Yes, we oldies are grumpy. But the way my sons roll their eyes and shout me down suggests the young are even grumpier
DON’T blame me if I sound a little grumpy this week — or any other week, for that matter. As scientists now claim to have proved, it’s not my fault. You must put it down instead to my advancing age (I’m 64½) and to changes in human brain function and cognitive ability as time creeps up.
Such, anyway, is the explanation of the Victor Meldrew Grumpy Old Man (or Woman) Syndrome, touted by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London.
They say that the older we get, the less adept we tend to become at identifying other people’s emotions and intentions. This in turn makes us impatient, irritable and less empathetic than the more understanding young.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Apparently, those of us who have trouble with our memories are the most likely to grow cantankerous with the passage of years.
As someone who finds it increasingly hard to remember the faces or names of people who swear we’ve been friends for decades — never mind where I left my keys — all I can advise is that you should steer well clear of me in the years ahead.
Before you know it, I’ll be snarling and harrumphing at anyone who dares wish me good morning, or tells me the weather’s turning out nice for the time of year.
But I wonder if it’s really true that my generation is grumpier than those born later. Couldn’t it just be that we display our grumpiness in different ways?
Take our five-month- old grandson, Rafael Thomas Utley. Though as sweetnatured a baby as you could hope to meet, he has one thing in common with the great majority of his contemporaries.
If all is not exactly as he would wish — he’s feeling peckish, say, the sun is briefly in his eyes or he’s fed up with being passed from aunt to doting aunt — by God, he lets you know it. He’ll be shaking his fists and bawling his head off until the universe is arranged precisely to his liking.
I’ve known a fair few ratty old souls of my own and my late parents’ generations, but none is as irascible as most babies.
Moving up the age- scale, consider my sons’ generation, now in their 20s and 30s. True, our four have more or less grown out of the door-slamming phase. But they’re not above groaning, rolling their eyes or shouting me down, in distinctly un-empathetic fashion, if I presume to say anything capable of being construed as even vaguely Right-wing.
Indeed, generally speaking, I reckon twenty and thirtysomethings are far less understanding than most of their elders of views that don’t chime with their own.
Perhaps this was always so, but it is surely truer than ever in this age of safe spaces and no-platforming at universities, when dissent from half-baked, fashionable notions is strictly verboten.
Call me a running-dog of capitalism, but at least I understand the point of Socialism, and the well-meaning egalitarian motives that inspired it. My only objection is that far from helping the poor, it has caused poverty, misery and famine whenever tried — at least in its purest forms.
As for the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn’s beloved Karl Marx, this can be measured in oceans of blood and 100 million corpses. (Yes, the Labour leader will be 69 next week, but as a lifelong student protester who never grew up, he must be regarded for the purposes of this column as an honorary teenager.)
By contrast, many of my sons’ age-group simply can’t, or rather won’t, see the point of capitalism — and never mind that it’s credited with having lifted a billion people out of poverty over the past 20 years.
As for the gentle, pragmatic, barely definable philosophy of Toryism — with its belief in the family, private property and independent institutions as defences against state tyranny — countless young people refuse even to listen to the arguments. To them, Tories are scum. ‘End of.’ (To use one of these supposedly empathetic sages’ most irritating phrases).
Indeed, you should see some of the anonymous abuse directed at centre-Right columnists on the internet — the great majority of it, I suspect, posted by people under 35, who seem to spend most of their lives jabbing away furiously at computer or smartphone keyboards. Talk about grumpiness!
As I’ve observed before, the hand-written letters I receive — almost all of course, from the more mature generation that still uses Royal Mail — are infinitely more civil. More empathetic, you could say.
All right, I admit that we older folk can get grumpy at times, and perhaps some of us get more so as the years go by. But is this really because old age erodes our cognitive ability? Isn’t it equally plausible that there’s simply more to be grumpy about than when we were young?
I’m not thinking only of the indignities of ageing, such as fading eyesight and hearing, creaking joints and the arduous business of heaving ourselves out of our armchairs when the telephone rings.
What about those times when we’ve made the effort to pick up the receiver . . . only to hear, on the other end of a bad line, a voice from a call-centre in Bangladesh asking: ‘How are you today, Mr Yootely?’ I hate to sound grumpy, but we all know damned well these cold-callers are not in the slightest interested in how we are (though I’ve often a good mind to tell them, listing all my aches and pains from toe to topknot until they ring off, bored).
No, they just want to sell us something dodgy or ask us to take a ‘three-minute lifestyle survey’. This is so they can flog our details to others who want to pester us with cold calls, dragging us off the sofa when the last episode of the Woman In White is nearing its thrilling climax.
Almost everything in the news is infuriating, too. I could start with that fatuous research at Goldsmiths, which arrived at its conclusions after showing 60 people aged 17 to 95 a series of videos, featuring two recurring characters.
If I’ve got this right, the participants were then asked to identify the intention of these characters, and say whether it was to persuade or deceive us. Apparently, some of the older guinea pigs performed worse than the young at this game, while others did not so badly.
This led study co-author, psychology lecturer Dr Rebecca Charlton, to conclude that ‘with the right kinds of support’, older people may be encouraged to take up activities such as exercise, crosswords and social interaction, which could help to slow a loss of empathy.
In other words, she seemed to say: ‘Let’s give more public cash to people like me.’
Meanwhile, scientists at Cambridge University have found, after painstaking research into the tastes of 341 American women, that men with longer legs are more attractive to the opposite sex. But they warn that our legs must be only a little longer than average, as lankiness gives us no advantage in dating.
Perhaps with the ‘right kinds of support’ I’ll be able to grow mine to exactly the right length, and make myself irresistible to women.
Oh, for Pete’s sake. I thought this was meant to be an age of austerity. Have academics really nothing better to do with their time and our money than footle around asking Americans about their ideal leg-length or measuring empathy levels, by highly questionable means?
But now I’ve run out of space before I can rage against this week’s barmy plan by the Committee of Advertising Practice (whatever that may be) to outlaw ‘genderstereotyping’ ads which depict boys as daring and girls as caring.
And I haven’t even begun to describe how the plumber from HomeServe (insurance premium £712.32 per annum!) accidentally cut off my water supply this week, leaving me to perform my morning ablutions in cold rainwater from the butt in the garden.
Never mind. I’m sure next week’s news will throw up plenty to excite my irascibility. I’ll see you when I’m seven days older and grumpier.