Call me an ould biddy, but don't take my pass

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Call me an ould biddy, but don't take my pass

Where there is smoke: Patricia thinks it is just a matter of time before they try to pull the free travel pass

THE high priests (and priestesses) of political correctness have just decreed that the word ‘elderly’ is an offensive weapon – sorry word - in polite society as well as being blatantly ageist. From now on, we, of the antediluvian generation, are to be referred to collectively as ‘older people’.

Praise the Lord, we‘re not to be referred to as ‘senior citizens’ either. I could never abide the term. I’d much prefer to be called an ‘ould biddy’. Senior citizen sounded too much like a euphemism for decrepit.

But a fat lot of good all that is going to do any of us, though, if they don’t keep their hands off the free travel pass!

But first, let me say that I don’t have much time for polite nomenclature. However, I rather liked the word elderly because it called for respect and implied a wealth of acquired wisdom. Actually, I was just beginning to fancy myself as one of the village ‘elders’ to whom everyone defers in times of crisis. Now I’m downgraded to an older person, who is taking up too much space, free gratis, on the bus. I never did like comparatives.

If I can digress for a moment while on the subject of age, I do believe that the world needs more elderly leaders. Not Donald Trump though! I’m gone off him big time. He makes the politically correct and the neo-liberals, as well as Oisin from Tir Na n-Og, look like angels of mercy. He’s not even funny anymore. The puppet show has turned grotesque and whoever is pulling the strings needs to untangle them fast.

Now enough about Trump; it’s the free pass I’m worried about. I’ve had it for a while, but I hardly ever use it, mainly because the train – Limerick to Ballybrophy – is too slow and the bus is too high. Why on earth do they make such lofty busses these days? I climbed aboard a Bus Eireann coach recently and by the time I had reached the driver I nearly had to be resuscitated for lack of oxygen. Then I had to rummage in my handbag for the travel pass, which everyone on the bus spotted - because of me gasping for air, and rummaging at the same time. It was a close call actually - whether I’d be taking up space on the bus or in the outpatients in the Regional. People were holding their breaths, but nobody got up to offer me a seat, as they might have in pre-travel pass days. I could go in the luggage compartment with my pass for all they cared.

Anyway I was too high up in the bus and had to suck hard-boiled sweets to keep my ears from popping. Every time we approached a fly-over bridge, I ducked unconsciously to keep my head in place. To be honest, I didn’t feel a bit indulged. I thought Bus Eireann should sell off its luxury coaches and invest in something more user -friendly and closer to the ground for those of us with aged related vertigo and travel passes.

For all that, I treasure my travel pass and wouldn’t part with it for the world. It’s only now that I can really appreciate why a guard of honour of older people at the funeral of the late Charlie Haughey, stood to attention and raised their travel passes in the air as a mark of respect when the cortege passed by. At the time, I thought they had been paid.

They say there’s no threat to the travel pass and it would be a foolhardy Minister indeed who would even contemplate tampering with it. But there’s no smoke without fire. You can throw a cat among the pigeons, raise a red herring or fly all the kites you like, but the smoke is nearly always a give-away. I know this because I grew up in poteen-making territory near the foothills of Keeper Hill, where the guards, searching for illicit stills in the vales and glens on frosty moonlit nights before Christmas, depended largely on tell-tale puffs of smoke rising in the still night air. That, of course, was before the poteen makers discovered the gas cylinder.

There’s certainly a lot of smoke emanating this week from the proposal by the Cork Fine Gael TD, Jim Daly, that an annual €6 fee should be imposed on all holders of free travel passes – there are 1.2 million of us by the latest count – to help rescue Bus Eireann from oblivion and to safeguard the 2,600 jobs at risk. That last bit sounds like blackmail to me, because it is, I suspect, designed to make older people feel guilty and over indulged. Anyhow, despite all the assurances that the Government has no plans to charge for free travel, what I’d like to know is what’s causing the smoke. And why are we, from now on, going to be referred to as ‘older people’ as distinct from the elderly. Are we now being stripped of our status so as to make it easier to claw back the few privileges we’ve been accorded.

It’s not the first time someone has tried to take the ‘free’ out of the travel pass. Not so long ago, the Department of Social Protection floated the idea of putting a €50 annual charge on the service. That was a bit over the top. Some of us, for heaven’s sake, wouldn’t do €50 worth of travel in a lifetime, and lots of us don’t travel at all. But it’s nice to know that if some day we get an itch to tour Ireland or just travel to some town we’ve never set foot in before, that we can do so on the free travel pass.

It’s a valuable social service and it helps to make us feel appreciated, especially now that we’ve been re-classified and unlikely to be deferred to for anything, anymore. And I certainly don’t think that we’re taking up too much space on the bus or contributing in any way to the on-going woes of Bus Eireann.