Old can be pure gold when it comes to wisdom

When I go to a supermarket, I don't always look for the shortest queue at the checkouts. These days, I often look for the oldest checkout operator.

They are likely to put the shopping through slowly, so that I can pack my bags at the other end without getting into a panic and putting the sack of spuds on top of the eggs.

They will also smile, are highly unlikely to be listening to an Ipod while working and even offer that most cherished rarity - conversation.

When I go into a DIY store, I'll look for the more 'mature' member of staff to answer my naive queries, rather than the younger 'helpers' who too often ridicule my lack of knowledge or look completely disinterested.

In church, the post-service coffee is usually accompanied by a chinwag with one of the older members of the congregation, whose conversation is laced with the wisdom drawn from decades of living, rather than a few years of learning the theory.

I'm often accused of being a 70 year old trapped in the body of a 38 year old, which may be part of the reason that I am drawn to the company of older people. But even if it's meant as an insult, I take it as a compliment.

For there are good reasons why so many societies cherish and even venerate their elders. And it seems to me to be no coincidence that in the UK, where older people are often seen as a nuisance, society is shot through with fissures.

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There is a chasm between young and old that has been widened by messages emanating from Whitehall, where ministers portray the ageing population as a 'crisis' and an expense.

That fosters an attitude among younger people that older people are a problem, and that all useful contributions end at the point of retirement.

Actually, retirement gives people a chance to be even more useful, by passing on their wisdom to people from the coming generations. But it too rarely happens.

Part of the reason for that is the decline of rock-solid relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren.

Growing up, I spent countless hours with my grandparents, learning about London during the Blitz and the changing face of Norwich. I absorbed countless gems, understood the value of hard work and - most importantly - was given a deep grounding in family values. I also learnt that personal tragedies happen - but life goes on and people cope.

My children are now doing the same as they spend precious time with their grandparents.

The tragedy is that so many children do not have access to such a rich and priceless resource.

Broken relationships between mums and dads often leave grandparents estranged from their grandchildren - unable to influence or enhance their lives, and heartbroken by the pain of separation.

Both generations miss out on the richness that comes from these generation-vaulting connections.

I'd like to see the balance redressed somewhat by schools, which could invite older members of the community in every now and then to share their memories and pass on their wisdom.

People like my dear old granny Ethel, who taught me so much before she died in 1995, would be ideal. She would bring no nonsense 'waste not, want not' to the debate about consumerism, and provide a counter-cultural 'for richer, for poorer' reminder to those who have been raised to regard marriage as a boat to bail out of as soon as choppy waters are reached.