At the age of 66 I do not consider myself to be ‘old’. I believe I am not yet at the point where I have to consider Dylan Thomas’s injunction:
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage ‘against the dying of the light.’1
Equally I am pleasantly surprised to find some advantages to age. In the UK, provided a person has made enough contributions to National Insurance, they are guaranteed a state pension. The age at which one can get it has risen and will continue to do so. It is not a huge amount, and no one should have to live on that alone, although there are people who do. This is made possible by pension credits and free health care through our National Health Service. Aged Britons do not have outrage of their Gallic counterparts, where Macron is facing angry ‘wrinklies’.
Last March (2022) I reached that age. There is a huge sense of satisfaction in seeing payments being made into my bank account every four weeks. And yes, that means there are thirteen in a year! In addition, there have been a number of one off payments to help with energy bills. The government was unable to target this, so they were made to all pensioners, and people on other benefits. There is much to complain of with the current government UK, but some things work well.
A couple of weeks ago I submitted my bus pass application to Norfolk County Council. The process took only 10 minutes, including taking my picture on the laptop. The pass gives me free travel on local buses across the UK. This means I can walk over to the nearest bus stop, about a third of a kilometre away, and be in the centre of Norwich in 20 minutes. If I am prepared to walk a little further the choice of buses is increased.
I have been making more use of buses over the past few months. This is partly to reduce my carbon footprint, but also because time is an interesting concept: I have less of it in absolute terms, but more in relative terms (think about it). I am happy to spend the time travelling, and there are no parking issues, an added incentive! Of course, there are swings and roundabouts: I can travel free on the bus, but I am no longer able to leap up the stairs to the upper deck! The pass is something of an incentive to go into town more frequently, and that may be a good thing. I am struck by how many passengers have dogs, they are allowed on the buses (the dogs). Even more surprising, to me, is how many of my fellow passengers stop to talk to or pet the animals.
Without doubt the national news has been dominated by the incompetence of the Conservative government. On Sunday 29th January, following increasing pressure, Nadhim Zahawi was sacked as Tory Party chairman and thus lost his seat in the Cabinet. He had not disclosed that HMRC, the tax office, had investigated him for failing to declare income, and fined him a huge amount. The BBC asked his constituents what they thought, one said Mr Zahawi “had brought shame on the town”. He has actually, and from my point of view, happily, eroded the Tory credibility; at present they are a party of lies and sleaze.
To me the more concerning aspect was that Zahawi threatened legal action against a journalist who was investigating this. Even more disturbing is that he did not resign but had to be sacked. The days of people ‘falling on their swords’ seem to have gone. The arrogance of the man is quite astonishing. The litany of disgraceful behaviour continues. There is a scandal brewing about a large loan made to Boris Johnson during his premiership. The businessman who made the introduction was made the BBC chairman a few weeks later. Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, is under investigation for bullying. The country is wracked by industrial action from the public sector, most obviously the nurses, fire brigades and ambulance staff. The government fails to understand how much support there is for these workers, and it shows little sign of waning. The conservatives will lose the next election, they are so out of touch.
My political home is the Liberal Democrat Party. Let me acknowledge straight away that this is not entirely rational. The Lib Dems have fallen mightily since running the country in a coalition with the Tories from 2010 to 2015. The electorate punished us for this unholy alliance, and quite rightly so. At the beginning of 2023 the Tories have 355 MPs, Labour 195, the Scottish Nationalists 45, and the Lib Dems 14. The balance of the 650 seats are held by eight smaller parties and independents (and one is vacant).
Let me move on to a more lighthearted subject. It is a tradition for the Norfolk Lib Dems to hold an annual Burns Night Supper celebrating Scots poet Robbie Burns. These follow an established tradition. There is a piper playing as people take their seats making introductions impossible. The Selkirk Grace never fails to amuse me.
Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
This is followed by the Haggis being piped in and a series of toasts. There was a guest speaker. This year it was Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk from 2001 to 2019. He stood down rather than lose his seat, but sadly the constituency went Tory. He was most amusing and quite brief. Douglas came three years ago, but wild horses would not have got him there this year. He had a point; I think I was one of the younger people there. Another consequence of the Covid pandemic.
And so, I come to the end of this post. Over the last few days, the news has been dominated by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. This does not mean the other challenges we face have gone away. The world continues to warm at an alarming rate. The migrants cross the Mediterranean and the English Channel in a steady stream. The war in Ukraine is not over, indeed there may be spring offensives. Perhaps we must take heart from the end of Voltaire’s Candide. ‘ “I also know,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.”’