Thursday, 26 May 2011

Eulogy for Dad...

Dad with a Moggridge piano, March 2010.
Funerals can be gloomy occasions, but the word ‘gloomy’ is not an adjective I would use to describe the man whose life we are celebrating and whose passing we mourn today. Dad was full of positive energy and optimism for life. He possessed an immense enthusiasm for everything and, while he probably wouldn’t admit to it himself, he was a true perfectionist.

Even his initials spell out the nature of the man: Gerald Eldred Moggridge can be shortened to GEM and for all of us, dad was a real gem of a husband, a father, a grandfather and, of course, a great grandfather.

Mum will tell you what a great husband dad has been; they were married for 56 years, had three great kids, including me, and there was never a cross word – well, one or two, perhaps. Dad loved being at home with mum and was fortunate to enjoy 22 happy years of retirement, tending to their amazing and inspiring garden and researching and writing a history of the Moggridge family – available in all good bookshops soon.

As a father, dad was second to none. He probably wasn’t that good with dollies and teddies – that’s why Criss was forced to squeeze one of her dolls into Action Man fatigues – but our early years were characterised by cap guns, forts, train sets and toy soldiers and the biggest kid of all was dad. He taught us how to make log cabins out of sticks and blow them up with bangers and he was definitely behind the legendary Battle of Kiln Castle, which I’ll explain later to anyone who wants to listen.

Our childhoods were defined by two key events: summer holidays on the South Coast at Middleton-on-Sea and Felpham where dad played King Canute in a sandcastle; and, of course, Christmas time. Dad made both occasions truly magical – so much so that we’d be walking around the block, counting the days to our summer holiday, months before boarding the train to Bognor; and we probably believed in Father Christmas for longer than most kids – thanks to a bell and a ball of string.

Dad rigged up a bell outside of our bedroom window. It was attached to a ball of string, which he threw into the garden and then back through the bathroom window. On Christmas Eve, we would be tucked up in bed and dad would stand by the door clasping and pulling the string, ringing the bell outside the window. For years, we were believers – until I found the bell.

Dad also shone outside of the home. He enjoyed a highly successful career in the Government Information Service where he worked in Number 10 Downing Street alongside two great British Prime Ministers – Harold Wilson and Ted Heath – as well as one legendary Prime Minister-in-waiting, Margaret Thatcher (when she was Minister for Education). He set up the press office at the Lord Chancellor’s Department and was a regional director of the COI, in charge of co-ordinating media activity surrounding Royal Visits. He worked with the late and equally legendary Princess Diana and other members of the Royal Family.

Dad has met some of the world’s greats, including former American president Richard Nixon, in Bermuda with Ted Heath, and the diplomat’s diplomat, Henry Kissinger.

Which brings me to dad’s other enduring qualities – his strong moral code and his ethical approach to life. Dad was a fair man with a strong sense of right from wrong. Over the years, he provided us all with what I can only describe as expert guidance on how to live our lives – standing here today, I can confirm that he did a brilliant job and we will all miss him.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What a drag it is getting old...

Last night Panorama screened a programme about ageism in the workplace. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! The BBC is renowned for being ageist as the recent case concerning Miriam O'Reilly, a Countryfile presenter, proved; and let's not forget countless other people who have been told they're too old to be on the beeb – Moira Stewart was one and then there was Arlene Phillips, who was replaced by Alesha Dixon. 

Arlene Phillips knows more about dancing than Alesha Dixon, but because Dixon is younger than Philips, the beeb thinks that people sitting at home in front of the TV would rather stare at Dixon than Phillips. We're not THAT shallow, are we?

Phillips must have been inwardly fuming over that scandal, but surely Dixon is secretly thinking, "I'll be next" as she stares pensively into her bathroom mirror, checking for any early wrinkles.

The problem with the BBC's ageism policy is that it's sexist. Strictly Come Dancing's Len Goodman and Bruce Forsyth, for instance, are both really old men – Brucie is in his 80s – but they are still going strong and if you take a look at Newsnight, good old Paxo, now white-haired, is as stroppy as ever. Mind you, I'd rather have Paxo presenting a heavyweight current affairs programme than Adrian Chiles or Dominic Littlewood.

Fortunately, Panorama chose Fiona Phillips to present its ageism programme, probably because she's no spring chicken, although she scrubs up well, to coin a phrase. Philips turns 50 this year and I guess she was chosen to quieten down the beeb's critics who would have been in uproar had Fearne Cotton been the chosen presenter – and rightly so.

The programme focused on a real problem: the fact that employers in the UK don't want people in their 50s working in their companies. 

When you're in your 50s you just want to do your job to the best of your ability and get paid for it; you're not going to suck up to the boss, not only because he or she will probably be younger than you are, but because you know that it's not the way to conduct yourself and you've realised that you work to live, not live to work.

Panorama focused on four people: three men and one woman, all of whom were out of work and having real problems finding a job. Why? Because they're considered to be past it. All four of them have been trying to get work for a very long time, but they've failed despite being well qualified for the roles in question.

What I found really annoying – alright, I found it really irksome – was the absolutely useless presence of Digby Jones. That man failed to grasp the problem and spent any airtime he was given patronising four decent people who already felt bad enough about their lot and certainly didn't need Baron Jones of Birmingham telling them what do.

Jones got it completely wrong. If you're reading this, 'Baron', the point of the programme was this: people in their 50s – qualified people who might have studied hard to become professionals in some sphere or other – are being turned away from jobs that they want to do and for which they are more than qualified. They want to do the job but one thing stands in their way – their age.

But did Jones grasp it? No, he didn't. "Why don't you re-train, become a plumber?" he said as the hapless individuals were given a patronising one-by-one audience with the Baron, who resembled a poor man's Wizard of Oz, after the curtain had been pulled back, and our four 50-somethings were, perhaps, Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Lion and the Scarecrow.

That's not the point, Mr Jones, they don't want to become minicab drivers, driving instructors or plumbers. Why would they? They want to remain as accountants or teachers and they're perfectly capable but they are being stopped by employers who are more concerned about saving money or, in the case of the Beeb, with cosmetic issues. 

What I also found rather amusing about the Panorama programme was the occasional input from Age UK, a charity that is obviously anti the whole ageism thing. Sadly, though, the charity's representative was a young bloke who was definitely not in his 50s – they missed a big trick there.

There was no happy ending to the programme either. I was expecting written announcements prior to or during the end credits, stating that the programme's subjects had all found work in their chosen fields, but no, they hadn't. One resorted to voluntary work, the other considered turning a hobby (picture framing) into a job and another – who was sent to work in a bar – gave it up because he felt it was below him. The female former teacher had started her own business, but it all went wrong for her when she lost a contract.

The big problem for the UK and its growing population of over-50s, is that while we're all being expected to work longer before we pick up our state pensions, there are people, like Digby Jones, who expect professional people to simply down tools at 50 (largely for cosmetic reasons) and accept jobs that aren't so important in a 'people-facing' sense. It's as if the general public as a whole – and employers and their workforces in particular – have some kind of aversion to people with a bit of white hair or a more wrinkled face and shouldn't have to endure looking at them for fear of being offended.

I was going to finish this article with the phrase 'grow up', but then I realised that growing up and getting older was the nub of the problem when it shouldn't be.

Napoleon once referred to the United Kingdom as a 'a nation of shopkeepers', but if things keep going the way they are, we'll be a nation of driving instructors and 'white van men' and newsagents windows will be inundated with 'man and van' cards.

Such a fate awaits us all and there must be thousands of people in college today wondering whether it's worth studying hard if they're going to end up stacking shelves in a supermarket or a DIY superstore. Why not simply leave college and go there now? That way you'll avoid disappointment later in life.