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Age fright - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Age fright
I've been thinking a lot about age recently; feeling young, feeling old, how it's all relative. Obvious stuff, but I'm getting to the sort of age where I'm allowed to ramble off down memory lane from time to time, so bear with me (or just move on). My perception of my age seems to change more or less daily; and it's not just as simple as (for example) talking to students making me feel old, and talking to grandparents making me feel young.

My parents have got younger and younger as I've got older. When I was tiny, they didn't have an age (how could you tell how old somebody was if they didn't have cakes with candles on and you didn't know what class they were in at school?); and when I was older and more annoying they were clearly ancient; and when I was a teenager they were just the older generation and therefore Didn't Understand Me (yawn); and when I was a student and chatting online to people who were approximately midway between my age and my parents' ages I started to realise just how flexible it all was (and that the lines between 'generations' were really quite fuzzy and not terribly useful), and they started to seem younger and younger. These days I reckon they're in the same age-group as the rest of my friends-group. My office-mate (he of the birthday card) was born in the same year as my dad. So? So nothing. Just a fact.

And I look at photos of my parents from when I was a baby and think "bloody hell, they look younger than I am now", and realise that that's because they were. It's like time-travel. I'm having the same disconnect with the bands I used to like, the teenage crushes; I'm older now than Loz Hardy from Kingmaker was when I was a squealing fangirl. He claimed he was going to kill himself at the age of 23 because it was better to burn out than to fade away, better to die before you got old. Twenty-three. Okay, so he was an idiot, and fortunately didn't follow through on that threat, but honestly.

All the photos look such strange colours. I'm starting to recognise the peculiar colour-cast of "the 1990s" in photos; I sometimes still fail to remember that we're not in the 1990s any more, and at the same time, it's receding into a sealed decade like the 60s or the 70s. All those early digital photos, greenish, over-bright, making my acne and huge glasses look far worse than the browns and oranges of the 1970s ever made my parents' flamboyant shirts appear.

It's not so much about age, though, as about experience; not the having-done-stuff sort of experience, but the having-been-there sort. Being in the photos. Remembering. In a lot of ways I feel more aligned with a half-generation above me: remembering LPs, and the early home computers, and usenet, and so on. For every age there's a seam of experience that lets you calibrate exactly where somebody else is in relation to you: I remember the birth of Channel 5, but not Channel 4; the Berlin Wall, but not the Falklands. Every time you mention a date or an event, somebody winces as you make them feel comparatively old, or young. General elections, A-Levels, waypoints and markers.

I can't help wishing I was there. There's a cut-off point, or a fade-out point; I don't find myself wishing that I'd been there to witness, say, the 'discovery' of America, or the invention of printing, or even the last turn-of-the-'millennium', or the War to end all wars, or the War that proved it hadn't. But the things that are only just out of reach feel as though they're nearly within my grasp. I could have nearly been there in time to remember the moon landings (we're back to that again). I'd've only had to be born just over a decade earlier; and just-over-a-decade is a bridgeable gap. I've gone out with people who were more than that distance from me in age. So near... and yet so far, on the other side of the divide. The date of your birth slices through all those grey areas. 1978-05-05: I can't change it.

The things you can't remember always seem more significant than the things you can. The things you can't remember, they seem significant; they'd put you in a different class of people, a different zone, a different level of experience. But the things you can remember, you know that you didn't do anything special, you weren't singled out, you just happened to be there, watching, breathing.
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vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 24th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, and again, yes.

The bridgeable gap business keeps changing, too; I have a friend in his mid-50s whose father was born in 1890, and who had been raised on stories of his great-uncle who had fought against Napoleon. The past is not so far away.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: November 24th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes and no... The World Wars, for example, are becoming very far away indeed: I remember from my childhood, a spotty boy scout holding a banner beside the the spry old codgers on parade at the War Memorial - still visibly the men who'd marched in jerky black-and-white film to Flanders. They were such a fixture of the living society: not 'history' at all and, like everything else in the landscape, we'd assumed they'd always been there and they always would be.

There's only four of them left; and only one was an actual 'Tommy', back from the trenches to the world of long brick terraces and coal fires. Even the war widows are long gone: that generation of schoolmistresses and great-aunts and fussy old biddies who ran the parish without the Vicar's say-so. I didn't even notice it, just nodded when people pointed out that there were fewer every year, and frailer: a thing we knew intellectualy, but never confronted. That world is gone and the attitudes and actions of the men who defined it are unimaginable to us now.

One rank behind them on parade, the managers and headmasters and senior partners who'd fought in World War Two: substantial men in blazers who took no nonsense and got things done. A very real part of the world, because they ran it, and very different men to the baby-boomers who came after: men of values - and strong opinions - who regarded the postwar generation's search for self-gratification with contempt. The WWII generation all retired in the 1980's, when I was at university, and I am happy to have missed the turmoil and the changes in the working world when company after company abandoned their paternalism, fired the workforce indiscriminately, and started calling their remaining employees 'resources'.

All that history, all that culture: gone. Being told the oral history, even by the few remaining participants in it, is an unbridgeable distance from living in it. And even now, the swinging sixties' can-do confidence and optimism, demolishing buildings and inhibitions alike, has become as distant and ridiculous as the top hats and morality of Queen Victoria's day.

For that matter, the pre-internet age - which almost all my schoolfriends still inhabit - seems a very distant past indeed. Few people who grew up online can imagine living that way; and I'm not sure I can, either.

Edited at 2007-11-24 02:43 pm (UTC)
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 24th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
nd the attitudes and actions of the men who defined it are unimaginable to us now

but - for me, at least, I can't speak for the very honourable JaffaCake - those attitudes and actions aren't at all unimaginable. My grandmother and great aunt had two brothers; both fought in WW1: Dennis died, "Mac" went to Malaya. That same great-aunt married a WW1 vet (she met him playing mixed hockey after the War) but her own aunt also lost her fiancee and never did marry (like so many). My father's father flew in WW1 and I knew him very, very well (he lived to be 102). My grandmother - Dennis's sister - was a VAD.

I suppose having been at Oxford in the early 80s meant I was exposed to many class attitudes which had survived both wars, as well as to a surprisingly large number of men who had fought in the ranks.

That world may be unimaginable to some of the teenagers and kids in their early 20s, but I am not sure it's unimaginable to all of them. If nothing else, I suspect many of them just about can imagine it and have an element of gratitude that materially, at least, they have more than their forebears had. You know, indoor loos, hot water on tap, and teh Net ;-)
imc From: imc Date: November 24th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Age fright

Yes, me too.

I know quite a few people in their late 20s and in my head they (well, you, actually) are my peers. But every so often I remember that I am nearly forty and there's a whole decade between us. Perhaps it doesn't matter, except in those brief moments of depression (although it does mean I will die sooner…). Why haven't our scientists come up with any answers yet? I want my potion of eternal youth now, damnit.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: November 24th, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bloody kids...

Seriously, though: you reach a point, and I'm sure it's different for everybody but around 50ish, when you just stop thinking much at all about how old you are, except to wonder if you'll be able to live on your pension.
Or maybe it's just me.
reddragdiva From: reddragdiva Date: November 24th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tell you what, I was shocked when my dad turned from middle-aged (which he had been all my life that I remembered) into a little old guy.
katstevens From: katstevens Date: November 24th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I rarely spend time with people my age or younger (with one or two exceptions): the dudes and dudettes on my team at work have an average age of around 45, the majority of dudes I go down the pub with regularly are around 30-35. This is useful for making me remember that Actually I Know Nothing and that Hey, Reaching Your 30th Birthday Doesn't Mean Buying A Zimmer Frame. Just like I've stopped saying where I went to university, I've stopped saying how old I am (both are largely irrelevant). People often seem surprised at both when they find out! But I still get the winces/mockery when I mention something like "I remember singing 2 Unlimited songs in the playground in primary school", when the person I am talking to was at university then...
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: November 24th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is lovely.

This coming year, I do the "midway through the dark forest of my life" birthday. Which is mostly fretful because the assumptions of the generations who educated me all seemed to come with being a lot more stably settled than I feel at the moment, though with a bit of luck the current terrifying uncertainties could in fact be resolved by then.

As age cohorts go, the one that continues to disconcert me most is the number of people reaching various markers of adulthood who do not remember the Cold War, for whom the absolute certainty of all dying in the US-USSR thermonuclear value of WWIII is just not part of their mental furniture. Though hearing zorinth (my stepson, just gone seventeen) and a classmate of his talking, utterly without irony, about there being no drama classes in their school any more because the kids coming into high school these days are useless sedentary lumps who only want to sit in front of their computers and have no interest in getting out and doing anything was also quite a shock.
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