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My wife and I went to see the brilliant, high octane, professorial Robin Ince last night at a less than packed Corby Cube, and he made several immediate and important connections to me – and what it mostly boiled down to was age, and generations. Early on he said how pleased he was to be 44, because he wasn’t embarrassed about wearing cardigans, and there I sat proudly in my cardigan; the major theme of his show was there are important and exciting things in the world, yet the majority choose to spend their time, money and effort on tittle tattle, tabloid crap, and miss the bigger picture; akin to this idea was that people on trains spend all their time on phones, and don’t see what is going on around them, or outside on their journey (and my head swam to the sound of Larkin reading “The Whitsun Weddings”); he said that it was better to say you were older than you are, so people say “you’re looking well for 47”, and not “ah 45, have you been ill?” – something by the way that I instinctively do, and have done for years to the chagrin of my wife. I always assume the age of my current year, hence whilst I am only 45, I am in my 46th year, so to the world I am 46. Indeed on that score the age 47 is a watch word for me, as that it the age I have claimed to “look” since I was 25. Hence as I travel past it at light speed, if I retain my “look” of 47, I start benefitting from this constant landmark.
Ince was superb and I did something that I don’t usually do after the show – I cued up to get an autograph, as he stood (pint in hand) in the bar afterwards. It wasn’t the autograph I wanted, it was the chance to say to him “I get it, I really do I get it, honest, long before you may have actually got through to this audience, and my wife, I was there; it’s you and me, do you understand the connection.....” and other stalker like phrases. Of course I didn’t gush like that, but I did mention to him, as his eyes glazed over that I wrote an album years ago called “Today Is All We Have”. His last point, the climax to the show was a back drop of blossom, and I knew what he was going to say. The Dennis Potter quote “I see the most blossomy blossom” from his interview with Melvyn Bragg has been over the years a key phrase for me, and one I have relied upon with my family to say “for goodness sake, look at the world – enjoy it, you never know what your last day will be”. Ince went further into the philosophy we share – he said his friend lost his legs in an accident and afterwards realised what a fantastic world it is, and he didn’t want to wait until tragedy happened to appreciate life.
I did manage at least to get over my gratitude at the sheer energy and persuasive argument that he gave to our audience, and then he said a fabulous thing, which could have come from my lips – he said “I know I have a better life that most, other people have tough jobs and maybe don’t have the time and energy to realise what a great life this is”. It is a guilt that we share. We have good jobs, we have a lot of time to read (in his case) or listen (in mine), and time to contemplate, to form rationale, to develop theories, to ask ourselves if we are right or not. We shouldn’t be guilty about it, but I suppose he has (like me) people around him who tell him often how lucky he is, and how unusual it is to have the time to think.
Weeks ago I set out to write a blog about generations, and the generation gap as I see it today from my perspective, and a lot of what I heard and loved last night enforces my feelings that those of us in our forties, and into our fifties, are at a strange and wonderful generational point where we can either make use of touching two radically different worlds, or simply waste our experience – which I have no intention of doing.
Living in a Victorian village growing up in the 1970’s, I still see the world through the eyes of my parents generation; a generation that was touched directly by war, a world war. My grandfather fought in Germany in 1945, my father’s father was a red cross ambulance driver in the Great War. To me it was the Boer War of the 19th Century that was way beyond my understanding and from some foreign land called the deep past. When I was born the Boer War had been fought 70 years previously. My daughter is 7, and the Second World War (a war I can still sense, through my relations and the constant stream of Christmas holidays watching war films like the Great Escape with my family as a child) is 70 years away.
Speaking with the “youth” that I work with in the industry I was amazed that we had so much in common, and how contemporary I felt amongst them until the line “well of course I was 11 before I got my first computer” which sounded like a line from Python, done in the modern age – “they don’t know they’re born”. My children won’t know a world where the TV doesn’t pause and rewind; they won’t know a world where you can’t find any answer to any question at the touch of a keyboard. Communication is overwhelming – here is an age that can find out anything, and pretty much go anywhere (even if it is virtually) where WE were relying on books with drawings in them to depict far off places and cultures.
Robin Ince referred to old “Question” books, the “Tell Me Why” series, still in their old brilliant frayed 1960’s and 1970’s covers. That is what we had to find things out, and even I, one of the worst read people on the planet given what I think I know or believe, devoured these encyclopaedias for stories, information, just something to soak up. The kids of today have every conceivable connection and society is building bigger internet platforms for games, gambling and pornography than anything else.
Maybe the youth of today are confused by saturation; that to me is a fair argument. My wife and I discussed Robin Ince’s statement last night that he hardly watches television even though there are thousands of channels available, and we realised that we are in a similar boat – the kids have children’s TV on as wallpaper in the background to their iPads and whatever else they are doing, and we watch the news and maybe a favourite series of our choice and that is it – the idea we get stuck watching soaps, or talent shows, or mockumentaries is simply not an option; it wouldn’t happen.
Being happy in your age is an interesting and complimentary thought as well – I wasn’t really that happy during my single years, when I was capable of being fitter, healthier, more durable, stronger, and quicker than I am now. I am glad I went through what I went through, and we can always look back and want more, but it is important as part of your learning process. “I wish that I knew what I knew now, when I was younger”; The Faces got me through a rough relationship break up at the age of 33, but at 45 I know that I do actually know what I would have liked to have known then, and it is still NOT too late. I’m not old and derelict, I am still vibrant, fit, and able to do things that I couldn’t do before.
When I was 33 I was still stepping over the trellis that had fallen down in front of our front door every morning wondering who was going to come along and fix it back up – surely not me? But I was the grown up, it was my house, my trellis and nobody else was going to do it. My fear was that I couldn’t do it. Now, this morning, I got up to find the outside light swinging in front of our front door was blown, and without even considering it, I got a step ladder, undid the shade (tricky as it is nearly 50 years old with rusted screws to prove it), popped in a new bulb, back up with the glass shade (after I had cleaned it with surface cleaner to get a better shine out through the glass) and up and on it went to test it, and we’re back in business – WHO IS THIS MAN, it isn’t me. It is the 45 year old version of me, capable in sorting out minor household problems, aware that nobody else is going to come along and fix it.
An old friend of mine from college has a picture from his South American journeys of standing on the equator line in Bolivia, one foot either side – it is the image I have in my head about the generation line, and I stand (a colossus) across the two areas. I am damn proud to have the sensibilities of my parents and their generation – it is a group of people that may not realise it, but they collect people rather than objects. Friends, neighbours, relations are overwhelmingly important. That sense from Victorian times that the family stayed together and you all supported each other is still vital. Now kids get away from home as quickly as they can in the pursuit of riches to have THINGS. Robin Ince touched brilliantly on this last night about spending £500 in an apple store only to find that within 30 minutes the THING that gave your life happiness had been superseded by another THING which made you unhappy.
Beauty is what an older generation appreciates – beauty of books, pictures, poems, music, friends. Beauty makes you happy, and you don’t need the latest or greatest to see or appreciate beauty. Now our word is disposable, instant, more, faster, bigger – since we got an iPad my daughter has consistently download the next app and the next and the next, playing for very short time frames on any one game, because there is another game out there faster, bigger, more fun – probably the correct word is different.
Life HAS to slow down for everyone, and maybe economic collapse could do that, maybe it is the only thing that can slow it down. BUT it is still my job as a 45 year old dad to say to my children “here is a DVD of Robin Ince, this man knows what he is talking about, and he can put it better than me, who you wouldn’t listen to anyway – go away and watch it”. They may or may not get anything out of it, but if we don’t even put it under the noses of our children, reinforce the need to look at life properly and intelligently, we’re not doing our job properly.
It is a big responsibility to be my age; I like responsibility. From his show last night it is a lifelong cause celebre for our man Robin. I’m proud to have shaken his hand; one cardigan wearing 40 year old to another.