Those 600 workers in Widnes, Cheshire, who went on strike yesterday about their pension have my deepest sympathy. I am not entirely sure what the dispute was about but the word infidel has the same rallying effect on me as infidel did to the crusaders. I want to buckle on my sword, pull down my visor, leap on the nearest charger and kill whoever it was that turned the Equitable Life pension company from the safest, sturdiest, vermin-proof nesting box into the equivalent of a paper-bag shoved down a weasel-hole. Or burrow or earth or wherever weasels live.
I have just had the usual annual letter from Equitable Life advising me how much less my pension is now worth than this time last year. It came in a big envelope with one of their annual reviews which, with Kate Moss on the front, could easily have passed for Vogue. How can an organisation on its uppers afford such glossy opulence. A couple of A4 sheets held together with a paperclip would have been more appropriate.
Whenever I'm in this belligerent frame of mind I make myself think of people far worse off than me, those wretched Daily Mirror pensioners for instance robbed by Robert Maxwell of their every last penny. I hope my friend M isn't reading this. Her father was a great friend of the Maxwells and when she and her siblings got married they all received fabulous gifts from the Maxwell family. M's was a canteen of solid silver cutlery from Tiffanys. "Bob was always incredibly generous to us," she said her eyes misty with emotion. I don't suppose the Mirror pensioners would have been quite so touched.
When I first came to Fleet Street, I walked out for a few months, as they used to say, with a young man who wrote leaders for the Daily Mirror. Tell me about Maxwell, is he really as bad as everyone says? I asked David. "He's 10 times worse," said David. "He arrives from Oxford every morning in a helicopter which lands on the office roof. His routine is always the same. He gets out, strolls over to the parapet wall, unzips his flies and takes a leak. If it hits anyone walking along Holborn 11 floors down, he's in a good mood for the rest of the day."
The obvious answer to the pension debacle is to keep your money under the mattress, as people used to do and pray you're not burgled. Touch wood, we haven't for at least 10 years, presumably because there are much richer pickings at hand than our modest accommodation above a shop. Three doors along in the King's Road, beside the shoe shop that sells single strap sandals for £299, there is an equally upmarket jewellers. One night a couple of weeks ago a motorbike roared up to the pavement outside the jewellers, the pillion passenger jumped off, produced a sledge hammer from his trouser leg and started smashing window to get at the goodies. After half a dozen blows a few hairline cracks appeared in the glass - but that's about all.
We saw the whole thing from my bedroom window - there are some advantages to living in the King's Road. By this time the burglar alarm was going ballistic and the fellow with the sledgehammer, still wearing his helmet, got back on the bike and off they roared. People go to such incredible lengths to burglar-proof their possessions, no self-respecting thief would think it worth looking under anyone's mattress.
There is just one snag to my new investment plan. I haven't got any money to put under my mattress. It is all tied up in that damned pension so, alas, I shall never feel the security of sleeping on bundles of used notes and knobbly bags full of £2 coins.
My Burmese grandmother up in the Shan states near the Chinese border used a variation on the mattress bank. She lived in one of those picturesque houses on stilts in the middle of the Inle Lake, famous for its boatmen who row with their legs. My grandmother kept her pension which, like all Burmese pensions took the form of gold jewellery, wrapped in a bag tied to a long string.
She kept it under her bed above a hole in the floor. The idea was that in the event of a break-in she would drop the bag through the hole into the lake leaving the end attached to a nail. Yes, I know what you are thinking. I thought exactly the same when my mother told me this charming story about her mother.
Surely the burglar if he had any sense, on seeing the hole, the nail and the string would put two and two together, pull up the bag and make off with the loot. Not so much a hole in the floor as a flaw in the whole thing really.
"You're so cynical Susan," said my mother. "The Burmese, especially your grandmother are simple gentle people who would not knowingly harm anyone. They're Buddhists, even the burglars."
That's the answer of course. When I am old and penniless, my pension not worth the paper it is printed on, I shall pack all my worldly goods into a red-spotted handkerchief, book a low cost flight to Rangoon, and a third class train ticket to Taunggyi and live in a house on stilts on the Inle Lake. Maybe it will even have a hole under the bed. Who needs a pension?Reuse content