Monday, 25 November 2013

0800 4 70 80 90

When I first started at prep school, the only way I could communicate with my parents was by letter - something we were made to do every Sunday after Church. These letters were screened by the teachers, to make sure we were gave them appropriate care. Aged 8, I barely wondered whether it was acceptable to have my missives home checked by someone who worked at the school that I might well have cause to complain about.

I never felt like I needed a more immediate, less monitored means of reaching my parents - I was too busy having fun, larking around in the woods with my mates, planning raids on enemy bases, to be too concerned by such matters. I was too busy being happy.

But boarding school is a relentless place to be sad, or lonely or scared. And someone realised this.

When Child Line was introduced in the late 80s, the school was fitted out with a pay phone that took those old school phone cards, that you could renew with the judicious use of some Tippex. It was all just a game to me - one term, when I was off games with a broken arm, I once phoned up Child Line and asked them for help with my Latin homework. To their credit, they gave it a go. I guess it all seemed like a bit of fun to me.

But under other circumstances, it might not have been fun - it might have been my only window to the outside world. Not all kids had the fun I had at school, and not all kids at my boarding school had the fun I had. For some, the chance to phone home, to phone Child Line might have been a Big Deal indeed.

The launch of the Silver Line reminded me of all of this. I have written before about loneliness being a big illness in the elderly. I have watched it, seen it, touched it, but I have never found a way to do anything about it.

That embarrasses me. But my embarrassment means nothing - it is not important. It is, important, however, that someone has found the energy to do something about it.

I don't really know what it feels like to experience the kind of aching loneliness that many of our elderly must feel. I do know that I don't want the people in my life to experience it, and I do know that I don't want our elderly folk to experience it.

Silver Line may just be a phone line, but to some people, it may just be a very Big Deal too. And perhaps, more than that, it might serve as a reminder to all of us, that while we are out there exploring the world, for some people, that is no longer possible.

For them, the challenge is to bring the world to them. Perhaps Silver Line is the start of something, just as Child Line was the start of something.

I hope so. I hope that Silver Line has the kind of impact that Child Line had, and I hope that its reach is broader, and that from this simple, important intervention, something bigger in our society can spring up.

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