Down With The Kids
When I was a teenager, I was frequently mortified by my father’s attempts to appear ‘down with the kids’ (my mother had far more sense!). ‘But you’re old, Dad’, I used to wail at my mid-forties father. ‘Stop trying to be cool’. As I approach forty myself, I realise that my dad was probably just suffering from blissful ignorance.
Most of us don't constantly think about the passing of time. It's easy to ignore signs that age is catching up with us – particularly if you generally spend time with the same people. My closest friends and I have known each other for over twenty years and, as far as we're concerned, we aren't that different to how we were in our late teens and early twenties. Even though many of us are married and have children, we’re adept at fooling ourselves into thinking that we're still fairly hip and trendy. Sadly though, the reality is that most of us no longer have any hope of being down with the kids – our own, or anyone else’s.
My generation have, on the whole, settled down far later than most. Perhaps it’s this extended ‘youth’ that has led many of us to believe that we are still, well, ‘youthful’. Unfortunately, day-to-day life generally has a way of giving us a subtle reminding nudge.
Some years ago, I took on a sessional lecturing role at my local university and college, teaching the National Diploma course in Photography. The students were all aged 16-19, although in my mind most of them looked about 12. This is the first sign that you are no longer hip: teenagers start to look as if they are barely out of nappies. Even so, I really enjoyed working with these young people – I loved their energy and enthusiasm – and I’m still in contact with several of them. On many levels, it was easy to relate to them, and the inter-generational divide blurred. Some of their language, though, baffled me completely. Viewing my website, for example, one student turned to me and exclaimed that it was ‘sick’. My first reaction was to ask whether it needed paracetamol, but I was reliably informed that ‘sick’ means ‘good’. This is sign number two that you’re moving up a generation: no longer understanding the vernacular of the young. As it happens, I no longer even wish to understand most of it – ‘text speak’ has me reaching for the red pen in fury. The way things are going, most of us will soon need a dictionary to understand anything the under 20s are saying.
The first two hints of one’s impending middle age pale into insignificance when compared to sign three, however. I first noticed this when my bank decided to ‘centralise’ my business account and move it over to Birmingham. Apparently this was for ‘my convenience’, though how Birmingham is more convenient than being able to actually pop in and see my manager in the local branch still remains unclear. As is the way with banks in our modern times, they soon made a small error, so I rang to sort things out, and found myself lumbered with a ‘manager’ who seemed incapable of stringing a sentence together, let alone straightening out any problems. He also sounded about twelve. (Yes, I know, I know…). After around twenty minutes of attempting to communicate with him, I finally lost my rag. Before I knew what was happening, the phrase ‘Now listen here, sonny Jim’ had slipped from my lips.
Apart from being the kind of wording and sentiment your grandparents would have come out with, this is the real beginning of the rot. Suddenly, you start to look around you and realise that the local policemen are barely out of short trousers. Even the nuns look younger than you do. Barmen are gaily serving children alcohol (and you don’t want to be in the bars anyway, because you can’t hear yourself think) and teachers aren’t that much older than their pupils. This, my friend, is sign three – thinking that those younger than you can’t possibly be old enough to be working or drinking. And once you’ve reached that point, there’s no going back. It’s time to face up to the fact that you’re no longer as young and hip as you’d like to believe.
But it’s not all bad news. I’ve decided to embrace this new stage of my life fully, bemoaning the awful ‘noise’ that is characteristic of much modern music, starting to integrate the phrase, ‘things were better in my day’ into everyday use and generally preparing myself for being an embarrassment to my stepdaughter and nephews. After all, if you can’t be down with the kids (and they’re never going to let that happen), you might as well relish where you’re at…