The “Oldies” Keep On Keeping On, But Is It Any Wonder?

As Wayne hit 55 in 2016 he wrote about how “oldies” don’t go stale.

When you get to my age (55) you start to hear about friends and family of a similar age “slowing down”, going part time or taking early retirement. I have been in situations where people have indirectly accused me of being a workaholic for doing so much “at my age”. But the fact is that I feel more energised now than at most times in my life and with over 35 years of having a business within the creative industries, the embedded knowledge and skills are paying dividends. Add to that the fact the our four children are all living independently, I have no mortgage worries, our pensions are secure and I have no health worries then there is clearly space in my mind to be creative. There really is no excuse for “not doing so much at my age”.

Wherever you look in the creative industries you see “oldies” at the top of their game. New Order’s new single “Singularity” whose front man Bernard Sumner is 60 is ace. The spirit of Blue Monday and Joy Division’s amazing back catalogue shines through in Singularity whilst still managing to sound fresh and urgent. But when you have nothing to prove and know your craft it is certainly still possible to be as brilliant as this.

Dover St Market is the best fashion store in London (maybe in the world anyone?) and it is run very much hands on by a designer, Rei Kawakubo who at 73 is most definitely still brilliant and her 62 year old husband Adrian Joffe.

I have known Jude Kelly, who heads up Southbank Centre for a fair while, but its only in this article that I found out she is 62. Jude is bona-fide creative whirlwind of positive creative energy and under her creative direction Southbank Centre has become a world revered cultural institution. It is hard to imagine Jude not devising new festivals, spotting new talent and producing great art for at least another decade (or two!)

Southbank Centre

The founding members of New Order, Rei Kawakubo, Adrian Joffe, Jude Kelly, Gerardine and I all came from a generation that felt secure in the natural order that if we worked hard we would do better than our parents, that we could get to university (and as a result get a decent job) by buckling down to studies. 

Most of us got through further education without debt, most of us bought a home young (in 1991 67% of 25 to 34 year olds earned their own home). The fact is that, on average, the older you are today, the more money you have compared to your parents and grandparents. As decent wages, job security, decent housing became easier to obtain we grew up hearing from our parents “you don’t know you’re born”.

But oh how things have changed and are working against a generation saddled with education debt and a slim chance of ever owning a home without parental help. Statistics such as 25 to 29 year olds seeing a reduction in disposable income from 1979 to today whilst the over 65s have seen an increase of almost 70 per cent (*1) is scary and shames governments (the Conservatives realise that “their” demographic is the “old” and clearly focus on this).  

The natural order has been upended, and the knowledge that hard work will ensure that you get on in life, help you settle down and buy that home is rapidly being eroded as home ownership (today home ownership for under 30 year olds is barely half what it was a generation ago), careers with prospects, the increase in zero hours contracts and secure pensions are becoming a thing of the past.

But I keep hearing from my generation about the creative insurgency that came out of the tough economic times that were the late 70s and early 80s and the question is often raised “if we could be creative then why can’t today’s young do it in this  difficult economic climate?” The answer may be obvious. My generation had that in built confidence that the natural order was that things would be better than it was for our parents. We knew that “we had never had it so good”. Maybe that confidence is being eroded to such a degree for some Generation Y / Millennials that they are leaving it us to us oldies and that is not what us oldies want.

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said this week:

“Unfortunately, there is a growing sense, somehow, that Britain’s best days are behind us rather than ahead. That is so corrosive. And I think, genuinely, the wind of change does have to sweep through the country. What both the polling and the data suggest is that we may have reached an inflection point..if these trends continue, we may become a society that is permanently divided. Certainly on home ownership, we’re heading for a world where rates of home ownership among young people are below 50% for the first time. If this trend line continues, we’ll be there by the end of the decade. It is a wake up and smell the coffee moment,” he said. “This idea that the succeeding generation would do better than the previous generation is part of the glue that binds, as has been the notion that if you put in effort, you get a reward. Certainly I was brought up to believe that if you stuck in at school, you’d get on in life. Unfortunately, there’s pretty compelling data to suggest that that may no longer be the case and that has got huge consequences for social cohesion in our country. It almost feels like we’re facing an existential crisis about what sort of society we want to be.”

None of us can truly know where this is going but surely wherever it is going it can’t be positive? The young need to engender that “wind of change” and vote (turnout at around 48% of under 25s at the last election doesn’t help) and the old that care about “hope” for our children need to vote with them.

*1  Luxembourg Income Study Database