They asked - bu no one listened

WE expect our public services to protect the vulnerable.It's the essence of a civilized society- to look after those too weak, infirm, young or old to look after themselves.

WE expect our public services to protect the vulnerable.

It's the essence of a civilized society- to look after those too weak, infirm, young or old to look after themselves.

The big freeze has brought out so much good in communities, between neighbours and strangers; looking out for each other, helping the stranded, people left without power and checking on the welfare of elderly neighbours.

It's been comforting to see so many people doing the right thing without hesitation, as second nature.

But, while ordinary people do their bit, the system we pay to protect those who need help fails catastrophically in its duty of care.

Amid heart-warming tales of humanity came the tragic deaths of an elderly couple, who lay dead together in their bungalow at the height of the big freeze.

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Time and again Derek Randall, in his 70s, had tried to get help for his wheelchair -bound wife. He was struggling to cope alone and had asked for her to move into a home.

A neighbour, who looked out for the couple, delivering hot meals and dropping by, did her bit to alert the authorities that he needed help, especially in the plummeting temperatures,

But nothing happened. No one acted.

Police broke into their home to find both dead at the weekend. It is thought Mr Randall died first leaving his wife unable to fend for herself.

It's heartbreaking that in 2010 two people can be left to die - and lie there unnoticed - in a community served by every sophisticated agency with glossy brochures, plenty of caring jargon and talk of procedures.

If a child dies because of neglect of social services, there is a public outcry. The case of the Randalls is no less serious. It must never happen again.

But The Randalls' deaths will not be unique this winter. Somewhere near every one of us is an elderly person, vulnerable, cold and in need of help.

They might not ask for help, or accept offers willingly but are in need nevertheless.

So many are shivering in their homes as I write, terrified to turn up the heating because of what it might cost them, huddled in bed, with little food in the house, often too proud to even ask for help.

They're not the ones thundering around the supermarkets with huge trolleys stacked with a month's supply of milk, bread and tins in selfish supermarket sweeps.

They're at home with last week's bread in the bread bin making what they have got last.

By the way, I'd love to know how much milk was poured down the sink when people who seized 30 pints of milk realised their madness. How much went to people who couldn't get to the shops, if any?

The elderly are a proud generation who desperately want to cope. They want to pay their way and be independent. They often don't want to accept they need help. They don't want to be a burden.

And there's the rub. Sometimes - and I know it's only sometimes and the majority of care workers and social workers are professionalism personified - but sometimes workers are so patronising to old people.

They talk to them like children, about them as if they're not there.

Faced with this indignity, anyone would turn hostile and reject offers of help, however sincere.

Sir Michael Parkinson, in his new role as dignity csar for the elderly, has found services for the elderly severely lacking. Attitudes towards the elderly are lacking even more.

The Randalls had asked for help but no one listened. There are many more asking for help and more again needing help but too proud to ask and our agencies are failing them.

We all need to change our attitudes to the elderly. After all, it's the one thing we all have in common. We will all be old one day.

Funny how schools closed on Thursday and Friday, workers were 'unable' to get to work and the country and public transport ground to a halt but supermarket car parks were heaving.

And Saturday, when there was just as much snow and ice on the ground, shopping centres and town centres were bustling like any other Saturday except shoppers were wearing wellies.

Taking a 'snow day' turned into 'taking a skive to go shopping day'. Teachers might not have managed to get into work but shop workers managed it somehow - those who managed to find childcare for their children locked out of their schools.

Funny that.

Well I never. More calories are burned off cleaning the bathroom than on a Nintendo Wii Fit.

The Wii Fit Plus is my new sworn enemy. I ended up with one at Christmas because my boys wanted one but had used up their present allowance.

Bright idea. Get one for Mum - what a treat! - then they could use it.

I had a go and the wretched thing judged my fitness age at 56, declared me 'unbalanced' with a weak core.

I'll give it weak core. I don't need an expensive machine to insult me when I've got boys at home who will do it for free.

This nine stone unbalanced weakling can wrestle with a hulk of a hound, yomp across the marshes for two hours most days leaving younger models in my heel dust.

And at least cleaning the bathroom is done in private rather than the indignity of hoola-hooping with a virtual hoop in the front window when the postman calls.

Whatever you think of Heather Mils - and my opinion of her has always hovered somewhere between Bin Laden and Ronnie Biggs - you've got to hand it to her for her determination on Dancing on Ice.

We don't have to like her to admire her.

Her achievement as an amputee is pretty darned amazing and inspirational for any child missing limbs.

Her performance on my favourite of all the reality shows was astounding. The woman is made of true grit - as sir Paul McCartney discovered to his cost. She might make a lot of hot air but no one can criticise her for being all -talk.

If I felt the need to bribe either of my children to behave well, I'd feel I'd failed.

If I needed to dangle a carrot of a wad of fivers if they passed exams with decent grades, I'd be so ashamed.

But paying your children to be polite, doing their homework and being good at school is the way, according to the Child Trust Fund. Nearly half of parents are in the bribery business paying their children to be decent human beings?

When did personal pride in achievements and efforts become so last century? Now everything comes at a price. But not on my watch.

And I might be out of the loop on bribery but I'm off the radar when it comes to pocket money.

Children get an average of �6.84 a week - a rise of almost 600 per cent since 1987. That's more disposal income to spend purely on themselves than most adults have today scrimping to pay the bills.

Please don't tell my children. They're quite content with the odd coins chucked at them at weekends when we remember.

But this �7 is not pocket money as we knew it - it's conscience money from parents too busy working to do what they should be doing as parents and trying to make up for it in hard cash.

What happens when they grow up? Will they still expect Mummy handouts for turning up at family weddings and not burping at the table or insulting Auntie Val?

I bought my friend a 40th birthday card the other day that said: 'The lovely thing about being 40 is that you can appreciate 25-year-old men more.'

It was amusing at the time until it turned out toy boys are the latest fad for mature movers and shakers.

Not just any younger man -19-year-olds are the dish du jour.

Artist and film director Sam Taylor-Wood, 42, is expecting a baby by her 19-year-old fianc� and I'm still feeling queasy about Northern Ireland's First Minister's wife's affair with a 19-year-old she had known since he was nine.

Iris Robinson is 60.

The attraction is obvious, I suppose. Flattery that a 19-year-old who isn't your son even notices your existence. A much younger man gives a woman total control in a relationship. He hangs on her every word and is in her awe. But it never lasts.

And the boys grow up.

It all just feels a bit yukky -just like bouncy young blondes and decrepit millionaires.

I polled my friends, all fortysomethings, to see if they were green with envy at Mrs Robinson and Taylor-Wood's dalliances.

'You must be joking. My own teenagers are enough to cope with without putting up with someone else's,' squawked a friend in horror.

Just about sums it up really.

Heartbroken actor Ricky Groves blames Hannah Waterman's dramatic weight loss and Christmas exercise DVD for ruining their marriage.

Shrinking from a size 16 to a size 6, she chucked him out of her life along with her old jumbo jeans.

She said her leaving had nothing to do with her newfound ribcage and flat stomach but because marriage was 'boring.'

He wanted to go to their local while she, squeezed into new tight frocks, wanted to go clubbing and live a little.

Of course she did. And new male attention would have given her a frisson and newfound confidence. She wanted to be noticed.

But a husband is for life, not just for the tubby times.

She'll soon discover her greatest loss was Ricky. Then it will be too late.

I've always loved Jonathan Ross. His warmth and connection with every type of person, especially on his Saturday morning radio show, is second to none.

What draws me to him most though is his love of his family and his devotion to his wife of 21 years and children.

His family is his foundation - a rare example in showbusiness - and life seems a laugh a minute in their north London home.

So the story that it was his wife, Jane, who persuaded him to resign from the BBC because of the effect all the talk about his pay was having on their children rang true.

You can say what you like about Wossy but any man who lives by the mantra 'family first' can't be all bad. However badly he humiliated David Cameron who, remember, had volunteered to sit on that sofa.

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