Life expectancy guidance? You can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die

There are all sorts of obvious failings in this proposal


Picture the scene. Every worker of a certain age will be given an appointment by the state. Sitting on the other side of a desk, a man or woman will open a file, look serious (and definitely rather concerned), pause for a moment and then look you in the eye as they disclose a chilling piece of information – roughly how long you’ve got left on this planet.

This harbinger of doom and death won’t be a doctor, but a financial adviser. Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Sadly, this isn’t a scene from a new production of 1984, but a new government “initiative”. In the last Budget, George Osborne shamelessly wooed pensioners by promising that from 2015 pension pots would be theirs to spend as they wish. No longer will they have to buy an annuity giving a regular income. In a brave move, senior citizens are going to be treated like adults, in charge of their own nest eggs.

Now that the headlines have subsided, the sensible squad in government has moved in, concerned that this blatant piece of vote-buying might lead to a new social phenomenon – a rash of Ferrari-driving seventysomethings who annoyingly cling to life after going on a huge spending spree. What bliss! Grannies in Gucci slumped in hot tubs while dialling for escorts. Ageing stoners paying for class A drugs on their gold credit cards. Great-grandmas swigging Bolly and racking up debts at John Lewis.

Soon all our carefully hoarded cash will be gone – with us still breathing and mostly compos mentis. At this point the elderly could start costing the state plenty. We could be experience-rich, cash-poor, redefining our senior years as the age of excess.

I can see a lot of pluses in this new version of senility, but for the Department for Work and Pensions and social services, boffins have correctly worked out it could spell financial disaster. Who’s going to pay the bill to wipe us down and feed us when we finally start to disintegrate? (They are.) So this new thinking, unveiled as just a work in progress by pensions minister Steve Webb, is designed to ensure that we “plan ahead”.

If it happens, all pensioners would have a consultation with a financial adviser and receive “life expectancy guidance”. Presumably this would enable us to divide up our cash and eke out the rest of our years sensibly. How I hate that word “sensible”. It is anathema to many baby-boomers. We have spent our lives breaking down barriers, and we’re not going to conform now.

There are all sorts of obvious failings in this proposal. People could be struck down by cancer, get run over by a bus or choke on a fishbone. You can eat sensibly and still have a heart attack. My mantra is live each day as if it’s your last. Maximise every minute. Have fun and sod everything else. And Steve Webb can shove his “big idea”.

Let’s follow Finland: give gay marriage a stamp of approval

I swerved in the car the other morning when, in the middle of a discussion on the Today programme about philately, art critic Estelle Lovatt added: “And you can lick them!” This saucy moment on Radio 4 occurred during a discussion about the world’s first sexy stamps. A set of three by the homoerotic artist Tom of Finland (he died in 1991) is to be published, and one features a very explicit bare bottom framing a smiling face.

I predict a rush by collectors of stamps and collectors of gay ephemera – Tom’s work inspired, among others, Freddie Mercury and Robert Mapplethorpe – but are the images good art? To me they seem a little bit naff, but then I’m not a gay man who gets turned on by giant packages and bulging biceps and peaked hats.

A few minutes later, I remembered exactly why I found licking a bit of paper so amusing. Years ago, when I started work as a newspaper columnist, a male reader wrote to tell me that every week he opened the page and then carefully licked my photo, completing his erotic ritual by swallowing the newsprint. He didn’t mention my writing skills. I just fulfilled another function for this sad chap.

You can’t judge a country by its stamps. After all, Finland has banned gay marriage. Perhaps the Royal Mail should consider marking our groundbreaking approach to marriage with a new set of stamps.

Care-home crooner is a new string to Berlusconi’s bow

This is the kind of punishment our judicial system might consider for high-profile business people who cheat the Inland Revenue: convicted of fraud and tax evasion, billionaire pensioner, former prime minister and powerful media boss Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to a year of community service caring for the elderly.

The well-preserved septuagenarian, whose chosen form of relaxation after a hard week talking taxes with Angela Merkel was a bunga-bunga party involving teenage women dressed as nurses, has been confined to his home after 11pm (an hour when his lavish funfests were probably just getting under way) and ordered to spend at least half a day a week working at a Catholic Church-run old people’s home. Residents include those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

At 77, Berlusconi has snared a glamorous new girlfriend a fraction of his age – but his early experiences as a cruise ship singer might come in handy in his new guise as carer. He’s a legendary opportunist, so I imagine it won’t be too long before a new CD of songs for seniors will be recorded.

Give Sir Bruce the  respect he deserves

I’m sorry if there’s a bit of an ageist theme to this column today, but sometimes it seems as if elderly people always have to justify themselves, even when they are megastars. Take Bruce Forsyth. He might not be your cup of tea, but as far as I’m concerned, Sir Bruce is a living treasure and in Japan he would have a monument and a theme park dedicated to his genius.

Brucie has been a regular in my living room since I was 12 and growing up in a terraced house in west London. Each weekend, the family would gather around our small black and white television set, fall silent and worship Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Bruce was the supreme master of ceremonies – self-deprecating, inclusive. A complete departure from an earlier generation of music-hall sleaze and innuendo, including my dad’s garish favourite, Max Miller.

I’m sad that Bruce has just decided to step down from presenting Strictly Come Dancing because when I interviewed him recently he was as sharp as a tack. Live television is demanding, and why should it be tidy and perfect? The little fluffs and bits of forgetfulness are what the audience remembers.

Bruce says that if he ever made the slightest mistake the press would say he was past it. “It’s always about my age. It’s patronising and it’s very unkind and very uncalled for.” Too true. At 86, Bruce is a role model for us all. How disgusting of the BBC not to stick up for him publicly, to beg him to stay.

He will be replaced by someone gushing and bland, which our Brucie most definitely is not. I hope he’ll be allowed to present some specials, because I can’t imagine telly without him. And, by the way, the audience adores him. Do Claudia and Tess inspire the same devotion? Don’t bother to answer.

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