I’m Not Older, You Just Got Here Late

Observatory

Not having a  phone didn’t make life better

‘Hall of Mirrors’ just came out in the US and I’ve had some nice pieces written about it, along with a slew of questions about growing up in the sixties (although admittedly I entered that era in single digits). But after yet another patronising ‘people of your age had it best’-type chat with a certain kind of Millennial, I’ve become tired of apologising for when I was born. The advances of the present outweigh the losses of the past, and some things were simply different. End of.

But there are residual memories, I suppose. In the private sector, and especially in the creative industries (which weren’t called that then) we had more control and a much bigger say in our daily work, but opportunities were still limited. A huge post-war brain drain took our best scientific minds and transplanted them to the US, where there was much better funding available. Ideas are cheap and the UK was always an idea powerhouse. When it comes to selling ideas I think of the Monty Python team abjectly failing to explain to a commissioning editor why they wanted a TV show or what they would put in it, only to be told, ‘Well, all right, but you can only have thirteen half-hours to begin with’. I landed my first full-time writing job on the condition I could learn to type and would agree to paint my own office desk. Taking outrageous risks was not expensive. Funding them was.

Like many, I never travelled as a kid because my parents were broke. I can’t bear to go back to most of the places I saw when I was younger because of mass tourism and secular change. An empty Venice, a calm and elegant Cairo, free-spirited Istanbul, elegant Africa, friendly Tunisia, deserted Amsterdam – all gone.

Was it fun being young in London? Live music nightly, guilt-free sex, experimental theatre, psychedelic art, working class writers, egalitarian arts flourishing, and kids getting grants to take classes in just about anything. Viz’s ‘Student Grant’ would have become ‘Student Loan’ a long time ago. A tendency to regard anyone over 30 as already dead – thanks to the Baby Boom. Not having a phone didn’t make life better (we had no home phone either) – it made arrangements nightmarishly complicated. I recall booking a New Year’s Eve taxi from a public phone box that had chewing gum in its coin slot by tapping out the analogue exchange clicks using the phone tines – an old student trick.

The thing I recall most from my post-teen years was the endless free-wheeling intelligent arguments that made no-one run and hide in safe spaces, behind walls of jargon. Yes, they were sometimes peppered with sexism, racism and homophobia, but depending on your group not quite as much as is now portrayed on TV as being representative of the seventies. We also drew on a shared cultural history that maintained reference points with the past, something that has entirely vanished. Which was best, being over-sensitive or under-sensitive?

 

 

12 comments on “I’m Not Older, You Just Got Here Late”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    We’re a similar age and what I miss most are Historical references — We would hear jokes about distant kings, long-dead poets, pre-war culture and understand them.

  2. David Ronaldson says:

    Ah, jumpers for goalposts; Collet’s Bookshop, where amongst many other things I bought a donor-style Thatchcard (“I do not wish to visited in hospital by the Prime Minister”); Agit Prop in Time Out; Agit everything in City Limits; the wonderful Spice of Life pub’s nightly freak show; drinking occasionally with the ever-grumpy Buster Edwards at the Wellington in Waterloo; rarely getting anything done at work because the phone never stopped ringing (e-mails are a blessing, believe me); everything smelling of cigarettes, everywhere, all the time; happy, but not always better days.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I was 20 in 1962 and had done two years of university, entitling me to teach elementary school on the condition that I complete my degree expeditiously. I had done first year at home so I had only one year actually at the university and as I was boarding with my grandmother there was no on-campus fun, especially after I got settled in a car pool. Of course I didn’t do the degree expeditiously; I got married and then got pregnant. We were supposed to be grateful for the fact that we didn’t have to resign when we married even though we did have to quit when we got pregnant. I finally completed the degree in the nineties.
    I was a real small town type who couldn’t dance, didn’t know pop music (except for Johnny Cash, which doesn’t count), had never tasted liquor and didn’t smoke. Could you get any more boring than that? I don’t think any of the young people I see has as boring a life as that. I was only a bit wistful at the time and wondered where all this wild life there was supposed to be was hiding out.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    Replacing cigarettes with mobile phones is one of the all-time great advances – another round of applause for engineers! I used to date films by clothing, hair styles, means of transport, now it’s also the type, size and shape of the phones.

    Happy Saint Nicholas everyone!

  5. Brooke says:

    Peter, e-cigs and vaping have replaced mobile phones; round of bbo-hiss for the tobacco industry. Applause for engineers: planes routinely land safely.

  6. davem says:

    “The thing I recall most from my post-teen years was the endless free-wheeling intelligent arguments that made no-one run and hide in safe spaces, behind walls of jargon. Yes, they were sometimes peppered with sexism, racism and homophobia, but depending on your group not quite as much as is now portrayed on TV as being representative of the seventies. We also drew on a shared cultural history that maintained reference points with the past, something that has entirely vanished.”

    Great and relevant article.

  7. Michael warden says:

    At 15 in 1959 I left school and joined the Royal Navy , so the 60`s were a bit of a blur for me , and when people talk of life in London then, Its not the life I quite remember. I spent a lot of my time on leave in London being my home town but what ever was happening must have been happening just around the corner to where I was standing !
    On the plus side I did see quite a lot of the world and it has been nice to revisit some of them.

  8. Jo W says:

    Great title for your post,Christopher! I hope it’s not in copyright,because I feel I may be using that as a comeback,when I encounter those young’uns who come up with the ‘you babyboomers had everthing’ line. 😉

  9. Denise says:

    I was born in 1955, I don’t remember much of the sixties except Dr Who . Art school and my work with disabled children filled my life in the seventies.

  10. SteveB says:

    I’m very jealous of people who are young now. What they can consider as basics were undreamt of wealth when I was their age. When I wanted to travel I had to sleep in the railway station with no money! When I bought my first flat it was one meal a day for a year to fund it. They have access to ai, genomics, global communications.
    But I think social media can give an over-emphasis to extremes. When I talk to people of that age, they all seem perfectly normal to me. I think social media gives a huge positive feedback to extremes, and can deliver very false impressions. That’s true when I look at nostalgia stuff as well, I was looking at ‘ads from the 60s’ on youtube and scrolled down to the comments and it was like wow!!! Where is this nonsense coming from. So I think you have to really ignore a lot of the online stuff and trust your own personal experience.

  11. SteveB says:

    Denise, you will probably never read this but: I was born in 1955 too! And was a huge Dr Who fan!

  12. Ian Luck says:

    I was born in 1963, and my brother in 1970. Both of us could read and write at about three and a half. Neither of us much cared for school; both of us are unashamed autodidacts. Watching a show like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, we both ‘get’ and find funny skits about philosophers, or the misuse of their names, eg. “… And a bloke called Kierkegaarde, who sat in the corner, biting the heads off whippets”, hilariously funny, whilst my brother’s partner, who went to university, sits in silence. A lot of our friends, who, at first sight, seem to have just walked off the set of ‘Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels’, get the same cultural and historical references as we do. I feel sorry for a lot of today’s young people – there is so much more to know today, but there is a reticence on the part of a lot of people to learn about it. My brother devours TV shows that teach him things – his ‘favourites’ list is science shows, history programmes, BBC 4 documentaries, etc. Even shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ are so full of snippets of science and fact (all formulae on whiteboards, etc., are correct, and put there by real scientists, by the way), that, unless you have a grasp on current pop culture and science in general, you’re not going to ‘get’ a lot of it. Us ‘old farts’ are doing quite nicely, thank you.

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