Raw deal for pensioners

EVERY year we have to endure the build up to budget day and then the Chancellor's indescribably dull announcement in which he outlines his latest sadistic and devious taxation scams to bleed us dry of cash and make our lives a lot harder to bear. This year of course with a very ennui election round the corner the budget was incredibly predictable and safe and therefore earned a staggering ten out of ten on the Richter scale of most boring, told-you-so Brown budgets on record. With the pensioner population growing at a fast rate in the UK-nine and a half million and going strong-the government had to take a big gulp and make hasty concessions in order to woo the grey and blue rinse vote. So what did it do? Introduced a few tasty financial morsels to guarantee that the country's retired folk would be putting a firm cross in Labour's box on the ballot sheet come election day. But are our pensioners' hearts really captured so easily? I'm not so sure. As my old chum, Mervyn Kholer put it at national charity, Help the Aged, where I served as Senior Press Officer many moons ago, “these one-off payments are pain relieving measures which do little to build self confidence in our older population. They are the usual cash bribes”.

Bribes they are and how much difference will they make anyway? To offer 200 pounds rebate to pensioners on council tax bills is all very well, but it was Labour that allowed council tax bills to spiral out of control in the first place. Then take free bus travel, but read the small print first. Pensioners will receive free travel but only off-peak which many already receive in the UK. The pensions have gone up a trifle but there's no heart in Mr Brown's budget. He's just a hollow mercenary, a ruthless Pied Piper with a swag bag of sharp pencils, employed to lure the country's pensioners down to the polling booths to make their mark in his party's favour. I don't like the cut of his gib nor that of Mr Blair, but neither do I trust the opposition-either of them. Would they genuinely try to improve the lot for pensioners? I doubt it, and would any of them attempt to restore respect for those who have lived long and learned so much? No. Unlike the Japanese, those of pensionable age in the UK are not treated with the respect they deserve but rather as a burdensome Scout group who keep finding their way back from the dark and dangerous forest where they have been unceremoniously dumped without a route planner. You see, the cold reality is all politicians want pensioners to get lost. They cost the health service too much, take up nearly fifty percent of NHS beds and are living longer despite all the cuts and stresses consecutive governments have heaped on them. And as for those pesky, independent ones that have fled the UK for warmer shores, well, says Mr Brown, they should be penalised as much as possible. Rob them of exceptionally severe weather payments, turn a cold shoulder, ignore their pleas for clemency. In fact, make them sweat it out on the beach! Since those who are retired are proving to be such a hardy and resistant bunch, one wonders why the government doesn't treat them as allies, rather than enemies of the economy. The government should embrace their wisdom, seek their expertise, garner their support through earning their respect and put them to good use in society. Heaven knows we need them. But that of course would require wisdom, a quality sadly lacking in our self–serving politicians and something which none of them could ever hope to possess.

The irresistible Dresser

I am making an effort to support London's theatreland (and revive my jaded literary brain) and so on a monthly basis, trundle off with one of my dearest old university chums, Jane Oliver, to visit one of the latest shows in town. Last month we sat spellbound watching Festen and this time, my turn to choose, we visited the Duke of York theatre to watch the masterly Nicholas Lyndhurst and Julian Glover in The Dresser. It was a brilliant play, a tragic comedy with the tension skilfully controlled by both actors. In my salad days I spent many nights hanging over the rails of the balconies of London's best theatres on one-pound tickets and so it is rather nostalgic to do it all over again, albeit in slightly more comfortable seats. Should you find yourself in London and in need of a good night out, do visit this outstanding piece of theatre.

Mahogany branches out

LAST week I slipped effortlessly from a meeting at Conde Nast's publishing empire on Hanover Square to Mahogany, my favourite hair emporium, a stone's throw away. This has to be one of the media's most chic and favourite hangouts because so many stylish creatures set foot inside along with Hollywood celebrities who pop by en route for premieres and award ceremonies. Much as I am just one of the mere mortals who visit this hallowed den, I am always treated like a long lost cousin - maybe I am - by the talented Richard Thompson, founder of Mahogany. This time I bumped into Penny Kennedy Scott who as secretary for all the local retail trade associations, has to be the busiest woman in Mayfair. To my horror, she limped up to me on heavy crutches, her leg encased in plaster and metal. It transpired that she had been attempting to pick apples off her tree and had fallen off the ladder, shattering her knee and several other bones, besides. Despite endless operations, she is still beavering away and hasn't missed one deadline. Now that's what I call a trooper!

Cold beer

NORMALLY the promotion of a new beer doesn't particularly send me into a state of delirium but I have to admit to more than a passing interest in the promotion of Peroni, the new Italian lager. Female journalist friends urged me to visit Sloane Street where a muscle-bound male model was playing security guard to a bottle of Peroni being displayed prominently in the front window of a shop. I happened to be flitting by in a taxi so got my driver to do a detour. The young model, 24 year old Sal Fauzi, was indeed a handsome specimen but if I had been the beer's promoter I might have been disappointed for half the crowd were lustful female shoppers ogling the poor young chap and not the beer which rather took the fizz out of the thing!

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