Talking ‘bout my generation

Talking ‘bout my generation

by Stuart Crawford
article from Thursday 12, April, 2018

“The things they do look awful cold

I hope I die before I get old”

I’D LIKE TO BE ABLE to claim that the catalyst for this article was rooted in a deep, philosophical self-examination and contemplation of my advancing years, looking back wistfully at a misspent youth and opportunities missed.

But it isn’t. Much more mundanely, it has its origins in a recent BBC4 documentary on the rock ‘n’ roll years which was predicated mainly on the question of whether old men (and women) can write great pop music. The answer is no, if you were wondering, but most of us already knew that. Once you’re past 30, in rock ‘n’ roll terms at least, the game is up.

However, there was a splendid moment in the programme, in a black and white interview with one Pete Townshend of The Who, pictured, composer of the youth-defining “My Generation”, a song which has, in most people’s opinion, never been bettered as an expression of youth anger, disappointment, rebellion and disdain for anything or anyone over 40 years old.

In it the said Mr Townshend was asked whether he really meant that he did indeed hope he died before he got old. And he replies, instantly, “yes”. That he is still performing some 50 plus years later, and presumably still singing that same lyric on occasion, suggests that for him at least growing old has not been quite so bad as he imagined it might be all those years ago.

Putting Mr Townshend’s longevity to one side for the moment, the programme did get me thinking whether being young is all it’s cracked up to be. In this one has to take two perspectives I think. One is a retrospective on one’s younger years, the other is a view of what being a young person today might be like.

I have to admit that my younger years were pretty angst-free. Lucky to have been raised with good health in a stable family, I couldn’t really have had a better education through my school years. Back then it was just assumed, in my middle class environment, that you would go to university (the only question was which one) and of course there were no tuition fees to pay in the UK. The maintenance grant, which had to be topped up by working in the university vacations, helped keep body and soul together until graduation.

Thereafter, it was again just assumed that you would get a job and, a few years later, a mortgage to buy your first property, and even though the mortgage interest rate was an eye-watering 17% when I took out my first one in the 1980s. Then eventually you would marry and settle down and raise a family. And that’s more or less how it was for me, give or take one or two hiccoughs along the way.

Now I look at my kids as they start to go through the same process, and things are quite a bit different. Sure, they all had the best education I could provide, and they’ve all managed to get to university. The major differences between theirs and my experience a generation ago are that they’re all saddled with pretty substantial debts via the student loans system, that they have no certainty of employment commensurate with their graduate status (although you don’t go to university to get a job – with a few notable exceptions – you go to get an education), and the idea of buying their own homes seems to be so farfetched that it’s just not worthy of serious consideration. Calling them “generation rent” may prove to be uncannily accurate, and the long-term prognosis is not good.

So, returning to my original question, it appears that for today’s youth at least being young is indeed not all that it’s cracked up to be. But was it ever? We “boomers” are getting on a bit now and being beset by all the troubles that seem to come with old age – aches and pains, empty nest syndrome, loneliness, divorce or bereavement – but we may be the last generation that has been able to count on home ownership and inheritance, be it large or little, as the norm. The millennial generation has all the energy and enthusiasm that youth brings but for many the future looks pretty bleak. 

We, the old(er), have one huge advantage. We have been young, while the young have yet to be old. We know what being young is like; they can only observe and speculate how old age might be.  Looking back from my advancing years, I have to say that being older is far more enjoyable than being young, notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, all the advantages that seem to accrue with being a boomer. Possibly this is at least partially due to contentment replacing aspirations to achieve happiness, and an understanding that what we now have is as good as it’s probably going to get, so we can relax about life in general. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be a youngster today. Too many uncertainties, too many unknowns. 

One final point: in writing this I have not been “trying to cause a big sensation, I’m just…”

Stuart Crawford 

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