Helen Martin: Age-old story of stereotyping

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IT was bad enough when the Saga junk mail started coming through the letter box.

But now we have pamphlets about care agencies who will “befriend” us, prepare meals for us and help us to bathe. We get funeral plans, estate agents suggesting we downsize, and sales literature from retirement flats and sheltered housing developments.

In our early 60s we realise we are not spring chickens. Nor are we ready for a pre-payment deal on shrouds. What happened to 60 being the new 40? What about the rise in pension age and the government plan that we should all keep working to 70?

Age is one of these profile factors that triggers an avalanche of targeted – and grossly insulting and condescending – nuisance mail. For once I find myself wishing they’d phone – just so that I could ask them if they’ve been let out of nursery for the day and see how they like it. Or, like the frail little old lady I am, tell them to sod 

They probably wouldn’t get through anyway – the phone being so busy with people trying to sell everything from scam investments to luxury cruises. Because another erroneous assumption marketing (for which read “harassing”) companies make based on age and postcode is that you might not be able to hold your water, remember how to boil an egg or make friends any more but you have pots of money. Apparently we are all sloshing about in Grey Pounds. Funny then, that no-one produces the things we want to buy.

Surely the information systems available to retail, marketing, finance and call centre companies must be more sophisticated nowadays. In my opinion if they want to sell 60-plus-year-old men something it should be a fast car, a motor bike or a personal trainer, not an incontinence pad. Their vulnerability is not being old and doddery but being mid-life, losing hair and worrying that they aren’t attractive anymore. By the same token what they should be marketing to 60-something women are Bridget Jones control pants, rejuvenating facials and zumba classes, not wee-wee pads, denture cream and stairlifts.

It’s almost impossible to find fashionable, sexy, elegant and affordable clothes designed for the “mature” figure which, even in a size 10 or 12, is a different shape from a twenty-something. We want tops and dresses with sleeves (bingo-wing concealers), not-so-deep necklines, hems just an inch or few above the knee, and above all, cut – probably on the bias – to fit our different bodies. Forget the elasticated waists, the crocheted up-to-the-neck cardigans and things with frills, bows and lace. Think Helen Mirren, not Thora Hird.

But then realism has never been important in sales. That’s why the woman featured on the stairlift brochure is slim, smooth-skinned and classy wearing smart trousers and designer pumps while looking as totally out of place as Rita Ora on a zimmer.

What makes all this even more ridiculous is that it’s now aimed at mere 50s and over who are being encouraged to get out and about, meet people, go to exercise classes, take out funeral cover and get online! I thought I’d heard it all until my colleague, who is mid-forties and male, told me he was being targeted by Tena pants.

Safe cycling is better for us all

I’VE given up any objection to the encouragement – however expensive – of cycling. It really is becoming a regular form of commuting transport, so fair enough. But the goal isn’t just upping the numbers, it’s doing so safely.

Scotland is a grey place in winter with dark mornings, dark evenings and wet, murky weather. I could have killed a line of cyclists (by accident) last week as they cycled up a busy, dimly lit road at about 5.45pm. Only one of them had a light on and it was faint and flickering. Black seems to be the favoured colour of Lycra. I’ve even seen one commuter cyclist on a mobile phone.

As numbers rise there will be calls for cyclists to meet more safety regulations and be held accountable in the same way drivers are for irresponsible behaviour. And the sooner that begins, the safer everyone – especially cyclists – will be.

Web security is a risky business

THE fact that a 15-year-old boy, let alone terrorists, can launch a successful cyberattack on Talk Talk says it all. Banking, shopping and bill-paying online is not safe, and probably never will be.

Yet banks, utility companies and retailers continue to herd us on to their portals because it’s cheaper for them and reduces staff numbers. And we, like the lemmings we are, go for it. After all it’s quicker, more convenient, and we’re lazy. It’s like leaving your baby alone in a buggy in the jungle and complaining when a tiger comes along and eats it.

If we as customers are stupid enough to sign up to all this, we deserve to be ripped off by anyone with the smarts to hack in. We are sitting ducks.

No cop out in top job

THERE are six applicants for Chief Constable of Police Scotland, the job about to be vacated by Sir Stephen House. Given the disastrous results and scandals so far, we can only deduce all six of them are convinced they can do better.