Helen Martin: Age-old trouble for silver service

Helen Martin has been delighted with the city's bus service. Pic: Ian Georgeson
Helen Martin has been delighted with the city's bus service. Pic: Ian Georgeson
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WITH our offices temporarily based in Morrison Street, I felt obliged to get my Entitlement Card, once known as the free bus pass for 

I am now a public transport user and mightily impressed with Lothian Buses. So far, they’ve run like clockwork and appear to employ the most polite and obliging drivers imaginable. I’ve also learned that with a bus service like ours we had no need of trams at all, and that if you want to see a display of good manners, get on a bus after 9.15am.

The commuting run’s almost over and most of the passengers have a pass like mine, hence they are of a certain age group for whom standing up to offer a seat to an elderly person is compulsory. The problem is, we are all over 60. How – unless it’s totally obvious – can I be sure the person to whom I am offering a seat is older than me?

The men have it easy. The older they are, the more gallantry is ingrained so there’s no shame, and indeed some pride, in a fit 70-year-old man offering a 60-year-old woman a seat. Woman to woman is a bit more tricky and carries the risk of gross 
insult through good intentions in much the same way as asking a young woman when her baby is due backfires when she’s not pregnant at all, but just fat.

Is that woman with a cauliflower perm, a face like a pickled walnut, a green-beige raincoat with two tone hood and open-toed cross-over sandals really about 80, or is she 62 with a fashion and skin care bypass?

And ask any bus driver and he’ll tell you how often he’s been shocked by stopping for a high-heeled, size 10, designer-dressed blonde to leap on board like a gazelle only to swipe her Entitlement over his scanner . . . so to speak.

With Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry both 68 and starring at Glastonbury, Helen Mirren exuding sex appeal at almost 69, Mick Jagger due to turn 71 this month, Rod Stewart on his way to the big 70 and even George Clooney just a seven-year-itch away from his Entitlement Card, age might be less relevant but it’s more of a diplomatic minefield than ever.

It takes most of us a year or two to apply for that card, as if by not doing so we can hold back the years and refuse to be defeated into senior citizenhood. But eventually the lure of cheap cinema tickets, free travel throughout Scotland and proof of eligibility for anything that offers “concessions” from theatre seats to haircuts, wins our sweet old hearts over.

For the bus company, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s hard to see how ticket revenue from the minority of fare-paying passengers on the 9.20am even covers the cost of the diesel. On the other hand, which driver wouldn’t prefer a cargo of polite, seat-offering, freeloaders – each of whom thanks him at the end of their journey – over the unpredictable but sometimes harrowing experience of the night bus transporting paying but dilated-pupil clubbers who could probably fuel the thing themselves just by breathing tequila slammer fumes in the general vicinity of the engine?

But let’s not be ageist. Maybe Edinburgh has some Dollys, Debbies, Helens, Micks, Rods and Georges who can do both . . . club till 4am and use their Entitlement Card to get home.

Food education can bear fruit

HOW is it possible in 2014 that one in ten people in the Lothians eats absolutely no fruit or vegetables?

The message has been banged out loud and clear. Wonderful support agencies such as Edinburgh Community Food devote themselves to spreading the word.

With apologies to ECF and others, I can’t believe it has anything to do with price. Any student can tell you living on veg is cheaper than living on meat, fish or takeaways. In almost every supermarket, fruit and veg is the first department in the door. Customers have to studiously avoid buying anything on their way to the ready meals, bread and pizza aisles.

It must come down to the fact that some people, inexplicably, just don’t like veg. Or that, in areas of deprivation we are told, there just isn’t a “history” of vegetable eating or, for that matter, knowing how to cook them.

I wish the new campaign, Edible Edinburgh, the best success. But I hope they don’t waste public money preaching to the converted. Focus on educating the don’t knows rather than pointlessly badgering the don’t wants. As the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water . . .

This Jack’s the ace in the pack

AT last the standard of referendum debate has been raised, and by former first minister Jack McConnell. He says he’s not a nationalist but respects those who are.

He clearly doesn’t want independence and prefers a federal-type union but says dislike of Alex Salmond is not a reason to vote ‘No’.

Agree with him or not, he’s being gentlemanly, courteous and putting Scotland above his own interests. How refreshing.

A lot of hot air

TYPICAL Edinburgh tram luck, or planning . . . take your choice. Within weeks of getting on the tracks we are sweltering in a heatwave. And what feature was axed to save money? Air conditioning.