Wright's Aerials

The Annexe of Irrelevancies

The Boomers are Coming...

After four decades dominated by youth culture, changing demographics will soon lead to the ascendency of the elderly hippy. The newly-wrinkled are about to become a powerful political and consumer group. Bill Wright speaks for the stroppy, spoilt brats of the fifties who are now approaching old age and will soon be banging their walking sticks on counters all across the land.

During the Second World War many commodities were rationed, and it sometimes seemed as if all the nice things in life were withheld. Tasty items like bananas and chocolate were extremely scarce. For the servicemen abroad there was one particular comfort that could be very hard to come by. It was something that those of stern morality could only get at home, and thus it was that the mass demobilisations of the mid-forties were followed by several years of compensatory catching up. Family life had been postponed, but now was the time to get back on track. Our brave British boys faced the challenge as they had faced all the challenges that had come before. They stood proudly to attention and then they got stuck in.

Half a decade later I started school, attended for a term, then came home with a note. The headmistress was very sorry, but the whole of our year needn’t bother to come to school for the next two terms. My mother was incredulous, but it was true. The fact was that the government’s school building programme simply wasn’t keeping up with the ex-servicemen’s enthusiastic child-building programme. There were too many of us, by far. We were the baby boom.

The two terms flew by. Only one thing of note occurred in the whole world during that time: Keith Millward hit my finger with a hammer so I had to have stitches.

Back at school we boomers progressed to the Juniors. The school was so new that half a century later I still think of it whenever I small fresh paint, and it was very large; but it was nowhere near large enough. Classrooms were grossly overpopulated, and each teacher needed a stout middle aged assistant called Mrs Smacker, whose sole job was to prowl amongst the hordes at the far reaches of the room smacking people. She did this more or less at random, or so it seemed. Despite this rough justice discipline was actually quite lax. This was because of the educational philosophy that was in vogue at the time. As any teacher knows all too well, education has always been bedevilled by an ever-changing series of barmy theories, which shower down on those at the chalk face from on high. In the fifties the new buzz phrase was ‘child-centred’. The ‘child centred’ movement was to go on in later years to wreak dreadful and possibly irreparable havoc on society, but we were there right at the start. To us, it meant that sometimes, just sometimes, we could get away with murder when we didn’t really expect to. No doubt a lot of learned papers had been churned out, but to a kid it was that simple. We became chancers. The boundaries were not rigid because the boundary keepers were uncertain. My generation learnt their first major lesson of life: belligerence pays. If in doubt, scream and shout.

At home our parents were finding that life was pretty good. Britain didn’t enjoy the USA’s post-war utopia, but many people found themselves with a far better standard of living than they could have dreamt of before the war. Good quality council houses were built by the thousand, health care was free, and wages were high. Mr Macmillan told the working classes, “You’ve never had it so good” and for the majority it was true. So we children of this British semi-utopia were the lucky recipients of much largesse. Father Christmas was always particularly generous. We listened patiently as our parents told us that when they were children they would have been lucky to get a mouldy turnip for Christmas, safe in the knowledge that in the morning the expensive bike or Meccano set we’d asked for would have been delivered in the night. Yes, it always paid off, humouring the demented old fools as they’d insisted on leaving a mince pie and a glass of Emva Cream out for the nocturnal visitor.
At secondary school we encountered a new breed of teacher, the emergency trained veteran of the war. Some of these guys couldn’t spell for toffee, but they had seen it all and now they believed in a brave new world. They saw us as the inheritors of the peace that they had brought; they taught us about dictatorships and creeping oppression, and most of all the need for eternal vigilance.
My generation, most of us, never knew real poverty. There was always food on the table, a shilling in the lecky meter, coal in the coal hole, and of course the telly. This was quite unlike the experience of every working class generation that had gone before. It was, in fact, a profound social change. But, like all young humans, we regarded what we had as the norm. Tales of severe poverty and deprivation from grandma and grandad were just fairy tales, unreal and irrelevant.

Years later the Monty Python team brilliantly encapsulated the scepticism of our generation towards our antecedents’ dreary tales of ancient woe, in their ‘Four Yorkshireman’ sketch. “You were lucky. We lived for three months in a septic tank. . .”

That reference brings us neatly to the 1960s, when sex, drugs, and rock and roll were apparently invented, to the delight of all us boomers. AIDs didn’t exist outside of Africa but the contraceptive pill did. We arrived with great good fortune at this narrow window of opportunity and exploited it to the full. Sexual permissiveness was just one aspect of the general atmosphere, and it merely reinforced our belief that we should always expect to get our own way.

As we boomers hurtle at frightening speed towards old age, there is a burning question: what’s going to happen when we get there? All the current conventions of social and political policy have taken gross and shameful advantage of the fact that every generation of working class elderly has been extremely malleable. Accustomed to hardship, inured to poverty, accepting of the overweening power of the state and the local council, the elderly, let’s face it, have been a total push-over. Still unused to the welfare state after all these years and honourably rejecting the dependency mentality that it has engendered in many of their juniors, they are pathetically grateful for any crumbs that come their way. They have presented no real difficulty for the powers-that-be, obediently and predictably voting along outdated class lines. They have, in other words, been politically sidelined — safely written off.
The boomers are different. The old class barriers have fallen, with most of us feeling that we have risen from working class origins to a new, classless, nebulous, but essentially empowered, social grouping. It makes us wince — no it makes us bloody angry — when we see our parents’ generation kowtowing to ‘professionals’ who have nothing but a dodgy degree, a cheap suit, and an office door with their name on. I think it’s this — having to help that generation cope with officialdom — that first made me realise that there is a period of conflict ahead. Let’s hope the conflict is resolved by rapid reform.

In 1965 the anthem of my generation was, yes, The Who’s ‘My Generation’, with Roger Daltrey spitting out “I hope I die before I get old!” A few of us have died, but most of us haven’t. Soon we will get old, and it will emerge that the bolshie attitudes of sixties pop culture have stayed with us during all those years of flogging our guts out at work and bringing up yet another generation of difficult little buggers. It’s been like a little seed of cussedness waiting for the spring rain.

Soon the UK boomers will have 33% of the vote and very high per capita buying power, so the politicians and the large corporations and all the others who seem to think they have the God-given right to run our lives need to adjust more than a little. The boomers will be the fittest, best educated, and longest-living generation ever, so they will have plenty of fight in their old age.

I think I’m a fairly typical boomer, so for the benefit of ‘our masters’ here’s my personal ‘aged hippy’ manifesto:

  • I am classless, so I acknowledge no ‘betters’ to be afraid of. I was taught that all men are equal (but this time, for the first time in history, the teachers meant it). This means that I am not cowed by professionals like doctors and lawyers who would like to smarm away my rights.

  • I have paid a lot of tax in my time, so I’m keenly aware that doctors, teachers, lawyers, and most of all those ghastly people from the council are my servants, not my masters.

  • My lifetime experience has been that screaming and shouting works, so I will do it (in a mature way of course!) whenever I am displeased. I will cheerfully bang counters and make scenes when forced. No way will I slink off, because I was taught that to do so was an abrogation of my responsibility to the rest.

  • The Sale of Goods Act 1979 came in when I was a young adult, so I took it on board. To me it is second nature, so don’t try to fob me off if you sell me a dodgy washing machine. I will kick ass when necessary.

  • I am enthusiastic about the Freedom of Information Act and I know how to use it. The same goes for the Disability Discrimination Act.

  • I have endured a lifetime of responsibility, which I believe gives me certain rights.

  • I am a member of the first truly computer-literate generation. Tell me a lie and I’ll be straight onto Google, then I’ll paste your dishonesty all over the net. I know how to use internet chat rooms, news groups, and local forums. I can even set up websites that will compete in the search engines with your own corporate efforts, and will tell my version of your company’s activities. I’m really looking forward to using my computer more when I’m retired.

  • Living as I do at the peak of human civilisation I believe that I have a right in my old age to be kept warm and comfortable. So, no, I will not turn my thermostat down for environmental or for any other reasons. It’s a matter of priorities. If society can’t look after its old people then it’s failed.

  • I’ve been driving since 1967 and I’m not going to stop now, just when personal mobility has become more of a problem. So could the green obsessives please shut up? And why can’t I choose between a bus pass and petrol vouchers? Are they saying old people are second class citizens who don’t deserve cars? And incidentally, there’s no way I’ll consider living in any housing scheme without adequate car parking. Of course me and the missus will be a two car family.

  • As an Internet user I won’t consider living anywhere without fast broadband. So all the sheltered schemes and care homes had better make some provision. And no, a half-cocked wireless system won’t do. I want my 16 Megs!

  • I’ll be watching more TV when I retire, so obviously I’ll need all the latest infrastructure. My sheltered flat will need everything necessary to support Sky HD and multichannel viewing in all rooms, not just the one measly terrestrial-only aerial socket that most of those places have currently.

  • Holidays will be important, so I’ll keep flying. No bus trips to Cleethorpes for my generation!

Here are some of my favourite phrases and sayings:

  • My dustbin hasn’t got a microchip because I put it in the dustbin.

  • Why do you want to know my age? What’s that got to do with it?

  • Not on your life, you nasty little prodnosed bastard. (This one is mainly for use with council officials.)

  • You bet I’ll be taking my business elsewhere, and I’ll be telling everyone why on the local Old People’s Forum and in letters to the papers.

  • My daughter is a lawyer and she’s very protective and also going through the menopause. So go ahead, treat me like shit.

  • Why have I blocked you in? Because you’ve parked in a disabled space.

  • If you want to talk to me you’d better learn some basic English.

  • I’ve paid taxes all my life and you will damned well treat me with respect.

  • I’m beginning to suspect that you are discriminating against me on the grounds of age. Would you like to reconsider your attitude before I wrap this Zimmer frame around your neck?

  • Could you turn the music down please? (Followed ten minutes later by ‘Where are my wire cutters?’)

  • That clipboard you’re carrying – has it got sharp edges? Fact is, I’m gonna insert it into your body any minute now if you don’t stop asking impertinent questions.

  • If I want to use tungsten bulbs I’ll bloody well use tungsten bulbs. I’ve got a hundred of them in my cupboard; that should be enough to last me.

Don’t blame us for this belligerence. We can only be what society and history have made us. Remember that child-centred education and that indulgent post-war Nirvana! Remember the sixties! We might have turned out to be nice malleable old duffers like our parents, happy to queue outside the doctors for an hour in the pouring rain, if the world hadn’t treated us so well. As it is, the next set of bright young things who plan to run the world had better sit up and take notice. The boomers are coming!

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