Staying alive the sociable way

First published in Sharon's View The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

NEW research from the US shows that loneliness is worse for your health than obesity and nearly as bad as lifelong smoking. Meanwhile we have ever more people living alone, especially in old age.

Alone, of course, doesn’t automatically mean lonely, but it doesn’t make things easy. It’s not helped by the way in which families now scatter all over the world, split, re-form and lose contact. Talking to your Australian grandchildren by Skype is brilliant, but not the same as having them bursting noisily through the back door every week. So we have to try harder.

If we want a healthy old age, it seems we’d better have a sociable one too. And if we want a sociable old age, we all need to be making friends long before that.

We all probably have an image of the lonely widow, or widower, neglected by their family, uninvited by anyone. It’s when charities and meals on wheel deliverers can do a useful job – and no coincidence that many charity volunteers are also of pension age and keeping themselves busy and useful usually, therefore, happy.

Any muscle not used soon packs up. The friendship muscle is the same. By the nature of things, our friendship circle gets smaller as we get older, so we have to work harder.

University students know the truth of this. The first few weeks of the first term are spent desperately making friends, any friends. Great move.

Even if you find you have nothing in common, at the very least it gives you a springboard to meet more people whom you might like.

What’s good in our 20s is good in our 50s, 60s and 70s too. Some of those friends might be the same too.

We’re always being told to save for a comfortable old age, to eat sensibly and exercise for a healthy old age. Now it seems we have to start making friends early to ensure a sociable old age.

Add it to the list. And tell your friends.


IHAVE turned into a gypsy, a lost soul wandering the countryside, not with a red spotted hanky looking for shelter, but with my laptop, just looking for some free wi-fi.

Once upon a time you asked your neighbours for a cup of sugar. Now you’re after an internet connection.

Such is progress.

Our home phone line went down.

Luckily, I thought, we have two phone lines and one was still working.

Until BT tested the dodgy line – and managed to put the working one out of action too. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Of course, when you try to contact them you never deal with a real person to whom you can actually explain something, just an automated machine. At least that means you can shout a lot, which I do.

A number of our neighbours’ phones are down as well. And the shop’s. We’re into the fourth day of being cut off from the world. And no we can’t use our mobiles – because there’s no signal in this end of the village. No public phone box either.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Still, a recorded message on the BT fault line says they are working to repair lines in the Edinburgh area. Very cheering.

The wi-fi at Scotch Corner Moto services isn’t working. The wi-fi at Scotch Corner Hotel is working v-er- y slowly. It takes two cups of coffee to send three columns across.

I toy briefly with the idea of a carrier pigeon. Or a little man with a cleft stick. Or even paying £500 to join the golf club where the internet connection is said to be dazzlingly quick.

Finally, I landed in the Manor House at West Auckland. Free wi-fi and plenty of help from the cheerful waiter, Ben W, who turns out to be a computer expert and rescues everything. I am eternally grateful.

BT engineers are due any day now.

They say they’re going to let me know when they’re coming.

I’d love to know how.


THE good news, as I now spend half my time there sitting in a lay by using my mobile phone, is that workmen have finally cleared the rubbish away from Scotch Corner roundabout. They’ve been there three days. On the first morning I counted about 15 bags of rubbish and they’d barely started.

The main offenders are the wagon drivers who park up there overnight instead of going to the lorry park.

The new clean scene won’t last – but it’s a great improvement while it does.


CAMILLA’S doing all right these days, isn’t she? Out recently with the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge – two tricky relationships, daughterin- law and mother-in-law all together – and all looking very jolly. Then this week, on a visit to Denmark, seeming thrilled to bits to be on the set of The Killing.

Actress Sofie Grabol gave her one of those Sarah Lund Faroe Islands woolly jumpers.

We look forward to seeing it on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

How much?

SIGN of old age: when it was announced that a first class stamp was going up to 60p, I found myself squawking “But that’s 12 shillings!

For a stamp!”

Translating into shillings? – definitely time for the bus pass.

Posh shopping

I ORDERED a present from a posh shop in Paris. It arrived apparently addressed to “L’impeccable Sharon Griffiths”

L’impeccable? Certainly beats Miss, Mrs or Ms....

All washed-up

AMONG the reasons that Alan and Susan Rae’s marriage fell apart was that Alan, yes Alan, used the washing machine too often.

This is unreasonable behaviour?

There are those of us whose husbands have never ever used the washing machine at all.

That’s much more likely grounds for divorce.


Dear Sharon,
THE Duchess of Cambridge is doing a fantastic job and that is the main thing. We should be very proud she is part of our Royal Family. She would be criticised if she were to be spend, spend spending all the time. I dare say there are quite a few people who have shared clothes with their mother because of their income. No big issue.

She still looked good in it.

Don’t let’s be too critical.

Brenda Crooks, Spennymoor

Dear Sharon,
DENNIS Waterman says his ex-wife wasn’t a beaten wife, only that he hit her(!), but what would have happened if she hadn’t had the courage to walk out on him as soon as she did?

Many women, often because they have children and no way of supporting them or nowhere to go, are unable to leave. The longer they stay, the harder it gets and the more frightened they become of their husbands or of what would happen if they attempted to leave. Even if they are physically able to walk out, they are often psychological prisoners of the man beating them.

The intricacies of relationships are never easy to unravel but I hope the widespread condemnation of Dennis Waterman by people such as yourself might give more battered women some of the courage that Rula Lenska showed.

Anne Palmer, Durham.


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