A day at Age Concern in Leicester


Picture by Mike Sewell. Cat talks to elderly people at the Age Concern centre in Humberstone Gate about what gets up their noses. Pictured is Cat talking to Susan Reid. (Cat Turnell)

Picture by Mike Sewell. Cat talks to elderly people at the Age Concern centre in Humberstone Gate about what gets up their noses. Pictured is Cat talking to Susan Reid.


When you own a full deck of cards but shuffle a little slower, old age has a habit of throwing up a few impeccably-timed niggles.
If it’s not grappling with parcels sealed like a drum of North Sea uranium or dragging leaden luggage on to buses, trains and planes, it’s trying to find a hastily required lavatory when you’ve got better hope of locating the Sasquatch.
These are issues, you can safely assume, the women in pastel at Leicester’s Age Concern know all about. We’re at the charity’s Dorothy Russell centre because author and telly presenter Joan Bakewell has just been appointed the official Voice Of Older People at the age of 75.

“But she’s young,” shouts 96-year-old John Leyton sat in the corner, “and I’m knackered.”

Coming at a time when the fastest growing age group in the UK are those aged 80 years and over, part of Ms Bakewell’s remit is to inform the government about the issues which affect older people.

“Some of them are matters of life and death, some of them are tiny things,” says Joan, “but even the tiny things can become real problems.”

In Leicester, there’s barely time to unsheath a notebook before Marjorie Crick gets the proverbial weight off her chest on the downside of advancing years.

“The younger ones, they won’t speak to you,” frowns the retired English Martyrs dinner lady and hosiery industry worker.
“It’s true,” adds the 88-year-old, “they don’t, you’re invisible.”

It’s a simple question of patience with some people: or more to the point, the lack of it, sighs Janet Plant, 63, from Anstey Heights. At her side is Beryl Shenton, 70, from Belgrave.
“We had an argument in Sainsbury’s, in Humberstone Gate, about us walking slowly by the gentleman who was at the back of us,” says Janet, rolling her eyes at Beryl.
“We reported him to security,” she squints. “We tend to walk side by side, but it’s not quick enough for some.”
The biggest problem for Susan Reid, 65, of Eyres Monsell, is, quite simply, people.
“People,” she pauses, “they won’t move out of the way, I find the youngsters very ignorant. I have to use a walking frame, which,” she points, “is over there.”
Beryl has a few gripes to add of her own. For one, she lip reads because she can barely hear. “People think I’m ignoring them, I’m not.”
“And I think when you get older, and when you’re caring for anybody, I think it’s wrong that people get carer’s allowance because you’re a certain age. I look after my husband, nearly 24 hour care. I know other people who get it, but I can’t get it because I’m over 65. You want it as you’re getting older.”
“Excuse me,” says Susan, piping up, “but that’s arse backwards.”
“That’s another for the swearbox,” warns Beryl with a light wag of her finger, “you’ve said two `buggers’ all ready. Ooh! Now you’ve got me at it.”

If it’s not unhelpful, logic-defying legislation, you’ve got the myriad physical burdens brought by the advancing seasons.

“If you’ve got arthritis in your hand you can’t pick things up like you would normally,” says Janet, lifting up her red raw fingers for inspection.
Using can openers, unscrewing jars; they all come with their own joyless Krypton Factor when you hit a certain age: When will manufacturers learn that not all gherkin lovers have the upper body strength of Geoff Capes?
An increasing lack of physical strength is only exacerbated when you need to risk life and limb simply getting from A to B.
“Cars on the pavement,” seethes Phyllis Oswin, 81, from Belgrave, “you have to walk in the road to get past them.”
The retired shoe hand’s gripe is met with a chorus of shared annoyance. And yet, by far the biggest bone of contention for the people here today is the little matter of responsibility. They scrimped, they saved for their rainy days, they looked after their health and their kids, and what support do they get from the state? – sweet Fanny Adams.
Yet, those who never saved, those who were down the pub, going out for dinner, off on holiday, they’re the ones who get `looked after’, while the grafters are still counting their pennies to afford their food, heating and home repairs.
“I don’t get nothing like that because I’ve got a bit of savings,” says Marjorie.
“All I’ve had is my roof insulation, that’s all I got. If you apply for anything else, they want to know every last detail about you.
“Look at the money you get for having children,” she says, “you never got nothing when we were younger.”
The quietly spoken Edna Seare is 88 and lives in New Parks.
There’s a few things she misses about being younger, she whispers, in a voice as small and soft as a snowflake. “My daughter does everything for me, she changes my sheets, she does the duvets. I try to do what I can.
“What do I miss about being younger? I miss dancing with my husband. When he died, he was 46. It’s no age. It was a long time ago.”

Millicent March, 86, from New Parks, is a born worrier – age, she says, has just magnified her insecurities.
“I never go out, I’ve become a recluse. I’m always worried. I worry all the time. I’m worried about weeing myself,” she confides with admirable honesty. “I let the slightest thing worry me.
“I always feel so guilty all the time, I mean, I think people are so nice. I just feel so useless.”
Last, but a galaxy away from least, is John Leyton, a retired Group One lorry driver who lives near the National Space Centre.
John is a man who’s taken Mark Twain’s age maxim to heart. “Age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The 96-year-old was born a week after the Titanic went down in 1912, and despite being registered blind 17 years ago, he hasn’t got anything to complain about – what, nothing?
“Nothing, it’s no good grumbling. I do hear the women grumbling, it’s up to them. I take no notice.
“I am blind, but I’m all right for money. I’ve got enough to last me all my life if I die tonight,” he says with a nudge of his elbow.
“I’m in good health, apart from being blind. I live on my own and my daughter and son look after me. Bless them, they’re angels to me.
“Do you know what there is on my TV?” No John, what? “Dust.”
John then launches into a story about a woman celebrating her 100th birthday who gets a visit from a Mercury reporter. He asks her if she’s ever been bed ridden. The deftly delivered punchline is a little too savoury for publication.
“If I won the Lottery, the first thing I’d do I’d buy myself a new pair of trousers.”
Why’s that John? “Because,” he grins, “I’d have shit my others.”
This outro was never published in the Mercury, even when I suggested changing shit to soiled. Their loss.

Picture by Mike Sewell. Cat talks to elderly people at the Age Concern centre in Humberstone Gate about what gets up their noses. Pictured is Cat talking to John Leyton. (Cat Turnell)

Talking to John Leyton.

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