JANET STREET-PORTER: Don’t tell us oldies how to behave, Dave, I’ll do the job

David Cameron has considered appointing a Minister for the Elderly

David Cameron has considered appointing a Minister for the Elderly

Down in Cornwall at the weekend, the sun finally shone and the pub where I stayed was full of happy walkers — the vast majority the same age as me, with not a stick or walking frame in sight. I was celebrating my friend Katharine’s 65th birthday — we met on our first day at college back in 1965.
Katharine, like me, has no intention of retiring. A qualified architect and head of a department at a prestigious university, she has worked all her life.

We drank a lot of wine, loafed about under the blue sky and went for a stroll across the fields in the early evening. I didn’t want to spoil my pal’s day by telling her that Dame Joan Bakewell — the unelected busybody designated Tsarina for the elderly by Gordon Brown — has been investigating binge drinking pensioners for a forthcoming edition of Panorama.

This bit of news makes me so cross I can barely type. If you can’t behave badly, let your hair down and drink when you’re old, what is there left to look forward to in life? Joan told a reporter: ‘There are a lot more over-65s in rehab these days, and I have been talking to them all . . .’

A lot more than when, exactly? Rehab didn’t really exist when my mum and dad were around; it’s a relatively new industry. Alcoholism, like dependency on drugs, is a dreadful disease, but I don’t believe for one minute that my generation of baby boomers have suddenly morphed into a bunch of addicts.

The vast majority are well-balanced, normal, busy and fulfilled. But I’ve noticed that a cottage industry in baby boomer-bashing, led by politicians resentful of our sheer numbers, is growing fast.
David Cameron’s former Big Society advisor Lord Wei has just written a report for the Gulbenkian Foundation proposing a ‘national retirement service’ aimed at helping us avoid boredom once we stop work. 

Do you know any bored pensioners? I don’t. My pals are busy on the internet, haggling over bargains, selling their unwanted stuff, talking to their mates all over the world on Skype and comparing the prices of B&Bs from Llandudno to Lausanne.

The highest number of over-65s are working (many because their pensions have plummeted in value) since records began in 1992. Others are learning new skills at Open University or another language at evening classes.


 I was summoned to a meeting with Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman recently. A special adviser and an assistant were present, but no one ever bothered to send me (as they had promised) Harriet’s proposals for regulation of the Press, which is what she wanted to discuss.

Nevertheless, I like Harriet. In the flesh, she’s highly intelligent and is really good company. So why is she still banging on about that old chestnut, class?

She tells Total Politics magazine, in an interview celebrating her 30 years as an MP, she’s definitely on the posh side of things, but ‘not Sam Cam posh’.

Harriet, you went to a far swankier school in West London than I did, one that cost £20,000 a year. I don’t think it’s relevant. People who bring up class feel guilty about their background.

Just get over it, love, it’s not important to the job you’re paid to do.

Lord Wei, like Dame Joan, is a well-meaning busybody, and he’s just 35, so what he knows or understands about old age does not interest me in the slightest. He thinks older people should be working part-time, volunteering for charities or sharing their knowledge about business with young entrepreneurs — which already happens in an informal way.

He proposes we should be forming local networks and be helping older people in nursing homes. Why can’t the thousands of young people who can’t get jobs do that? It would teach them social skills and give them valuable experience in social care.  If I was 90, I’d rather be talking to a livewire of 25 than another old codger moaning about the price of Ovaltine and the rubbish on telly.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, is another baby boomer-basher. He says that retirees should be volunteering instead of playing golf. The Government’s recent White Paper on social care did not go into detail about where the money would come from to look after an ageing population.

Economist Andrew Dilnot had already suggested each of us should cough up between £25,000 and £50,000, capped according to means (costing the Government around £2 billion a year, easily found by cancelling foreign aid), but that is too sensible a solution for this Government to grasp.

Instead, some experts want the elderly to lose travel concessions and heating allowances, and pay more tax, even though we have spent our entire lives paying tax and National Insurance at the unavoidable rate, unlike bankers and top businessmen.

David Cameron is thinking of appointing a Minister for the Elderly, according to Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister. Give me the job, Dave, and ignore the baby boomer-bashers.


Tom Cruise  is keen to recruit Russell Brand  to Scientology, after working with him on the movie Rock Of Ages.

Russell might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s too smart to fall for that kind of flattery. The best thing about dodgy religious cults — from Transcendental Meditation, to Scientology and the Children Of God — is that they soak up weird people from society.

Fine by me, as long as these ‘believers’ leave the rest of us alone.

Tom Cruise and Russell Brand: Stars of movie Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise and Russell Brand: Stars of movie Rock of Ages


My partner’s 83 year-old dad was admitted to Whipps Cross University Hospital in East London (where yesterday’s Mail on Sunday revealed three female carers have been arrested and a ward closed after allegations of abuse of elderly patients) following a fall.

He had no complaints about the care he received, but last Friday the hospital sent him home without any medication or any notes, telling him a nurse would arrive later that day to change his dressings.

He waited up until nearly midnight after the district nurse rang and said she was still  trying to get to his home. She finally arrived  at 2pm next day, by which time he was in considerable pain.

Don’t tell me about ‘staff shortages’ — this  story is all too familiar, isn’t it?

Marissa Mayer at the Glamour Magazine Women of The Year Awards

Marissa Mayer at the Glamour Magazine Women of The Year Awards

Well done, Marissa Mayer, appointed chief executive of Yahoo, joining a handful of women chosen to head a top company in the U.S.

The number of women running the most successful businesses there, the Fortune 500, runs at the same pitifully low level as the UK: just  4 per cent.

Marissa, 37, has an impressive track record — one of the original 20 employees at Google and their first female engineer, she is a workaholic who admits to spending 14 hours a day at the weekend on emails.

Feminists are divided about whether Marissa’s appointment is good news, because she’s expecting a baby in October and plans on working right up to the birth and returning soon afterwards.

In the UK, you can take up to six months ordinary maternity leave and are legally entitled to a year off work if you choose. Do you know many high-flying women who would do that?

Vicky Pryce, formerly married to Chris Huhne, is a highly successful economist, but admitted she returned to work at the financial firm KPMG after just three days off.

According to Vicky, she didn’t want to miss a big presentation she’d been working on for months, and claims: ‘It was brilliant because it meant I actually recovered much faster than I did with the other kids.’

Vicky is in favour of quotas for women in the boardroom, something I have been banging on about for months, but which our ‘female-friendly’ PM seems very reluctant to do anything about.

The truth is, women like Vicky and Marissa only got to the top because they play by male rules.