Views And Reviews

Your country needs you!

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 26 February 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:601
  1. I Robertson

    I mean, they think life's one long holiday and they don't know the meaning of the word “work.” All they ever seem to think about is their next trip abroad, and they spend their time just hanging about as if there was no tomorrow. Personally, I think national service is the only answer - get them up in the morning, put some order in their lives, smarten up their appearance. After all, they've got most of their time behind them.

    Only a quarter of “third agers” - 50 to 75 year olds - are in full time employment. Marketing consultants have pinpointed them as a high disposable income, leisure hungry, footloose, but commercially forgotten generation. Your average ad man is 28 years of age and for the past 30 years his kind has rock and rolled youth into a culturally dominant position. Now he's having to retool to charm the oldies because his cogenerationists don't have the loot, while their mummies and daddies do.

    Judge Tumim, fearless chief inspector of prisons, has just been nominated Oldie of the Year for his midnight exposes of our rotten incarceration system. If, as the marketeers suggest, age is going to become as sexy to advertisers as youth once was, then new cultural heroes will be cultivated. Roll on the day, if it means more of Judge Tumim and Lord Justice Scott on their bikes and less of Richard Branson's interminable hot air balloon grinning.

    I still marvel at how old youths look in ‘50s films, in their flannels and brylcreem-helmeted heads. Come to think of it, the men all looked like Lord Justice Scott. Perhaps if Mr Major ordered that every 17 year old be issued with cycle clips and smog-grey trench coat, he might have better luck with his Back to Basics campaign. And if we are to believe Max Hastings, editor of the Daily Telegraph, there is a crisis in government because over the past 14 years, the traditional rulers of this country have been swept aside by a “bunch of estate agents who believe in nothing.” Perhaps our oldies Tumim and Scott represent the last vestiges of that sense of selfless patrician duty which Mr Hastings sees gazumped before him.

    While, as a grateful beneficiary of postwar upward social mobility, I could never agree with Mr Hastings's basic assumptions about the virtues of patrician rule, he does have a point about the need for guiding principles to which individual aspirations must at times dutifully defer. But the question is, who is going to set the example and start creating and acting on these new principles?

    In pre-Yeltsin Soviet Russia, the leaders of dissent were not the young - they were third agers - Sakharov, Solzhenitzin, Yevtushenko, and scores of others. Yevtushenko read his poetry to packed football stadia and he and his contemporaries were the cultural vanguard to whom Soviet youth looked up. So, you pampered, over-leisured, too-much-travelled, well-pensioned, third agers, now is the time for your national service. Before the admen get their consumerist clutches into you. Pull back your shoulders. Straighten your ties. Put on the bicycle clips. Your country needs you!

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