I’m not interested in talking about my age, but it’s become impossible to pick up a newspaper or click on a website without reading reams of bilge about older people – and we are nearly always discussed in a negative context.
A typical headline last week read: ageing baby boomers “will bankrupt youth of today”. Yesterday we were told that “Middle age ends at 68”. I blame pensioner perks. Apart from our stipend from the state – which doom merchants reckon could cause an economic meltdown – there are our freedom bus and Tube passes, discounted travel courtesy of senior railcards, winter fuel allowances and free TV licences. All these benefits (which pensioners have more than paid for through taxes over a lifetime of graft) have stoked up secret envy from younger generations.
All too often, it seems as if the words “pensioner” and “problem” gravitate towards each other. Older people are routinely depicted as victims: of violent crime, hospital bugs, charity cold callers, rogue roofers and double-glazing sharks. We are said to consume a disproportionate amount of NHS resources, even though they are available for all. For many commentators, my baby-boomer generation has become synonymous with everything that is self-satisfied and smug, mainly because we haven’t handily died or retired so that less qualified youth can move up the pyramids of power and get a foot on the housing ladder.
Our crime is to be alive and well, living in our own homes, cheerful and still functioning adequately, drinking and eating what we like. Survey after survey claims that old people are lonely, don’t see friends and family enough, are generally fearful, and long for some rose-tinted bygone age.
Of course, much of this is utter claptrap. Just how inaccurate the evil depiction of older people as frail and “brave” is was brilliantly pointed out this week with the astounding news that older people actually want to have sex. According to one newspaper, many of us “assume that companionship is at the heart of a relationship as the years pass... but older adults still value sexual attraction quite highly”. This was gleaned from a study conducted by the University of California, who asked people from 20 to 95 (I don’t know if they included ageing lotharios like Silvio Berlusconi and Mick Jagger) about the importance of sexual attraction when seeking a partner using the increasingly popular method of online dating sites.
Of course older people want to have sex. Why else would we bother to look for a new partner in later life? If we want companionship, then a cat or dog doesn’t answer back, doesn’t tell you your waistline has expanded and doesn’t raise an annoying eyebrow when you glug the last inch in a bottle of wine. If we want the bins putting out and our paintwork wiped down, then we can get a cleaner.
The number of women who are single as a result of divorce is at an all-time high. We are miles better preserved than the men of the same age – our version of 80 is the equivalent of 60 in my mother’s generation. Many older women have enough to live on, and older people are now the biggest consumers of holidays, leisure activities and online purchases.
So it logically follows that a great many of them will want to have sex – it’s fun and it’s (usually) free.
You never know what you’ll find in a Leeds bungalow
I wish I’d met Alan and Pat Firth, whose world-class collection of studio pottery has just been sold for almost a million pounds. This unassuming couple lived in a one-bedroom bungalow in Leeds, dedicating their lives to their passion for beautiful ceramics made by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper.
They were not people of means: she was a secretary and he a former probation officer, and they had no children. Their home was stuffed with wonderful works of art, wrapped in newspaper when they ran out of shelf space. In total, the Firths spent £27,000 on their collection, which contained finer pieces than most museums, usually buying directly from the artists.
I know what it’s like to be gripped by the collecting bug, which is never about making money. Once, I built up a hoard of Susie Cooper pottery – 1,000 pieces – and I was the proud owner of more than 100 advertising fans from the 1920s. My ex-husband was equally smitten, owning 75 bully beef tin openers shaped like cattle, and almost 200 blue and white Staffordshire meat platters. When I’ve sold one collection, I start another. Recently, I reduced my hoard of 1940s plates shaped like fish and sold my teapot collection, but kept some 1960s studio pottery – though nothing as valuable as the Firths’.
A photo of the couple shows them wearing extremely avant-garde jewellery; I wonder if that was another of their collecting passions. Handmade British studio pottery of this calibre is exactly what the V&A museum should be collecting and I hope it ignores grandstanding politicians and commentators and rejects any of the artefacts owned by Maggie Thatcher. Unlike David Bowie, she had no positive impact on popular culture.
Theroux had his Savile chance, and blew it
Louis Theroux got to know Jimmy Savile over many months making When Louis Met Jimmy for the BBC. That title reveals plenty about Theroux’s motives.
His films are artful portraits, whose top priority is to showcase the interviewer, with all his irritating tics and foibles. Louis thinks he is as interesting as his subjects. He didn’t discover that Savile was a paedophile. He even stayed in his house, counting the DJ “as a friend”.
Now, Theroux is being paid by the BBC to make another documentary, investigating how Savile “used his celebrity status” to commit disgusting crimes against the young and vulnerable. The BBC should cancel this programme. We don’t need an expensive act of penitence on the part of Theroux, and I don’t want the victims to be hurt any more by being exposed to prying cameras.
I’m not quite sure what public service this film would provide.
My Downton moment was spoilt by an untidy car
I briefly lived the Downton dream last week, attending a fundraising dinner organised by the Royal Academy of Music at Buckingham Palace.
We dined in the ballroom, where investitures are normally held, and the waiter kindly slipped me a handwritten note of the red wine I enjoyed: Longhop Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, available from Berry Brothers.
Based on my head count for this event, the palace staff seems pretty equally balanced between the sexes. The music, performed by college alumni, was superb, ranging from Gabrieli to Quincy Jones.
I just wish our car boot had not been crammed with junk (ranging from a pair of crutches to a surgical collar, and some old shoes) for the charity shop when the security staff inspected it.
Talking of passionate pensioners, guests included Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall. I doubt Murdoch had a crutch in his car boot.
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