Cherish the grey army of volunteers – none of us would survive without their dedication

As the population increases and we're living longer, we shouldn't worry about our ageing population, but think about what they contribute.


Within the next 10 years, the global population of oldsters (defined by the UN as over-60s) will reach one billion. There are already more over-60s than under-fives on the planet, which explains why films like Hope Springs – in which Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones rekindle the romance – and Dustin Hoffman’s upcoming Quartet (set in the world’s nicest old people’s home) are playing in cinemas while In the Night Garden is not.

And this is surely good news. Yes, over-60s have fewer years of working and paying taxes ahead of them than under-fives. But on the plus side, they rarely scream, they are almost never covered in chocolate spread, and they are much more likely to give you a sweet than demand one.

I have just returned home from a weekend at Wigtown Book Festival (if you are near Galloway this week, go – it is brilliant. They have masses of lovely bookshops and fields of stripey cows). We got used to cheering the volunteers who ensured that the Olympics ran so smoothly, but without the volunteer power of the over-60s all year round, I’m not sure any book festival would happen.

Wigtown is no exception. Volunteers pick authors up from the nearest station, which is miles away. They turn up early so you don’t stand out in the cold, and drop you back with enough time to buy a sandwich before you hop on a train. They ferry you around, and they can do this because they’re retired.

Politicians worry about our ageing population but surely we should think more positively about what they contribute, as the UN has: its report is titled Ageing in the 21st Century: a Celebration and a Challenge.

My mother works one day a week at her local hospital, helping to organise other volunteers to do ward visits, and generally make the place a bit happier. The NHS has thousands of people like her, which must save doctors and nurses a lot of time, while costing the system nothing. Meanwhile, Wigtown has a population of around 1,000 people: the book festival is an economic boon for the whole town. And without Basil, who retired in 1989 and cheerfully drove me to Carlisle (a two-hour journey), they’d struggle to get authors there and back. So here’s to the oldsters: we couldn’t do it without you.


Don’t trick me with your texts

How many texts have you received offering you a payout for that accident you had, or the Payment Protection Insurance you were gulled into taking out? I get about one a month, in spite of being largely accident-free and never having had payment protection insurance. So I’m delighted to see that the Information Commissioner’s Office is acting against spam texters.

Somehow a spam text is disproportionately more annoying than a spam email. I think it’s the jaunty alert. It sounds like it must be a friend. And then when it’s some random spammer, I’m irritated that I’ve been disturbed, and disappointed that the disturbance didn’t come from someone I like. We live in a world of near-constant communication, so acting against those who clog it up can only be a good thing.

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