Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Is old the new young? What is the 'golden age'?

What is the best age to be? What truly is the ‘golden age’ of life?

In the past, I suspect, this would be a question where most people may have come up with roughly the same answer – the optimum age to be would probably be your late teens/early twenties when you are at your fittest and strongest and you have your whole, exciting adult life ahead of you.

But, nowadays I’m not so sure people would say the same because the things that we do at different ages are changing all the time – and so are our attitudes to the numbers on our birth certificate.

In the Bath Chronicle of August 18 alone we featured the remarkable George Harding who, at 75 years of age, has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, hiked along the Great Wall of China and ran the London Marathon in recent years. And a couple of pages on we featured the brave Hattie Minch who did her first-ever sky-dive at the tender age of just 83.

In years gone by such feats from the older members of the community would never have been considered and it backs up a new perception concerning age that, as Marie Dressler said, “it’s not how old you are – but how you are old”.

And what about the other end of the scale – those apparently golden years of 18-plus? Is it really that great these days?

On August 18, my son who was 18 just a month ago, nervously collected his A-level results which will have a huge impact on his future. In truth he would have preferred to go to university next year when he felt more ready to cope, but because of the change in the tuition fee structure, he decided to apply ahead of his preferred time to avoid the huge debts he would otherwise take on.

He was stressed and not sure he was ready – but he didn’t feel he had much of a choice. And let’s face it, he’s one of the lucky ones to even have a possible choice. I wouldn’t defend any of those involved in the rioting and looting last week for a second, but there is no doubt that there are thousands of young people in this country who don’t feel they have the opportunities available to others and see very little to cheer them on the horizon. To them, youth doesn’t seem so golden at all.

If I think back (and it isn’t that long, honest) to when I was in those envied years things were very different. I got on to the college course that I wanted without any of the hassle that today’s students face – and with a full grant to help. When I started work I was quickly able to buy a four-bedroom terraced house with a 100 per cent mortgage for just £23,000 which meant I had a foot on the housing ladder and a genuine stake in my community. Now, people would need £23,000 as an absolute minimum deposit and it’s no wonder we’ve created what has been called the ‘Y’ generation – young people who ask ‘why’ should they bother saving for unattainable mortgages, why not just live life to the full in the meantime and see what happens next?

So for those people bemoaning their lost youth then maybe, just maybe, the situation has shifted now and the real golden years are now 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and above. Has ‘old’ actually become the new young?

After all, getting older is now seen by many as a blessing, not a curse. Billie Burke said “age is something that doesn’t matter – unless you are a cheese”, while Garson Kaning said “youth is the gift of nature but age is a work of art”. And while we’re in a quoting mood here’s another couple that might help you to feel better about whatever age you are. Jack Benny said “age is strictly a case of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”, while Charles Shultz optimistically said “just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed”.

Perhaps most poignantly of all, a nod of appreciation to the unknown writer who said: “Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many.” Exactly.

The golden years? They may just be the years you still have to come. No matter what age you are now.

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