Originally Posted by pjr2761
As the laptop is 'old' I cannot install the latest "whizz-bang bloated" distro
Yes, you can. You just have to leave out the "bloated" part. On a machine like that I would try antiX, Vector, Tinycore, Slitaz or Puppy. All of them are (at least somewhat) aimed at older hardware, but run up to date software.
You can also try Debian, Arch or Slackware with a more minimal setup, may be with one of the WMs or Enlightenment or LXDE for the graphical environment.
Both approaches will give you an up to date and supported system to use on that machine.