Talkin’ bout ma generation


Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about the referendum here. This isn’t the place. You can stalk me on Twitter if you want to see my views on that. But I did happen to come across an article the other day that looked at why different generations might have voted in different ways and it got me thinking.

The first thing I thought, to be perfectly honest, was ‘I never knew I was Generation X’! It turns out that I may not be – it depends on whose definition you’re using. According to some definitions, Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1965. Others stop at 1955 or 1960 and that 10960-65 slot seems to be a grey area. You might be a Boomer or you might be early Gen X.

I was born in late 1962 and I’ve never felt that I had much in common with the Baby Boomers. The feeling of being stuck betwixt and between of Gen X-ers resonates much more with me.

And that’s what started the generational thinking. My parents were born in 1937 and 1939  and their generation – the one that grew up surrounded by the privations and bad news of war – is characterised by an innate conservatism, a need never to throw anything away, the need to eat up your greens and your crusts and to feel you could survive on the contexts of your house for weeks if the bomb went off. That generation has gardens with veg in, allotments as a verb, irons used Christmas paper and keeps broken electrical items in the hope that somebody will be able to ressurrec them because ‘it’s in perfect nick’. Yes, apart from the fact that it doesn’t work. You’ve got to admire their self-sufficiency and their fundamental feeling that the British will always come through, come what may.

Conversely, the Baby Boomers with whom I have always failed to identify, seem to have been unfeasibly optimistic about the future as a cohort, expecting to change the world, beginning with their own fortunes and believing that their generation understood things in a way that their predecessors’ simply hadn’t. The Sixties – the decade in which I think the definitive Baby Boomers became teenagers – has always seemed to me like an aberration. For years afterwards, particularly during the grey ‘seventies during which I grew up, people seemed to be wondering what had happened to all the hopes, dreams, idealism and world-changing-chutzpah of the previous decade. Answer: it fizzled out because it wasn’t sustainable. LSD, Vietnam protests, full employment and the Beatles will only take you so far. In the end, you have to knuckle down, work for a living and realise that changing the world is hard. And unlikely to be accomplished by one generation in a single decade despite the invention of sexual intercourse.

Generation X – my generation, I’ve decided – grew up in a kind of degraded capitalistic socialism which didn’t always work. Subsequently, as young adults, we saw full-on capitalism under Margaret Thatcher smash some of the things our country was famous for and proud of. As a generation, I think we’re more pessimistic, inclined to think that no good thing lasts and that you can expend all your energy in changing the world, only for some fuckwit to come along and – with lies and soundbites – ruin everything. (Sorry, said I wasn’t going to talk about the Referendum.) I remember remarking to a friend at college that ours seemed like a politically apathetic generation, but maybe, in retrospect, that was just in comparison with the aberrant sixties.

Generation Y/Millennials seem to be conflated – they were Gen Y until about 2005 and then ‘Millennial’ took over as shorthand for those young people who’d become adults around the year 2000. My sons were born in 1990 and 91 so they’re Gen Y but not Millennials. Perhaps there’ll be another name for them in due course. These are the digital natives who – apart from their electronics – have the reputation of valuing experience over things. Because, perhaps, experiences can’t be taken away. (And nor, if you trust The Cloud – which I don’t, being a cagey Gen X-er – can your photographs of them.) Experiences are probably a better bet, to be honest, because owning a bunch of stuff seems a trifle pointless when you can’t afford a house to put it in and you have to move every year at the whim of the rental market and landlords who hike prices as if they were socks with feeble elastic.

OK, it’s all terribly broad-brush stuff, obviously, but maybe it’s like rules of thumb – more true than not. And this is the kind of thing it’s good to know about when you’re writing historical fiction.

It’s possible that things changed a little more slowly back in the day (defined as before anybody now alive can remember – you know, that day) but that may simply be our modernist prejudice. It’s certainly true that the world the furture Queen Victoria was born into was utterly different to that she left on her death in the twentieth century. If we allocate roughly 20 years to each named generation, there were at least three different kinds of Victorian, each with their defining way of viewing the world.

Next post, I’ll be thinking about them and about how Harry Probert-Lloyd, main man of my Teifi Valley Coroner series, fits in to that.



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