Belfast Telegraph

There are old people who should learn new manners

By Fionola Meredith

We hear a lot about the arrogance of youth, but what about the arrogance of age? Let's not make the mistake of thinking that all older people are apple-cheeked angels, always ready with a twinkly smile and a bag of Werther's Originals.

Among some pensioners, there's a culture of entitlement; a bitter, resentful sense that the world owes them something.

Certain supermarkets are the number one battleground for this kind of militant pensioner. This is where they stake out the frontlines in their war for wrinkly dominance.

In fact, if the Marks and Spencer store at Forestside in south Belfast is anything to go by, they're winning.

It seems that most of the shoppers are well over 60 and many of them really do behave like they own the place, perhaps encouraged by the plaque on the wall trumpeting the store's ‘commitment to the older shopper’.

Believe me, they shouldn't be encouraged. Trolleys are left blocking the aisles, so that young mothers with pushchairs, juggling their own shopping, have to edge around them.

Shameless attempts at queue-jumping go on at the self-service checkouts. And on more than one occasion, I've had the unpleasant sensation of the backs of my thighs being crushed by the trolley of an impatient pensioner in the queue behind me.

Funnily enough, I've never seen this kind of bad behaviour at my local Tesco or Co-op stores. To my mind, that's because there is a definite class dimension to the problem.

These elderly upstarts tend to be from the affluent middle-classes. They can afford to buy themselves smoked salmon and speciality teas and then drive themselves home for a pleasant snooze in their Tudor-style conservatories.

I don't begrudge these rich old people their comfortable twilight years, sweetened by little luxuries. But equally, I don't believe they are entitled to special treatment simply because of their age.

Why should we reward people for longevity? After all, that's fundamentally in their own interest, not anyone else's. And I certainly don't think that self-centred ignorance is ever acceptable, whether you're 18 or 88.

It was the confident, articulate middle-class pensioners who led the roar of outrage when social development minister Nelson McCausland appeared to suggest that free transport for the better-off elderly might have to be withdrawn to offset the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

The DUP quickly distanced itself from that notion, fearful of alienating a substantial section of their vote. But it seemed like a smart idea to me. Just as in the case of child |benefit, means|testing of some kind is the only fair solution. In times of economic crisis, the state should not be handing out benefits to people who don't need them, when so many others desperately do.

Of course, there's no doubt that age discrimination exists; as a recent report found, many old people suffer humiliation and degrading treatment on a daily basis. That is utterly reprehensible. But not all are in that unfortunate position.

In fact, if you're a well-off old man with a public profile, Northern Ireland is a great place to live. You can just go on and on and no one will ever tell you you're past it.

Unfortunately, some of these thundering old bores bring with them some seriously benighted attitudes that should have died out in the last century.

Not long after I started off in broadcasting, one well-known older male journalist asked me to type up his script for him, presumably because I was a little lady and it was my born secretarial duty to do so.

When I refused, he looked incredulous and fearful, as though I might rip off my bra there and then and burn it under his nose. Or let's be kind: perhaps he was just having a senior moment.

I often think that public ambivalence towards old people — weeping buckets over frail grannies left neglected in A&E departments, but happy to crack jokes about the elderly being senile, or incontinent — is similar to the way we treat fat people.

The obese are also the target of casual disgust and contempt, but if someone like fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld says that singer Adele is a little fat, we react with shock and outrage. It probably comes down to — quite justifiable — fear that advancing age, or increasing size, will make us into a non-person in the eyes of society.

But not all old people are victims. Some have a voice that is all-too-clearly heard.

Belfast Telegraph

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