You know you are getting just the tiniest bit older not when the policemen start to look young. Nor indeed when the nurses start to look young. They looked young even when you were a kid. Nor still yet when the GPs start to look young.
No, two things signal the passing of rather a large amount of time.
One is when the eminent specialist physicians you consult as the machinery starts to break down are so ludicrously youthful you can’t really believe they need to shave. The other is when the rebel yell youth movement revolution generation rock radio station you listen to in the car, as a private mental confirmation that you are still hip and loose and radical yourself, starts advertising retirement villages, mobility aids and arthritis treatments.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction followed by some ageing rocker DJ telling you that a regular annuity payment is the best way to use your money in retirement.
Yikes! The revolution may or may not be televised but the subtitles will be in large print for failing eyes.
It always seems a particular betrayal of youth for a sports star to grow old. I was shocked the other day to find Ian Chappell, whose early exploits I thrilled to as a child, is now in his 70s. The magnificent Richie Benaud, on the other hand, seemed never to change from one decade to another until finally he left us, exuding all the time his characteristic graciousness.
At a reasonable distance Allan Border still looks something like he did in his playing days, but there he was on my TV screen advertising a circulation booster, which is not something, I suspect, the average Byronic youth in the first flush of romantic rebellion and passionate life exploration is likely to be after.
It can be serious trouble for people if they can’t adjust to the stage of life they are in. Most notably, when you first marry and have kids it is a jolt from the wild, or at least happily irresponsible, ways of singledom.
One of the greatest confusions arises from trying to distinguish an age effect from a cohort effect. In the early 1960s Donald Horne wrote the classic The Lucky Country. In it he confidently predicted Australia would soon enough become a republic because most young people favoured the republic. The old people, opposed to that change, would die off, the young people would become the majority and, hey presto, goodbye to the constitutional monarchy.
The problem was that as young people get older they become more conservative. The wisdom of that most profound philosophical aphorism — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — starts to appeal to them more. The value of a civic order that is peaceful, law bound, stable, predictable — this becomes a lot more obvious.
So youthful support for the republic seems to be an age effect.
A cohort effect, on the other hand, stays with a specific group, even as its members grow old and mouldy. A taste for the Rolling Stones, an idea that using rude words is in some way radical or chic (because it will shock their parents), the sense that coarseness is a sign of authenticity, and above all the taste for the music of rock faux rebellion (much of which is indeed good music) that began with the Beatles, these are attributes that stay with the baby boomers.
John Howard always thought he did better with the generation that came before the baby boomers and the generation that came after them than with boomers themselves.
This is because so many baby boomers had their political attitudes defined by their misbegotten misinterpretation of the Vietnam War and the absurd nonsensical mock heroic role they assigned to the demonstrators of that era, who so comprehensively lost interest in the human rights of actual Vietnamese human beings once the Americans were defeated.
But, as a baby boomer myself, while mostly in opposition to typical boomer politics, there is one area where I am, as Billy Snedden might have said, on the wavelength of my generation. From the Beatles to Mick Jagger to the Beach Boys to Billy Joel, yea even unto Lou Reed, this is the rhythm of my life …