Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 31st December 2018

AS we get older our hair falls out, our knees creak, we get out of puff and we also notice a gradual diminution in the number of Christmas cards we have on display.

While millions of pounds are spent on presents and food over the festive season, the popularity of the Christmas card is in decline. In 2005 we British sent more than 1.2 billion cards. The latest figure is just over 750 million.

Sadly, for us older folk, the absence of a Christmas card we’ve been used to receiving can often spell the unhappy thought that the sender is no longer in a healthy enough state to send them out, or, worse, another old acquaintance has bitten the dust.

For lonely elderly people, fast running out of contemporaries, a handwritten card at Christmas may be just about the only contact they have over the holiday period. Those few words someone took the trouble to write still mean something.

These days cards with religious themes are becoming a rarity. Robins and holly branches are safe from any inadvertent politically incorrect message. And, of course, there’s always Facebook, although a family picture online just doesn’t do it compared to an actual written card.

Research by one hi-tech firm suggests that half of us texted our festive greetings this year instead of sending a card. People quote the cost of cards and postage, but I suspect it’s more about laziness.

Yet again this Christmas I didn’t receive anything from the royals, but I did get one joyful surprise in the shape of a card from an old fell-running pal who I had not heard from for a couple of years, causing me to assume the worst and that he was no longer with us.

Turns out his devoted wife died two years ago and he found life quite unbearable for a while. Christmas was not exactly a time of good cheer. But time is a healer. He recently turned 90, and he’s chuffed to have reached that milestone. And, I’m happy to say, we’re back on each other’s Christmas card list again. You don’t get that sense of festive joy on Twitter.


I ONCE interviewed Sir Ranulph Fiennes by email while he was stranded in an airport in some exotic location, delayed on his return from another adventure. “No problem,” he said in response to my request for a chat. “I’ve been here 14 hours with nothing to do. So fire away.” For the next hour we enjoyed an exchange of messages with each of my questions being dutifully answered in detail.

A few years ago three of our finest, approaching pension age, undertook a novel series of adventures. TV reporter John Simpson, round the world sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Arctic explorer Sir Ranulph decided to share their experiences.

As a result Simpson got frostbite and Sir Ranulph was abominably seasick rounding Cape Horn. The other two were scared witless when Simpson led them into Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan.

Last week, Simpson and Fiennes — the latter having survived cancer, frostbite and a heart attack — met up for lunch with Sir Robin to discuss their restless urge for further adventures. The first two are aged 74, Knox-Johnston is a tough and grizzled 79 year old.

Simpson tells his Twitter followers something’s being planned by the three of them. It may not be as barmy as it sounds. As a member of the 70-plus age group, all I can say is there’s still life in us old dogs.

That’s confirmed by research done on behalf of the Office for National Statistics who looked at data for more than 300,000 people in Britain for the past three years and asked how satisfied they were with their lives.

Personal wellbeing was lowest among those of middle years with anxiety levels at their peak in this age group and at their lowest in those aged over 90. The report said average ratings of life satisfaction and happiness, a sense that what one does is worthwhile, peak in those ages between 65 and 79.

Of course you need your health to follow in the intrepid footsteps of the trio I have mentioned. I’ve also witnessed many people go into decline after retiring. It’s vital to have interests, whether paid or voluntary, and I can honestly vouch that some of my happiest, most fulfilling years have been the most recent ones.

In a radio interview this week John Simpson said he and his pals were restless for another adventurous project. Greenland was one of the places mentioned. None of them, he said, had any thoughts of giving it all up and becoming pipe and slippers men.

Life used to begin at 40 or so they said. These days 70 seems to be the new 40.


STILL on the subject of senior citizens, I see the Government is now considering putting us on the burgeoning list of social groups protected by hate crime legislation, covering almost 20 per cent of the population.

So now oldies are going to be immune from criticism and humour just like ethnic groups, religions, the disabled, LGBTQ and, if one MP gets her way, women who are victims — a word I use advisedly as it can range from mass tsunami deaths to anyone who perceives minor offence — of misogyny.

Crikey, that only leaves those of us who are male and white and elderly. But wait a minute. We’re a self-deprecating lot. We can take a joke. We positively hate the thought of being labelled victims. Don’t lump us in with your victim culture. We may be going grey, but our attitudes to life are far from grey.


THE most extraordinary thing about world events in 2018 is not the endless wrangling and soul searching over Brexit, but the fact that a certain Donald Trump has retained his grip on the US presidency.

More extraordinary are figures produced by the Wall Street Journal indicating that nearly 40 per cent of voters would vote Trump again and a similar number expect him to win a second term in the White House.

It doesn’t seem to matter what appalling revelations follow Trump around, he remains untouchable. Furthermore, his support is holding up mid-term. The only way they might get him out of office is if he feels he’s done all he wanted to do and decides to cut and run.

Trump is a prime example of what political commentators describe as “magic ponies”. People are voting with their emotions — and through their pockets. Experience, political accomplishment and maturity are qualities more likely to lose an election. Instead they are seduced by “magic ponies” like Trump who appeal to their less rational instincts.

The late George H. W. Bush will be judged favourably by history from his term as president. But he put up taxes and failed to win a second term. And that is a lesson for politicians in this country. At the next election it won’t be Brexit that defeats, it will be the public’s view on things like the NHS, policing, tax rises and the number of times their train was late.

American politics may shock us, but our own politics are becoming ever more split between the far right of the Tory Party and the extreme left of Labour. We’ve also become a nation not so much of supporters of the traditional parties, but of Leavers and Remainers. Meanwhile our MPs, with the nation in danger of going to the wall, spend time squabbling and posturing quite disgracefully.

Trump may have the loosest of grips on world politics, frighteningly so, but he’s cut tax rates, made trade deals, controlled immigration, improved the outlook for the financial markets and got unemployment down to a 49-year low. And for US electors, who fail to see the bigger picture, that’s magic pony stuff.


THE Coca Cola promotions lorry was not welcome in several towns this Christmas. Indeed, reading the newspapers, you would think it was the work of the devil, or at least a travelling advert for childhood obesity.

As kids, we drank copious amounts of fizz, had a daily Mars bar to help us work, rest and play, and some of our diet would make today’s health police shudder. Me and my pal walked four miles a day to and from school, either played rugby or joined in the cross-country group in games and then kicked a ball around in the field until it got dark.

We were slim as rakes and had energy to burn. I’m not advocating kids guzzling Coke all day, but I believe lack of exercise is a bigger obesity contributor than a fizzy drink and a chocolate bar. Perhaps it’s the hours spent gaming in front of computer screens we should be looking at.