged who give us again what we had before, and grow great by setting before us what our own sloth had hidden from our view."
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