Life in the good old today belongs to the pensioners

Ideas

Life in the good old today belongs to the pensioners

These days the elderly are comfortable in their own skin, and a self-pitying and over-sensitive society doesn't like it

Julie Burchill


When I was young, I identified as an outsider just for cheap thrills, posing as a punk and a lesbian simultaneously when I moved to a new job in a new city.
I was a combative girl and viewed the “right” to join in fights that weren’t “mine” with all the relish of a hungry glutton getting first to the breakfast buffet spread.
Imagine my delight, then, at being about to legitimately join society’s most recently demonised group, the old, when I turn 60 in July.
I’ll be one of those planet-despoiling, money-splashing old devils who is to blame for absolutely everything that has and can go wrong. I can’t wait.
For my ancient peers in the real world, however, things aren’t so rosy.
This week a tribunal ruled that it was perfectly OK to dump old dons “in order to boost diversity” after Prof John Pitcher – a leading Shakespearean scholar at Oxford – claimed to have unfairly been given the heave-ho at 67.
Over at another haven of the Great and the Good, the BBC not only has a whopping gender pay gap, but also a creepy tendency to sack its female presenters at around the age they would have ceased to be attractive to the late Jimmy Savile.
And last month a House of Lords select committee advised that gratis TV licences and bus passes might also be surrendered “in the interests of generational fairness”.
Being told by the snoring old bores of the Lords that one is a freeloader surely takes the pot and the kettle into uncharted territory.
Singling out any section of society for a dressing down is a shabby thing to do, but the old are unique in that, as we’re all going to get old, people can pretend they’re not bashing them because they’ll eventually be one of them.
But this is the sting that makes their taunters loathe them more; the old are a reminder of our fate, mocking our illusions of youthful immortality.
They’re like peasants: in other countries, the workers can be idealised as earthily authentic; here, they’re pasty-chomping chavs.
Similarly, old people in other countries – from Italy to India – are seen as wise beings worthy of being cared for in respectful extended families; in Britain we send them to fancifully named care homes, while counting down how many of their deaths it will take to swing the pendulum to Remain.
It’s been particularly pathetic to see the likes of the Liberal Democrats – a bunch of dinosaurs by anyone’s reckoning – and their “Bollocks to Brexit” slogan, trying to get down wit’ da kidz with all the conviction of Mr Pooter chatting up Cara Delevingne.
In the past, the old could be written off as stick-in-the-muds, but now there’s not even that comfort – they’re no better than they should be, with their (relatively) rocketing alcoholism and STD rates.
For the first time there is an odd element of envy involved: the boozy, bed-hopping beneficiaries of some sort of superannuated Eden of triple-locked pensions and jobs for life.
Last year’s book, The Happiness Curve, claimed life satisfaction declined from youth through middle age, hitting a low at 50 and rising to a peak at 70.
Meanwhile, youngsters cling on to their virginity, make a fizzy water last all night and complain about the weather in the shape of climate change.
Our loathing of the old has gone hand in hand with our elevation of the young.
Fifteen years ago I had a friend who kept resigning from waitressing jobs because the middle-class mothers who lunched at the restaurants of Brighton and Hove would ask her to change their children’s nappies and be incredulous when she refused.
These entitled little rotters have now grown up into the types of people who bring traffic to a standstill on protests against emissions that their poor put-upon parents probably drove them to.
Meanwhile, the old – who have seen too much of life to worry – have taken like ducks to water to the new technology, and would never dream of moaning about social media giving them a feeling of poor self-image, whatever that is.
“Wrap up warm and meet me at the cybercafe!” an old lady shouted happily into her mobile phone on the bus the other day.
The old seem comfortable in their own skin – even if it is all wrinkly and liver-spotted – and for this, in a self-pitying and over-sensitive society, they will not be quickly forgiven.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)

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