Releasing the inner child could be fatal at our age
You didn't really notice it when you were a kid did you? The cold.
It may have been chilly, dull and grey on that out-of-season day when you were taken to the seaside, but you couldn't wait to wrestle under a towel to change into your hand-knitted trunks and get out there in the water to spend hours looking for starfish, shells and oddly coloured pebbles.
Then, in the very worst of the wintry weather, you would race out to build snowmen and throw snowballs, build igloos and re-enact Scott's journey to the South Pole, your fingers and nose almost snapping off before Mum brought you in to thaw out by the stove.
And as for the shorts. What were they thinking of sending you off to walk to school in January dressed in a pair of those?
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These days, of course, it's a bit different. The sea, even on the hottest August afternoon, is likely to bring out the goose pimples so you draw the line at a paddle and the biggest adventure you are likely to have when it snows is getting to the wood shed and back without slipping on the ice and breaking a hip.
It's in the home especially that these effects of ageing are most marked. Time was when the only sources of heat were a Rayburn or suchlike in the kitchen and an open fire in the front room – and even that was lit only after tea. There was nothing upstairs, just Jack Frost on the window panes, an eiderdown that was likely to slip off in the wee small hours, and cold lino upon which to place bare feet first thing in the morning. Memories like these bring a shudder that gets deeper and more painful with each year that passes.
So is it actually a process of age or, as a society, are we all growing softer? Whatever the answer to that, the truth is that many elderly people living in Britain are worried about keeping warm in the icy months ahead and quite rightly so. As the thermometer dips, an estimated 24,000 will die as a result.
Age UK says that about a quarter of the old – that's about three million – think it will be hard to pay fuel costs and will instead leave the heating switched off leaving them open to influenza, chest infections and other respiratory problems. Lower temperatures can raise blood pressure too so there's also a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. The charity has launched a Spread the Warmth campaign encouraging us all to "offer a lifeline" in the shape of home visits, the setting up of lunch clubs and generally keeping an eye on those who may be vulnerable, but I'm afraid that pride and privacy will prevent many of us taking that too far.
All this comes at the very moment when the big power companies – with meticulous timing – have announced, one by one, that they are hiking up bills way above inflation. Clever politicians of all colours have condemned this but their words largely boil down to switching supplier, which is far from easy and probably pointless, or checking that you are on the correct tariff which simply leaves you in a state of confusion. Tesco doesn't have a different tariff for a loaf of bread whether you buy it in Truro or Thurso, at 5am or 5pm, so why should British Gas have so many choices when it comes to switching on the toaster?
Many have called for a special tax to penalise the money-grabbing suppliers, but they're working on a profit margin of only 4 or 5 per cent and much of that goes to their big investors – pension funds – so take that away and many of the old are going to be even worse off.
An even bigger irony comes when you realise that a far greater proportion of energy bills goes on "green taxes" or, in short, the vast fund that pays for all those ugly and pointless wind and solar farms that now scar the countryside. Those oh so caring, sharing eco-folk who love such things obviously don't like to extend their concern for the planet to shivering wrinklies.
The only hope in all this is that many, as they age, are said to go through a second childhood. This process should clearly be encouraged and anyone over 70, say, should be given shorts, woollen swimming costumes and encouraged to get our there and chuck snow about. It seemed to keep out the cold when you were eight so why not now?
Yes. Release the inner child. Although at our age it will probably be fatal.