I hope I die before I grow mould

Yvonne Robertslaments society’s obsession with youth, and says
it’s time senior citizens got bolshy.

Age was in last week – after a fashion. Ann Robinson, the Mrs
Danvers of quiz shows, discovered that 20 of her 56 years had been
magicked away in the publicity for the American launch of The
Weakest Link

At the same time, in Through the Eyes of the Old, the
BBC allocated prime time to those who are usually treated as dim or
dismal. And Professor Tom Kirkwood gave the first of the Reith
lectures on “The End of Age”.

Why the flurry of interest? It’s the baby-boomers again. Or,
more precisely, the boomers, aged 50-plus, who “pass” for 40 and
who are profoundly affected by the mention of three little words –
birth certificate, please.

These are the post-war offspring who, as anthropologist Helen
Fisher puts it, “travel through society like a guinea pig moving
through a pythonÉchanging culture as they grow olderÉ”
Note: “changing culture”, not reinforcing stereotypes.

As it stands, anyone over, say 35, is treated as invisible;
decrepit and redundant. A lot of baby-boomers, quisling-like,
conspire in the game of denial. They adopt one of two survival
techniques. The first is to become a New Ager. Once, that meant
solstice and soya beans. No more. Now, they are the individuals
who, literally and metaphorically, weren’t born yesterday. Still,
they refuse to venture into the land of skin cream and wrinkles.
Instead, they attempt a modern miracle – to reverse time. What 21st
century New-Agers crave is youth regained, more of the same – Joan
Collins, eternally. Are they quite, quite mad?

Easily identified, they share the neck of a turkey and the
wardrobe of a girl band. It would be funny if it wasn’t so
alarming. One in three people are over 50; soon it will be one in
two. In 2031, it’s predicted that 34,000 people will celebrate
their 100th birthday. Do we really want to say: “Welcome to the
teenage centurion?”

Professor Kirkwood offered an alternative in his Reith lecture.
He argued for independence, opportunities and respect to be
accorded to retired people just as they are to the economically
active. He rejected the deification of youth, preferring, he said,
to grow older. And older. Soon, he told us, we will motor on
smoothly for a couple of hundred years. What apparently failed to
cross his mind is, who would want to?

I certainly hope I die before I grow mould.

Passing the frontier of 50 is like moving back into the sexism
of the sixties. Then, the girls were treated in a derogatory
fashion, their lives limited by narrow expectations. What made a
difference? Women broke out and got bolshy. What we need now is
seniors to show an equal amount of gumption.

Many new “retirees” are affluent – estimates say they have
£166 billion to spend. Yet 95 per cent of advertising is
pitched at the under-thirties. The only ads for the older
generation feature stair lifts and walk-in baths. If you want my
money, honey, then wake up: mature does not mean immobile.

Ageing can be the gateway to a freer life and fresh adventures.
Who we are and what we’ve become has to matter more than how well
our skin has weathered.

Tell the young straight: we’re talking about our regeneration.
And their future.

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