March 20, 2010

UK: Age is a thing of the past

. LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Columnists / March 20, 2010 Like Peter Pan, two entire generations have refused to grow up , writes Rowan Pelling. By Rowan Pelling When I was a student I mourned the fact that by the time the new millennium dawned I would be far too ancient in my orthopaedic sandals to party into the 21st century. From where an 18-year-old stands, 32 looks like the distant peak of Mt Decrepitude. I did not anticipate the mass rebellion against ageing, the commuters reading Harry Potter and the businessmen with their Nintendo DSs. Never get old: Twiggy now has a sociological phenomenon named after her Photo: PA Like Peter Pan, two entire generations have simply refused to grow up. Although a study this week showed that the average Brit believes you stop being young at 35 and start being old at 58, I don’t know anyone aged 35 to 55 who gracefully accepts the tag “middle-aged”, nor anyone between 50 and 70 who describes themselves as “old”. When the patron saints of the baby boomers, the Rolling Stones, still cling to their leather, it’s unsurprising that their fans are equally regressed. Linda Kelsey’s article in The Daily Telegraph last week about how her 50-something husband took a gap year, then left home altogether, is a parable for the age. My husband will be 58 next year. I tried to ask him if he felt ancient, but he couldn’t hear my question as he was playing Florence and the Machine so loudly. In many ways my spouse is the most grown-up person I know, but still he has a buzz-cut, a rack of T-shirts, endless rock CDs, a soft spot for Torchwood, and is the father of two children under the age of six. At the same age his father had retired to Scotland to play golf, shoot and fish in sturdy tweed (he’d have turned the gun on himself sooner than wear a T-shirt). The contrast between my late mother and me is even greater. I have a little square Kodak family photo from 1978, when my mother turned 40. It shows a beaming, grey-haired woman in specs standing on a rainy promenade at Brighton with her four older children. She’s wearing a gathered skirt and camel coat, knee socks and Clarks lace-ups. My mum did not age gracefully so much as wantonly, prematurely and utterly comfortably. Here I am at 42, already raging against the dying of the light. My hair is expensively streaked gold and red, I wear skinny Jamie jeans from Top Shop with Converse. I dash from the school gate to London to go dancing with my girl friends till the small hours. Not women friends, you’ll note, though none of us will see 40 again. The saying “mutton dressed as lamb” is rapidly becoming obsolete. A leading sociologist this week cited “the Twiggy effect” – named after the Sixties model who stars in Marks & Spencer’s advertising – for inspiring older women to throw away their carries and buy fashionable clothes. Professor Julia Twigg, who carried out the research, said, “Women over 75 are now shopping for clothes more frequently than they did when they were young in the 1960s.” Jowly politicians heave themselves onto the youth bus, too. David Cameron listens to Lily Allen and loves The Wire, Gordon Brown prefers The X Factor to Strictly Come Dancing and, according to Dizzee Rascal, Barack Obama’s victory was due to hip hop. And this week’s hissy spat between Nadine Dorries MP and Esther Rantzen (PPC for Luton), neither of them a stranger to a touch of lamb glam, reminded me of two girls at a bus stop pulling one another’s hair. The worry is when our desperate clinging to youth becomes simple infantilisation: when everyone reads Heat and no one reads Hume. But I don’t think we should be overly anxious about this retrogressive trend: there’s much to be celebrated about the ever-growing band of middle youth. I think it’s wonderful that a celebrated 60-something academic and author like my friend Robert Irwin is equally a whizz on Rollerblades. I love the fact that Vivienne Westwood is still a punk, that the late John Mortimer was childishly enthusiastic about life until the day he died. Dylan Thomas was surely right: “Old age should burn and rave at close of day” – just so long as it’s not also dropping Es and wearing a boob-tube. [rc] © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2010