Growing grey disgracefully

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
The tell-tale signs are there for all to see: the handrails in the classrooms, the surgical appliance catalogues in the staff lounge. With the number of college lecturers in the 50-plus category at record levels, it seems we are all growing grey together.

Young people just aren't interested any more. They prefer to go for easier, more remunerative jobs like night-club bouncing, street sweeping or toilet cleaning. So the rest of us have no choice but to plod valiantly on towards that ever-receding horizon that is retirement.

The thing is though, that for yourself you just don't see it. No doubt it's down to being part of the Bryan Adams 18 Til I Die generation. You wake up in the morning, see that lined stranger peering back at you from the bathroom mirror and think: "who the hell is that?"

For me the moment of truth came when I was paying for my petrol the other evening. An angry young man stormed up to the counter and demanded to know why he had to pay for his fuel before pumping it. The assistant pointed to a notice stating that for "security reasons" once night had fallen all purchases of petrol must be pre-paid.

"Oh yeah," said the stroppy youth, "but you didn't make the old git pay up front, did you?" I checked around me for cowering pensioners, but strangely could see none. Then it dawned on me. I was the only other person in the shop.

By this time the hurler of the insult had jumped into his car and roared off into the night, still without his petrol. Old git? "Git" I could just about take, but who was he calling old? Somehow, it seemed, I had slipped into decrepitude without noticing it. And if it can happen to me then it can happen to anyone. So, lest you too have let more years pass you by than you'd care to acknowledge, just try answering my five "Am I an old git?"

questions.

1 Music

Can you tell the difference between rap, hip hop and R 'n' B? That's harder than it looks, because I've never actually found an aficionado who can tell me the difference either. Most probably you are still under the illusion that R 'n' B stands for rhythm and blues and is belted out by wizened old guys with interesting sounding names like Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, and Muddy Waters. Well, you can forget all that, because today the musical waters are far, far muddier, and you hardly dip your toes in before you're out of your depth. Admit it, the only thing you know for certain about young people's music is that it is all very, very loud.

2 Technology

Do you remember the day you first sat at a computer (a BBC perhaps, or a Sinclair Spectrum powered by a big key sticking out the back) and thought: that's very interesting, but it'll never catch on? Well, now you've learnt to live with it, possibly to love it, but can you say the same about your mobile phone? No doubt you keep one in your car, or the bottom of your bag, marked "for use in emergencies only". Not so your students. For them possession of a phone is not so much a means of communication as an inalienable human right - as is the right to use it at every possible opportunity, and especially in your classroom. So the real "old git"

question here is: have you ever felt an overpowering urge to snap your best mate's bum with your picture phone then message it to six other friends?

3 Language

Their mouths move. Words come out of them. You suspect that it's English, but somehow it's not English as you know it. The girls are shrill. The boys all mumble. What has happened, you ask, to the English of Shakespeare, Milton and Alexander Pope?

4 Food and Drink

Actually forget the food, it's your attitude to the liquid stuff that really counts in the old gits stakes. Do you, for instance, find it hard to imagine how anyone can get pleasure from standing up in a draughty warehouse for three hours on a Saturday night drinking gassy lager straight from the bottle? Does the word "Budweiser" make you want to rearrange the following words into a well- known phrase or saying: "piss", "gnat's"? And then there's Red Bull. What sort of a drink is that? One pound and 10 pence for a crappy little can and there's not even any alcohol in it! Naturally, you've never actually tasted it.

5 Television

What can you say, except that there's never anything any good on any more? You know for absolutely certain that so-called reality TV would have driven Dennis Potter potty. It's not that you haven't tried. You once watched Big Brother for all of 10 minutes and found it mind-numbingly tedious. About the only thing you'll stay in for these days is Grumpy Old MenWomen - which strangely is what this column seems to have turned into.

Stephen Jones is a senior lecturer at a London college

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