Saga, the holiday club for the over-50s shamefully derided by a younger generation as Gaga, is attempting to shake off its Zimmer frame image – and quite right too.
The over-50s comprise the nation’s most beautiful, gifted, intelligent, cultivated, educated, energetic and spendthrift people. Freed from the numbing insecurity and anxieties of youth, the older generation has an assured insouciance that sweeps it effortlessly through life. There comes a stage beyond which you don’t give a syrup of figs what others may think of you. Many is the fiftysomething male who struts his stuff under the motto “Baldness be my Friend”; and many is the female of a certain age and size who can swing a careless hip and mind not that it swings back with a force peculiarly redoubled by physics.
It was always mistaken of Saga to allow itself to be seen as providing cruises where no one knew for sure which was sailing into the sunset faster, the ship or its passengers. Now at last it’s taken steps to rid itself of crochet and slippers, of camomile tea and seedless jam: the new Saga brochure features activities such as river rafting, mountain trekking and parascending. That’s more like it. Forgetting for a moment that it’s far less unsettling to have your teeth knocked out when they’re the kind that are kept in a glass overnight, there are a million reasons why the old are better fitted to tilt at danger than the young.
They are braver and more combative, for a start. Anyone who has tried to jump a bus queue will have noted to his cost the miraculous trick of nature which transforms a dear little old lady into a frenzied, venomous destructive force in whose hands an umbrella becomes a heat-seeking weapon from which no testicle can be shielded.
But why stop at white-water rafting and hang-gliding? Saga should lay on cruises that allow the over-50s to explore places off the tourist trail, places where the air hangs heavy with menace, where one senses the cold gaze of unseen eyes and the pacemaker whirrs a little faster. When it is said that travel broadens the mind, the speaker is thinking of the traveller: but what of the minds of those who are travelled to?
Imagine how the humdrum existence of the regulars at a flyblown fleshpot in downtown Casablanca could be enriched by the arrival of a pair of Saga holidaymakers. The air hangs heavy with the mingled scent of hashish, putrid armpit, stale breath and ancient kebab. Reflected in the dim candlelight’s glow are the shining foreheads of the patrons, huddled at tables cobbled out of packing cases. Only the foreheads show, the rest is facial hair.
With a whiplike crack, the beaded entrance curtains part and every forehead turns in the direction of Doris and George Foskett from Weybridge, he in his Millet’s safari suit, a camera carelessly strung about his neck, she in her floral cotton frock, pearls and straw hat. A score of lascivious eyes linger over her surgically stockinged calves. Coolly disregarding the warning click from somewhere in his lower spine, George draws himself to his full height and slowly reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket. Amid a chorused intake of rancid breath and the clatter of bodies diving for cover, he pulls out his phrasebook.This is going to be a night to remember.
Lest you doubt the power of the over-50s in-Britain today, consider this: their number includes Joanna Lumley, Mick Jagger, the Queen Mother, and Eileen Drewery. “Eileen who?” did I hear you say? She is the 57-year-old on whose tender shoulders rest the hopes of the England football team in this year’s World Cup. Unlike the Queen Mother or Mick Jagger (though I’m not so sure about Joanna Lumley) she has mystical powers.
Many of the players have consulted her, says team coach Glenn Hoddle, and all have found solace in her faith-healing glow, including Ian Wright. “I have,” she tells the Daily Mail, “a one-to-one relationship with God”. Wright, as the TV commercial in which he appears bears witness, craves a similar relationship with a supplier of bathroom accessories. “If I could have a one-to-one,” he intones, ” it would be a one-to-one wiv Martin Loofah King.”
All this one-to-one stuff is not for the over-50s; unless, of course, it’s a one-to-one with God. (Even then there are problems – how does one have a one-to-one with the Holy Trinity?) As Saga has proved over many years, oldsters are wildly gregarious. Ganging up together on cruises, they cleave the waves to faraway places. The world is their oyster. There a pyramid to swarm over, here an alp to be conquered. Age shall not wither them nor customs confiscate their duty-frees.
Saga began organising holidays for the older generation in the belief that here was a market made up of people who wanted to escape the ill-mannered, boisterous, sex-obsessed youth culture. And so there was. But now, with the discovery of a vigorous, devil-may-care, freebooting age culture, there are new markets to explore and new ways to explore them. Everything from advertising to sales promotion will have to be looked at afresh. We’ll know the world has changed when Steradent runs an on-pack competition whose first prize is the chance to shoot Niagara in a barrel.