feigning the full hormonal flush of careless youth

THE suzi feay COLUMN

GOD, I MET an irritating woman last night. Woman, I call her, though she was stuck in the dawn twilight of the permanently immature.

Wriggling, giggling, simpering - she couldn't make a statement without prefacing it with "Ooh, I don't remember that far back" or "speaking as a member of a different generation" (I'm not your mother, love) or "I'm too young to know ..." All this accompanied by the sort of phoney deferential fawning that would earn a faithful dog a good kicking. So how old was this babette, and why were we evil gnarlies keeping her away from her milk and rusks? Twenty-four, for God's sake. No great age, sure, but neither was she in the full hormonal flush of careless youth.

Now I have a teenage sister who has perfected the art of the blank stare accompanied by "Dunner watcher on about" while she hoicks her DMs on to the coffee table and casts restlessly about for the TV zapper. But at least she doesn't simper.

There is a new, gruesome stereotype around: the gushing twentysomething (of either sex) who in former times - when you had a drunken party at the age of 21 and then promptly grew up - would have two kids, incipient crow's feet and a Morris Minor, but who now skips through life like an ingenue, oblivious to an already-receding hairline and the first, soon- to-become-insistent kisses of Time. There is a new disease: amnesia of the Seventies. People whom I know for a fact are just a few years younger than me are suddenly saying with an air of puzzlement: "The Sweet? Mud? Bay City Rollers? Sorry, you're lost me there." Or if they do dimly register the names, give the impression they were beating their cot-bars with a rattle at the time.

The very strange thing, in this era of constant TV re-runs and theme week-ends, is the assumption that blissful pig-ignorance is a sign of youth. I know a 22-year-old whose knowledge of popular music stretches back confidently to the Fifties. And yet there are people with almost 10 years on him who furrow their brows with what they hope is an endearingly goofy expression, saying: "Jimi who?" I'm sorry, but someone whose brow stays lined when they've relaxed their features bloody well ought to know.

There's nothing wrong with venerating youth - the ancient Greeks did, and expressed with breathtaking poignancy its swiftness and the pain of its passing - but we ought to define it, too, and not just indefinitely extend its boundaries. This is creating a generation of chronology cripples.

At my school we all wanted to looked older and more sophisticated. We feasted on Cosmo, filled with stories about glamorous, knowledgeable 30- year-olds with adult problems like too many lovers, eye-bags from drinking champagne, and dilapidated Georgian houses to renovate. It must be horrible for today's teens, having only Kate Moss to look up to.

I can remember, as a student, looking at my 25-year-old friend and thinking, "Wow ... 25 years ... a quarter of a century - that's sooo old!" Exactly. Time to grow up. Alternatively, you could always become a novelist or poet; they retain the epithet "young" longer than anybody else. Play your cards right and you too could be a Best of Young British Novelists - at 40.

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