Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Getting older - get used to it

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Ageing afflicts us all eventually, so maybe it's time to declare truce in the battle of the generations.

'If we want people to keep working into their dotage, we might actually have to let them get on with it rather than ridiculing them.' Illustration / Anna Crichton
'If we want people to keep working into their dotage, we might actually have to let them get on with it rather than ridiculing them.' Illustration / Anna Crichton

I've always had a bit of a thing about silver foxes; old dudes with moves like Jagger. Cheers, Junior Freud; maybe I do have unresolved father issues.

Whatever, I can't see how anyone of any age can reasonably object to Labour's plan to raise the age of superannuation to 67. Strangely, it is quite easy to keep working if you don't need the dosh. Judges retire at 72. Professors just get tweedier elbow patches. I fully intend to spend my last years in a sort of Grey Gardens commune for decrepit rock chicks where we listen to Nick Cave and drink dry, dry martinis.

But then, that's the frightening, powerless thing with getting old, isn't it? Despite my best efforts I will no doubt find myself in an elasticised leisure suit leading rest-home line dancing.

Still, you can't have it both ways. If we are getting enlightened about lifting the age of eligibility for super, surely it is also time we gave up the sneery jokes about Act leader Don Brash's age.

(He's 71). I hate those use-by-date jokes. If we want people to keep working into their dotage, we might actually have to let them get on with it rather than ridiculing them.

Easier said than done. Babyboomers are fair game these days. Sixty-something journalist Jeremy Paxman has beaten up his contemporaries in a self-loathing essay: "I am part of the most selfish generation in history and we should be ashamed of our legacy." He says babyboomers are the teenagers who never had to fight in a war and so never grew up. I can understand what is behind the fierce anger from younger generations - X and Y and Millennials and whatever other trendy titles marketers have given them. They are miffed that they are bound to be poorer than their parents.

But every generation has its own brand of self pity. Babyboomers felt angry because they were brought up by repressive, authoritarian parents. Generation X felt abandoned by working and divorced parents. "Those of us betwixt and between the two 'me' generations of the self-indulgent babyboomers and the self-important Generation Ys suffer something of a middle-child syndrome," writes Auckland anthropologist Fiona Missingham in her treatise on my era, Generation X-Factor.

Generation Y, poor petals, feel hard done by because they are not going to be as rich as their parents, yet at the same time profess to loathe consumerism. They can't do without their iPhones thanks to almost-babyboomer Steve Jobs. That's called irony, they should get that. They should also learn you can't have everything.

The middle-class young people starting out now are fortunate in ways we weren't; they take it for granted that creativity, travel and self-expression will be part of their work. They expect good coffee. Whereas Paxman seems to forget the babyboomer generation bequeathed us a lot of great things - more enlightened attitudes, more freedom and some really good songs - as well as economic mayhem.

Paxman is mortified by his ageing generation with their retiree gap-years and tragic motorhome holidays. It's just so, like, embarrassing. Honey, you've got hair growing out of your ears: just deal with it. We are all horrified by ageing. It is a reminder of our own fragility. Can you still move like Jagger?

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com

- NZ Herald

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