Wednesday, 4 September 2013
By Derek Lord
As the first of the baby boomers, the generation conceived in the wake of the Second World War, make it over the finish line of their working lives, for some the outlook is rather bleak, especially if they worked in the private sector and never earned enough to be able to save for the rainy days ahead. And now there is an element of resentment creeping into the minds of those citizens less stricken in years. As far back as 2004 the then Tory shadow chancellor warned that the baby boomers posed as big a threat to the nation as terrorism or global warming. With their inadequate state pensions they will be forced to put themselves at the mercy of a cash-strapped government, looking for help with their council tax bills, their heating bills and all the other demands made on their meagre incomes. And as their ageing bodies continue to deteriorate they will be putting further pressure on an already buckling NHS. Things are no better across the Atlantic where economists are warning that American boomers are threatening the very fabric of society. It reminds me of a sci-fi story I read more than forty years ago that foresaw a time when governments would have to take drastic action to rid themselves of the burden of their senior citizens. One solution was to offer free bus rides for the oldies. The buses would travel along roads that passed through tunnels. The tunnels would have steel shutters at both ends. These shutters would slam shut at irregular intervals and then a gas would be released, killing the occupants of any vehicles trapped within the tunnel. Government employees would then come along and remove the corpses. So, if you are one of the first wave of baby boomers, think twice before you rush out and apply for your free bus pass. There may be some sci-fi fans among our lords and masters who have read that same story.
On a lighter note, it must be said that the baby boomers have had it pretty good. School wasn’t quite as easy as it is these days. Teachers were still allowed to knock them about a bit if they got out of hand, and since many of those teachers had faced the worst that the Wehrmacht could throw at them they weren’t about to be intimidated by a classroom of snotty kids. My history teacher was a tank commander who took on Rommel at El Alamein and the deputy head was a former Regimental Sergeant Major who had fought his way from Normandy to Berlin. When those guys told you to pay attention you didn’t give them any lip. But the boomers managed to avoid all that soldiering stuff. They were the first generation in quite a while who were not conscripted into somebody’s army whether they wanted to fight or not. They were too young for the Korean War and National Service finished when the youngest of the boomers were 17, so things worked out pretty well for them. On the cultural side they were just coming out of puberty when somebody came up with the word ‘teenager’ and suddenly they had a special identity that had never existed before. Instead of going straight from their school uniforms into the same sort of clothes their parents wore they could deck themselves out in denim and mini-skirts. And the music scene exploded with Bill Haley and the Comets, followed by Elvis, the Beatles et al. Then when their hormones were exploding all over the place along came the contraceptive pill, and, for the first time in history, they could indulge their natural desires without the risk of being frog-marched up the aisle at the end of a shotgun. To make things even better some clever Scotsman invented penicillin so all those nasty bugs that had lain in wait for earlier generations who over-indulged themselves in the wild oats department could be vanquished with a single jab. But, when they got all that nonsense out of their system, most of the boomers picked a mate and got married just like their mum and dad had done. The word ‘partner’ still referred to someone you set up a business with – not a home. The only other time it was used was in cowboy films. Gabby Hayes was Roy Roger’s partner, but only in the sense that they took on the baddies together. Brokeback Mountain was still a long time in the future, although I must admit some of those sequined shirts that Roy Rogers wore were a bit on the gay side.