Whenever the younger generations become resentful of our elders, with their lavish pensions, big houses and long, expensive retirements, and wonder what is the point of the blasted old codgers, we should take a look at this graphic and apologise for our ingratitude:
71% of 16-17 year olds voted in favour of Scottish independence. 73% of those over 65 voted against. Glance along the line and, aside from an interesting blip in the 18-24 bracket (non-Scottish students?), what you will see is a numerical representation of the accumulation of wisdom. Goodness me, over the years the diligence of the greytops in tottering down to the polling booths every election day must have saved us from innumerable idealogues and chocolate unicorn-promisers. The only conceivable reason for Alex Salmond’s insistence that schoolchildren be allowed to vote in his referendum was that he thought they could be persuaded to go for the childish option – and so it proved.
From the above you will infer that I’m opposed to extending the vote to under-18s. The folly of youth vastly outweighs any nebulous benefits of ‘engaging’ them with politics.
On 23 October you can if you wish go to your local cinema and watch a live broadcast of ‘public figure’ (no longer ‘comedian’, note) Russell Brand in conversation with Owen Jones. To quote the blurb: “At this exclusive Guardian Live event, Brand will explain why he thinks revolution isn’t just possible, but inevitable.” If you do go along you will be able to see an audience largely comprised of ‘politically engaged’ young people. You will also be forced to listen to quite possibly the largest and most concentrated load of misconceived twaddle ever uttered in the history of the great city of London. Young people are very, very stupid. Especially the clever ones.
And that’s as it should be. When I was a revolting sixth-former I was appalled by the oldies’ mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Surely that’s a terrible attitude, I would argue, a much better approach is “If it could work better, let’s improve it!” Then over time I learned about the evil of unintended consequences, and the benefits of dealing with the world as it is rather than as you wish it to be, and all the other dismal truths that, so long as the old cognitive machinery is functioning correctly, gradually turn you into an irritable pragmatist with a mortgage, pension worries and children. Scottish separatists who look at the table above and believe they only have to wait until the current pensioners die off to find themselves in a majority make a simple, profound error. Billy Bragg always thinks the future holds a socialist revolution because the rallies he attends are always full of the young and hip. It never seems to occur to him that this is precisely his problem.
But while the white-haired idealist still chuntering about the revolution and flogging The Socialist Worker on the weekend is a ridiculous figure, so too is the teenage Tory, and rightly so. Remember tiny William Hague croaking about ‘rolling back the frontiers of the State’ as Maggie T beamed on? It was grotesque. The other side of the wisdom coin is disillusion, resignation, cynicism. Without the balance provided by the enthusiastic idealism of youth would we ever get anything worthwhile done? Oh well, something else to worry about as our population gently ages.
The best possible age to be is four. For C’s fifth birthday, to commiserate her passing of the unrecoverable golden number, I took her to London for a daddy and daughter midweek trip. This was in early August and I had not appreciated, until I walked its entire length from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace with a five-year old girl and a backpack on my shoulders in the sweatstreaming summer sun, just what very long road The Mall is. My God, London is a thunderous brainboggling Eroica of a city; how laughable seems the idea that a few million Scots buggering off could in any way harm England when this unfathomable gilded mammoth of history and money and power is at its centre. C liked the Tube escalators best.
We both hated Hamleys but the Disney Store on Oxford Street was heaven: C got to wave a wand in front of a magic mirror and make princesses appear, while I got to collapse in a comfy chair and enjoy the feel of the sweat seeping off my back and into my shirt. We took turns to pose for selfies with Princess Anna from Frozen.
In case you don’t have young daughters, Frozen is an animated Disney film with which all girls are obsessed. It has very good songs which they know all the words to including a proper showstopper, worthy of any of the big musicals, called Let it Go. I heartily approve of Frozen. It’s the only Disney girl-movie which doesn’t end with a wedding. In Frozen, the handsome prince turns out to be a duplicitous baddie and the moral of the story is: don’t marry the first smooth-talking man you meet, he’s probably a bastard. This is just the sort of lesson that fathers want to see hammered home more often. C was allowed to choose one thing for her Main Present. To my surprise she ignored the mountains of princessy crap and chose a cuddly Nala (the female cub in The Lion King). She’s barely been parted from it since.
The next morning we went on the London Eye, which I talked up as a very big ride on a very big wheel. We enjoyed it well enough, but C was disappointed that it didn’t go round really really fast.
Of course the glorious architecture of politics and royalty means nothing to a five year-old. What an interesting Prime Minister David Cameron has turned out to be. Prone to blundering in rashly, largely devoid of conviction (not necessarily a bad thing), sometimes inexplicable, but in the big moments remarkably direct and decisive. I thought his 7am post-referendum speech when he bluntly vowed to resolve the unresolvable West Lothian question was as disarming and brilliant as his invitation to the Lib Dems in 2010. Cameron is definitely one of those ‘fall-at-every-hurdle-except-the-last’ Englishmen. Contrast with Alex Salmond, the precise opposite. I did feel sorry for Salmond – not many fail so close to achieving their impossible lifelong ambition. Being in the SNP must be a Sisyphean torture.
On Sunday a pipe in the bathroom began to leak. The home cover people promised to send an emergency plumber between 1pm and 5pm. At 5pm we called again, and they admitted he could arrive any time up to midnight. We put new towels down. At approximately 8.45pm, about the sort of time on a Sunday we’d be wanting to open a bottle of Aldi red and settle down in front of Boardwalk Empire, a terrible scream rent the air asunder. I raced into the girls’ bedroom.
C was holding a piece of princessy crap against her mouth. It was a hair grip, and a long needle protruding from it had apparently pieced right through her bottom lip. I looked at it, Mrs Brit looked at it, and we decided not to attempt the removal but to take her to A&E. ‘What about the emergency plumber?’ ‘Ah. Let’s phone 111 first to see if a doctor can come round.’
Eight minutes of pointless computer-generated questions about whether she had a temperature or blurred vision later, 111 told us to take her to A&E. The screaming continued all the while. ‘What about the emergency plumber?’ we asked each other, again. In the end I bundled C into the car, with Nala for moral support, and drove into Bristol. C was very brave, she held the hairgrip carefully against her mouth as I tried to drive without bumping. ‘Don’t crash, Daddy’ she advised from the back. ‘Or I will really hurt my lip.’
Parking by Christmas Steps I carried her and Nala across Park Row to the Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital. They both seemed to have grown a lot heavier since that walk down The Mall. The triage nurse examined C’s mouth, frowning. ‘Hmmmm’, she said. Sweat slithered down my back and spread unenjoyably into my shirt. The nurse took us unto an operating room. I lifted C onto the bed where she lay, tiny and quivering, clutching Nala under her arm and the hairgrip to her lip. The nurses debated. ‘Have we got wire-cutters?’ asked the Senior, a short sensible squirrel-like lady. She had a metal implement in her hand, like a sort of blunt scalpel. Or at least I thought it was blunt. ‘They’ve got some next door,’ said the Junior, and went off. While she was gone C and I squeezed each other’s hands. For some minutes the Squirrel peered very closely at C’s mouth. Then in a sudden movement she pushed the scalpel under the wire and lifted. C howled, the grip was gone and no blood flowed. It turned out that there were two wires clamped around her lip, one doubled back on itself, not a single wire penetrating it. That old magician’s trick. “Would you like to keep this?” asked the Senior, holding out the grip. “No thank you, please throw it away,” said C and I in unison.
Walking back to the car after I’d recovered, I called Mrs B to relay the good news. She said that the plumber had fixed the leak and that E was still awake at 11pm. I hoisted C into her seat and we drove off. The Sunday night roads were empty, streetlight and shadows streaking in turn across the windscreen all along the M32. In the rear-view mirror C was gazing out of her window, holding her lion cub in one hand and her pink ‘Star Patient’ Bristol Royal helium balloon in the other. I felt about a hundred and forty years old. “Well, that was a fun adventure!” said C to Nala. I kept my eyes on the road and, like a Scottish pensioner in an opinion poll, my thoughts to myself.