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Monday, October 11, 2010

Kids today really don't know they're born - and nor will the next lot

It's nice to feel like a member of an oppressed minority now and then. Bit of indignant hurt peps you up no end. In the course of an interesting debate about university top-up fees on The Guardian site somebody pops up with what is becoming a familiar refrain - since they clearly grew up in an era of plenty and didn't have to pay to go to university, why don't the baby boomers pay for all this?

I have my Baby Boomer membership card and therefore I feel the need to respond.

I came from a direct grant grammar school which every year sent a handful of boys to Oxbridge. Although this was a selective school not everyone went on to higher education, not by any means. These were the days of 13% going on to take a degree. Some left at 15 (you could do that in those days) to work as office boys or to take an apprenticeship. And this wasn't a simple economic calculation. It depended on their inclination, prospects and temperament. I knew miner's sons who stayed on and went to university. I knew kids from well-off families who got out the second they could. I went away and came to London. I did a four year B.Ed course which finished in 1972.

While I was studying my tution and board was paid. I had £40 a term for everything else (bolstered by what I managed to save from unpleasant manual labour done during the vacations). I went to the pub where I drank mild because it was cheaper. I hardly ever went into London because I couldn't afford it. The pictures maybe once a month. Clubbing obviously wasn't invented, nor were premium lagers, clothes with logos on them and designer drugs. I didn't know what a cab was. At the end of term I would go to the end of the M1 and hitchhike home.

I'm not complaining. I had a great time. I didn't work particularly hard. I loved it all and learned a lot. When I left I walked straight into a job on the recommendation of a lecturer (one of many examples of my not realising how lucky I was) where my pay was £1,500. A year. That's with a degree and London weighting.

It goes without saying that £1,500 went a lot further then than it does now. But it couldn't buy, for instance, a holiday. I did without holidays until my late twenties. When the NME wanted to send me to Hamburg for one night (you can't imagine how thrilled I was) I didn't have a passport. We got married when I was twenty-nine. On my stag night six of us went to a pub in Islington and had five pints. Our wedding was paid for by parents. It was lavish for the era. There were fifty guests. Our honeymoon was three nights in France.

Today's twentysomethings have grown used to mobile phones, Sky subscriptions, cabs, clubbing, an occasional trip to a fancy restaurant, stag weekends, Hollywood weddings and multiple holidays. In 1979 this would have been an unimaginably luxurious life. I don't think we even knew the word lifestyle. I don't begrudge them any of it. I understand only too well about debts and employment and house buying. I don't resent what I didn't have. What I do resent, what every older generation always resents, is being told we had it easy by somebody who wasn't there.