Yes, we oldies are grumpy. But the way my sons roll their eyes and shout me down sug­gests the young are even grumpier

Daily Mail - - One Day To Go ... - TOM UTLEY

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.

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