We have a right to be grumpy old people – there’s much to be angry about nowadays

It's not retirement that defines getting older, it's refusing to play along

Share

It’s a sure sign I’m getting old, according to a study the newspapers are carrying, that I fall asleep in front of the TV. I say “study”, but it’s no more than simple answers to simple questions collated by the insurance company Engage Mutual. So what am I doing reading stuff like this at my age? I’m waiting to see my doctor, that’s what. And when you’re waiting to see your doctor, you read whatever’s lying about. I can also tell you, for example, the cost of a six-bedroom, 25-acre property in Chipping Norton, and what Katie Price, or is it Katy Perry, or is it Katie Holmes, has for breakfast. Nothing. That’s what she has for breakfast, not the value of the six-bedroom property in Chipping Norton. Shaming to know such things. Why do we fritter away the hours we spend waiting to see a doctor – hours that could be our last on Earth – on flim-flam? Answer me that, Engage Mutual.

I’m angered by their ice cream study. Angry with myself for bothering to go through the 50 things that prove I’m past it. Angry with the quietist assumptions that always underpin lists of this sort, as for example that being angry is a sign you’re getting old, not that there’s something to be angry about. Why is dissatisfaction taken to be a mark of failing powers and patience, when it might just as easily be understood as a proper judgment on a foolish world? Since we know that to be young is to be in a permanent, albeit conformist quarrel with everything and everybody, why is the anger of the aged judged differently? Why is an old man’s anger invariably reduced to the status of querulousness?

Take No 15 on the list: “Finding you have no idea what young people are talking about”– far from being evidence of decrepitude, might this not be a) good manners, as in minding one’s own business; b) seasoned indifference to opinions still at the foetal stage; c) absorption in ideas of one’s own, as when William Blake’s wife told visitors her husband couldn’t receive them because he was in paradise? Absent-mindedness can often be another word for having better things to think about.

Ditto falling asleep in front of the television. I, for one, don’t do it because I’m old. I do it because I’ve lost interest. I never fell asleep during Borgen or The Sopranos. And when I did start to fall asleep during Curb Your Enthusiasm, it was because it had started to be unfunny. In fact, I have always fallen asleep watching television when it’s humdrum, which is much of the time. So why don’t I do something else? Because the sleep you get in front of TV is of a particularly high order in that it combines active criticism with rest. We speak of the sleep of the just; we should speak also of the sleep of the discerning.

No 22 of Engage Mutual’s 50 symptoms of senescence is “complaining about the rubbish on television these days”. Thus they have you either way. You’re an old fart if you let the pap send you to sleep, and you’re an old fart if you make an active stand against it. Which leaves the young where? Either too dumb to notice how dull most television is, or too pusillanimous to complain.

Although the signs of ageing we are told to look out for are of the pipe-and-slippers sort – hating noisy pubs, liking cups of tea, driving slowly, falling asleep after a single glass of wine (messy if you’re already asleep watching television), forgetting the names of bands, dressing according to the weather, not knowing any songs in the Top 10 – in fact, there is an implicit rebelliousness here against everything the young, in all their earnest conventionality, never dream of questioning. It isn’t retirement that bugs the authors of this study; it’s intransigence. The old simply refuse to play along.

Of the accusations devised by capitalism to make the no-longer obedient feel bad about themselves, this is the most heinous: that not agreeing, not accepting, not buying into the manufactured trends of musicolatry – not being good little consumers, in short – mark you out as grumpy old men and women. I don’t mean to turn this into a war between the generations. It’s miserable enough for the young already without old men like me pointing out their shortcomings, but it does them no favours to treat their slavishness to fads, received opinions, mass delusion, and every other species of regimentation, as manifestations of vigour. Only in body does youth triumph over age. And the old must never begrudge the young abusing those bodies as we enjoyed abusing ours. Thereafter, though, we must teach them to look forward to physical ruination for the consolations it brings: wearing clothes that fit, not being pissed every hour the devil sends, forgetting what you can’t be bothered remembering, falling asleep in front of the TV.

But youth and age are only superficially adversaries. In some we call old, youth remains vividly present, just as in some we call young, the fossil is there for all to see. It’s naivety, which is no respecter of age, we need to watch. To pass the time in the surgery I began composing a rival list of 50 things that show you are naive. 1: Watching The Apprentice. 2: Expressing shock that countries spy on one another. 3: Thinking there’d be no more terrorists if we addressed the causes of terrorism. 4: Having a favourite band. 5: Riding a bicycle in cities. 6: Assuming England are going to win the Ashes hands down...

The doctor called me in before I could finish. I mentioned I’d been reading a survey about old age. He got me to try touching my toes. “Now that’s what I call old,” he said.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
 

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence