Toby Neal: Who are the old and vulnerable?

In the current crisis, we must look after the old and vulnerable. But who are they?

Protecting the old and vulnerable. Photo: SnapperSK
Protecting the old and vulnerable. Photo: SnapperSK

"Old and vulnerable" is one of those terms which trip off the tongue like "schools and hospitals" or even "test and trace."

To talk of the "old and vulnerable" is to appear concerned, compassionate. You're a good person looking out for the interests of a particular section of society.

But I am yet to hear anybody who self-identifies as "old and vulnerable." On the contrary, I get the feeling that a lot of those to whom it is being applied consider it virtually to be a patronising or pejorative term.

The lifting of lockdown allowed me to see my sister for the first time. She just sneaks into the category. And she bridles with indignation at the very mention.

"I'm not blooming old and vulnerable," she says.

Chatting to my aunt the other day, who is in her 80s, the conversation somehow touched on the subject of age, and she chuckled: "But I don't consider myself to be old."

George Evans, the Wellington war veteran and peace campaigner who died this week at the age of 97, once told me he had the mind of a 12-year-old in the body of a man in his 90s.

It was true. George was a young man, with a bit of a mischievous streak, sometimes being rather like a naughty schoolboy.

Objectively, there really are people who are old and vulnerable. The coronavirus figures prove that it is a real category.

But a lot of them lumped in do not consider themselves old and vulnerable, and some of them are inclined to be rather rebellious.

At the very beginning of lockdown, with everybody ordered to stay at home, I went out on assignment – journalists were classed as "essential workers" (don't laugh) – and found a gentleman of a certain age sitting on a town centre bench.

Shouldn't you be at home? He replied with words to the effect that he always came out and sat on this bench and wasn't going to let the lockdown stop him.

So far as I can tell though the "O & Vs" went along with their house arrest, despite the enormous imposition.

What we have to remember about a lot of these older people is that they were teenagers in the 1960s where their mental faculties were turned to mush by the rhythmic beats of psychedelic music churned out by drug-crazed morons of the popular music genre.

Society went to pot in more ways than one in an atmosphere of sexual lasciviousness. Famously there was a mass orgy called the summer of love.

Racism in society was rife, and out in the open. Attitudes were prevalent which would get them locked up today.

Indeed, a while ago I suggested that a way to solve the care crisis would be to send the entire older generation to prison. As I only received one complaint, clearly it is an idea with legs.

As they were stoned the entire time, none of them now remember those days.

Yet everybody over 70 shares this dark secret, that they lived through those times.

And remember – it is this young generation of yesteryear who overwhelmingly voted for Britain to be in the EU, or Common Market as it was then. And then changed their minds based on over 40 years of experience.

The last six months has taught us things about ourselves as a society.

Age is a chronological fact. But today, more than ever before, it is also a state of mind.


What on earth was shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds thinking?

As she got up in the House of Commons to respond to Rishi Sunak's statement, she was wearing a vivid red top. That's very Jeremy Corbyn era.

I thought the whole point of electing Sir Keir Starmer as the new Labour leader was that it would mean that beige is the new red.

Over the past few days Sir Keir has been busy with his launch of New Labour, although he hasn't been calling it that for obvious reasons.

He's been doing the rounds saying, "I'm the new leader, me". He hasn't been selling any particular policies, because he hasn't got any. Instead, he's been selling himself. Labour is under new management. Meet the new boss. Not the same as the old boss.

For the moment, with any election years away, he has the luxury of being able to concentrate on the packaging, rather than the actual product.

Marketing people know that the colour of the packaging can influence the willingness of people to buy. JC's vivid red was clearly too stark for voters.

Sir Keir is trying to tone it down with a splash of beige to give a more electorally comforting hue.

During the Chancellor's announcement Rishi touched on the new contact tracing app, which gives me the cue to mention that my wife has downloaded this app on her phone and says that it's the easiest thing in the world to do.

I tried to download it too but it wouldn't work, although not through any fault of the app – I think the steam pump on my phone is on its last legs.

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