SANDRA PARSONS: Moving my dad in has enriched all of our lives

Moving my dad in has enriched all of our lives and serves as an enormous benefit to the children

Family bond: Having a grandparent at home can benefit children

Family bond: Having a grandparent at home can benefit children

Britain is not a country in which to grow old, as Dame Judi Dench pointed out forcefully this week with a withering description of the waking nightmare endured by those in old people’s homes: ‘You just cannot put people into a circle of chairs and have them watching television all day — it’s inhumane,’ she said.

Yet that’s how too many frightened and lonely widows and widowers end up, after they’re shunted off to live out the rest of their days amid indifferent strangers.

It hasn’t always been this way in Britain. Until about 40 years ago most families looked after their own aged parents, something that is still the norm in most Roman Catholic, Asian and Eastern European countries. To our shame, however, we’ve persuaded ourselves in this country that the elderly should be someone else’s problem.

This is not just down to the inexorable rise of the welfare state, with local authorities now assuming that it’s their responsibility to look after the elderly, for the fact is, many middle-class people spend a small fortune placing their relatives in private care homes.

Dame Judi and her husband shared their home for 12 years with both his parents and her widowed mother — an arrangement which was successful partly because they had a house big enough for everyone to share the communal space but still have their own rooms.

Yes, I accept that there are practical difficulties for many in sharing their homes in that way, though why, considering the savings to the State, the politicians don’t provide tax relief for those who look after a dependent relative, I don’t know.

Such practical changes, however, are only part of the answer. We need to change our culture, too. Indeed, from the moment we start working, we should assume that, at some point in our lives, we can expect to share our homes with an elderly parent.

After my mother died a few years ago, one of the first things my husband did was tell my father just how very much he wanted him to come to live with us.

As my husband had grown up sharing a small house in Eastern Europe with not just his parents and sister but two sets of grandparents, this seemed to him an entirely obvious thing to suggest.

Some of our acquaintances thought we were being foolish, and told us we’d come to regret sacrificing our privacy.

Their attitude, I fear, merely reflected the casual contempt in which the elderly are generally held today.

Grandparents provides a companionship much appreciated by grandchildren

Grandparents provides a companionship much appreciated by grandchildren

As my father is fortunate enough, at 83, to be still mentally and physically healthy, he decided he would move in — but only on a part-time basis. He spends roughly a third of his time with us, and the rest in the home he shared with my mother for more than 50 years.

He benefits from this arrangement, of course, but actually, it’s us who have gained most, in ways I never quite anticipated. Simply by virtue of his life experience, his very presence is calming. He sees far better than us the pettiness of the problems that arise in our immensely time-pressured lives.

A gentle reminder from Dad that life is short is often all it takes to stop a silly argument or pointless moan.

Our children, meanwhile, find their grandfather both a welcome ally — he’ll often take their side — and a salutary reminder of just how comfortable their own lives are.

They’re astonished when he tells them he won a coveted place at grammar school during the war but was forced to leave at 14 — abandoning his dreams of becoming a lawyer — in order to help with the family finances.

Most of all, he offers them a loving companionship that’s unlike any other in their hectic, boisterous lives. True, he does everything, from talking to eating to walking, at a far slower pace than theirs — but they benefit enormously from slowing down themselves.

Yes, I know we’re lucky that my father doesn’t have dementia or any other debilitating illness, or even just a difficult personality. Unlike the thousands of carers who’ve sacrificed their careers and their independence for the sake of an ailing relative, I’m certainly no saint.

But I do know one thing: whatever happens to my father, we’ll face any future problems together. And that’s a comfort not only to him — but also to me.

Paying lip service to love

The past couple of months have been marked by the end of two Hollywood marriages previously noted for their success.

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher were constantly tweeting about how happy they were.

Kiss off Pitt, left, and Jolie have yet to succumb to the Hollywood relationship split

Kiss off Pitt, left, and Jolie have yet to succumb to the Hollywood relationship split

And the singer Seal and his wife Heidi Klum made a point of renewing their wedding vows every year. Meanwhile, the one couple dogged by constant rumours of break-up — and who can normally be guaranteed to look thoroughly miserable in each other’s company — have been photographed kissing like two teenagers in love.

So I reckon that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are probably next.

Davina McCall displaying incredibly toned abs, reveals she works out three times a week and is ‘quite fit’.

ate Beckinsale says she works out for
more than an hour every day and watches what she eats, and Victoria
Beckham has taken to ballet exercises coupled with a high-protein diet.
It’s all so exhausting.

Far better to adopt the Queen as our
role model and follow the Diamond Jubilee diet: duty, dog-walking and
plenty of Dubonnet cocktails.

In a recent interview to publicise her
new film — in which she is spanked while topless — Keira Knightley said
she hates photographers who take her picture simply because she’s

Now, barely a week later, she’s
featured over several pages of a men’s magazine in a variety of
suggestively sultry poses that verge on semi- pornographic.

Thank goodness she’s camera-shy. I dread to think what might happen if she actually enjoyed having her picture taken.

How could Cambridge girls think Katie's clever

A debate at Cambridge University about what limits female success was won overwhelmingly by Katie Price, who began her career as a glamour model and is now a multi-millionaire.

There's no such thing as can't!' Katie Price defied her critics last night as she won a highbrow debate at the Cambridge Union against Boris Johnson's younger sister Rachel

There's no such thing as can't!' Katie Price defied her critics last night as she won a highbrow debate at the Cambridge Union against Boris Johnson's younger sister Rachel

Her argument — that to be successful you have to work hard and believe in yourself — would have been more inspirational had she not made her money by pandering to male fantasies through her giant synthetic breasts and the cynical exploitation of her life on reality TV.

If Cambridge students really think that’s clever, God help the future of women in this country.

Daniel Radcliffe went straight from Harry Potter into intensive singing and dancing lessons, and for the past year has been wowing them on Broadway in the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

This is all the more remarkable because he’s dyspraxic, and so badly co-ordinated he can’t tie his own shoelaces. The most ridiculous question he’s asked, he says, is why, with all his wealth (estimated at 50 million) he keeps working.

His simple answer is work makes him happy and he never wants to stop. Proof that, for most of us, there are few things more enriching than good old hard graft.

Child's play it aint'

Kate Silverton, who is now the delighted mother of a ten-week-old daughter after four gruelling rounds of IVF, says she had no idea just how much hard work looking after a baby entails.

Kate Silverton, right and husband Mike Heron both recently became parents

Kate Silverton, right and husband Mike Heron both recently became parents

I thought of her after watching Monday night’s extraordinary documentary about the work of Bristol’s Social Services department, which focused on a tragically inadequate couple whose badly-behaved son was still unable to speak by the age of three-and- a-half.

Sadly, neither of them seemed capable of looking after their dog, let alone a child.

It was proof, yet again, that we desperately need parenting classes to be made part of the national curriculum. And now that Kate Silverton’s realised just how much work babies generate, she’d be an ideal champion of such a scheme.

The only thing less surprising than the distance between David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the photo line-up of EU heads in Brussels this week was that Sarkozy had practically shouldered his neighbour out of the way to get as close as possible to the stunning Prime Minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

She also happens to be Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law. So presumably she won’t need any advice to beware of short men with Napoleon complexes and great gifts of the gab.

Researchers studied 2,500 drivers across Britain and found that men tend to be over-confident, slapdash, wonky parkers, whereas women are more timid but try harder to use the space properly.

Their conclusion is that women are better at parking than men. Why stop there We’re better at most things, except war, where aggression and speed are of the essence (and it doesn’t matter if you can’t parallel park a tank).