Anyone who still believes the old stereotype of the over-50s as a generation going downhill fast to their dotage should have a look at the findings of a new survey published the other day.

It shows that the over-50s - and particularly the retired over-50s - are active, interested, involved and making the most of life.

They spend their time walking, reading, swimming, gardening, dancing and going on holiday. Some of them cycle, others play golf or explore the Internet on their home computers.

That's when they're not painting, taking photographs, listening to CDs, collecting antiques, going to the theatre or attending meetings of various organisations, clubs, committees, charities and societies (because, as we all know, it's largely the over-50s who keep most of these going).

The survey was undertaken for National Express and contained a good mix of almost equal numbers of 50-65s and over-65s, so it can be regarded as a fairly accurate snapshot of a generation (or, at least, that part of a generation which travels by coach from time to time, because those questioned were National Express customers).

One of the things it shows which is rather less light-hearted is that a fair proportion of this group worry quite a lot about their financial future and are particularly concerned about future changes to the State pension. The older people were, the more worried they were.

That should be a sign to the Government that it messes with the pension - and any other aspects of the lifestyle of seniors - at its peril. The over-50s make up a massive chunk of the electorate and their block vote can make or break a political party.

They have a particular interest in the health service. After all, although older people are fitter and more active than they used to be in past generations, they are still - by the law of averages - likely to need health treatment more than younger people.

And most of them can't afford to "go private". The survey showed that fewer than a fifth of those interviewed had private medical insurance - and I'll bet that most of those were the younger seniors who are still in work and in occupational schemes.

Given the premiums charged to the over-65s, you'd need to be on a massive pension to be able to afford them. Ditto the premiums for the farcical idea of insuring yourself against needing long-term care in a home.

This is a generation with definite views on politicians. Given a list of options, most people didn't reckon much to Margaret Beckett, John Prescott or Bill Clinton. Nelson Mandela was generally admired. Tony Blair had more admirers than detractors, Margaret Thatcher the other way round.

The political hero of the generation, though, was Winston Churchill - a fairly predictable favourite. But guess who came a very close second? It was Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. As for the personalities most people would least like to sit next to on a coach journey... Bob Monkhouse tied with Mrs Merton. And the personalities most people would most like to sit next to?

Jill Dando was one. The other was none other than that grumpy old grouch Victor Meldrew.

But don't let on to that other misery, Hector Mildew. I've got enough problems already keeping his ego under control!

I Don't Believe It!

How do you feel about dirty books? I don't mean rude ones. I literally mean dirty books - the sort that are borrowed from libraries and not treated with due care and attention.

Donald Firth, of Undercliffe, isn't at all happy about them. He expressed his views clearly in a letter to the Editor of the T&A. It was diverted into the bundle of correspondence that gets sent on to me every week because it was a grumble, and this is Grumblers' Corner.

What prompted Mr Firth's musings on library books was the news that a new library is to be opened in the Bradford Moor area, replacing the one which had to be closed last year in Mortimer Avenue following intimidation of the staff.

"At last the Council is spending some of the tax on a worthwhile venture," writes Mr Firth. "I make use of Eccleshill Library and all the facilities therein. However, I would like to aim my criticism at a certain minority of borrowers who seem to delight in defacing some of the books I have been fortunate (or unfortunate) to read recently. These individuals seem to be split into two distinct groups.

"First are the persons who cannot read a book without apparently 'dunking' it in a variety of beverages or drinks, i.e. tea, coffee, cordials, etc, not to mention the greasy fingermarks that adorn so many of the books.

"Then there are the persons who make marginal notes, memo and references relating to the appropriate subject, not forgetting the persons who, when they borrow a book of IQ tests, contract bridge, sporting quizzes, etc, persistently write their own answers and theories on the fly leaves and margins.

"I would readily agree that some (if not most) of the books are old or well read, but I must admit to being a trifle squeamish and particular when selecting a recommended book from the shelves. I hastily replace it should I discover it to be defaced in the manners described."

Some people have no consideration for others and no respect for books, do they? I was brought up to believe that it was wrong to deface a book in any way, even if it was your own personal copy that you had bought. You had to try to keep it looking as new as possible, and never, ever even turned down the corners of the pages.

Personally, I don't object to well-kept second-hand books. But Mrs Mildew won't have anything to do with them. She likes her books to be new and unread by anyone else.

I reckon there are a lot of people like that - which is good news for the bookshops, isn't it?

If you have a gripe about anything, drop a line to me, Hector Mildew, c/o Newsroom, T&A, Hall Ings, Bradford BD1 1JR, email me or leave any messages for me with Mike Priestley on (44) 0 1274 729511.

Yours Expectantly,

Hector Mildew

Enjoy Mike Priestley's Yorkshire Walks

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