Still Crazy After All These Years – Clive Hetherington


Getting your “bus Pass” and becoming a grandfather in the space of a few weeks is quite sobering. They are both events which have traditionally marked the end of middle age and the onset of old age. As many of us in the choir are “baby boomers”, part of that massive blip in the population caused by the return of our fathers from the Second World War, they will be happening for a lot of us this year. When they do you can’t help but go through a sort of life audit. On a personal level you wonder whether you have turned out to be the kind of person you had hoped to be in your youth, and what should you be aiming for know? On a more general level you look back over the last 40 odd years marvelling at just how much some things have changed and, perversely, how little others have. I found myself particularly wondering whether; being a “baby boomer” made the experience in any way special. Are we an atypical slice of the population or have sixty year olds always been like us?

I have heard it said that not only do we “boomers” not grow old gracefully but that we refuse to grow old at all and that reaching adulthood in the late sixties means we have never really stopped being “hippies”. Looking round the choir at my sixtieth bash certainly provided some support for the latter.

We have certainly lived through some interesting times, from the optimism of the flower power generation to the obscenity of Thatcher and latterly the so called “new labour” years. We have seen massive developments in science and technology but yet, in the new millennium, we have a society where, despite the benefits brought by enlightened rationalism, new age mystical claptrap and religious fundamentalism are rife. I find it particularly ironic that people such as the creationist lobby use the internet to spread there mumbo jumbo.

As a scientist I feel to have been very lucky to have been graduating in 1968. It was the beginning of a new era, the digital revolution. My working life has just about spanned the development of the computer. I saw the first light emitting diode in the UK in the autumn of 1965 and got to program one of the first workable “mini” computers in this country in 1968. The last twenty years have also brought us a lot nearer to the answers to the “big” questions, the nature of life, the cosmos, etc.

On the human front I feel that we can’t be too proud of the society we have helped shape. Over the last thirty years we have built an avaricious acquisitive consumption driven society that is very unattractive. Thatcher’s legacy has been to move thinking in this country so far to the right that we now take it for granted that the only power is the market and that it is somehow immutable and not subject to political will. Blair’s labour party picking up the same market forces baton in the guise of “new” labour has given an added dimension of absurd political correctness. We have a society where the individual’s rights are seen as far outweighing the collective responsibility generating the compensation, litigative blame culture we now have.

Are we “boomers” to blame for this or are we like everybody else subject to social, economic and market forces over which we can exercise little control? Unlike many we have been voting adults throughout all these changes and if anybody must take responsibility for the society we now have it is us. As a group we have never been demonstrative and politically active, perhaps a legacy of our “hippy” days and now I fear it is too late. We are just seen as “grumpy old men” whenever we voice concerns over education, health provision etc.

What of the future for “boomers”? Most of us still retain an appetite for fun that doesn’t seem to diminish with the years. If there is one thing, for me, that characterises the “boomer” it is that we all are still 18 inside. Despite all my gloom above about the state of the society at large I think we can make a difference if we pass on that sense of fun and curiosity to our children and grandchildren. When I look at the choir one of the things that makes it so special is the group dynamic or, to cut out the socio-babble, “the crack”. I think this is in no small part due to the fact that many of us are in the baby boomer bracket.