Will my birthday wishes come true?

Published on 20 July 2020 by Adam Leigh

It’s my birthday this Sunday.

No big deal, honestly. These articles are meant to be serious insights into the challenges of a COVID-blighted universe, not an appeal for love on LinkedIn. Please don’t feel the need to pay me any attention, but if you are interested, I am running low on Hibiki ‘Japanese Blossom’ Blended WhiskyTom Ford ‘Anthracite’ Cologne and I love a good hardback. Too much to ask? Ok a friendly text or Facebook message will suffice.

But bloody hell, I will be a decidedly uncool 55!  My pension projections have been always been calculated to start at this point at the earliest, not that of course I will be retiring for a long time to come. More concerning, I am in a new research demographic. Now if stopped by a mask-wearing clip-board holder, he or she will put my answer (‘Who am I going to vote for?’ ‘Do I like porridge?’ ‘How do I get rid of my sprouting nasal hair?’) in the 55-64 segment.  In the USA a hundred years ago, the average age of death for a man was 53.6 years old. I am lucky to be here.

Sorry to be so maudlin, because I am actually in my prime. A vigorous combination of moisturiser, exercise, and healthy diet means that I have never been fitter or better-looking. (You’ll just have to take my word on this one.) Still, 55 is a useful milestone to ponder a future in which the certainties and expectations of previous years are now obliterated.

I was born in 1965, meaning I missed being a ‘Baby Boomer’ by a year. (Nigel Farage and Sarah Palin born in 1964, just snuck in, so maybe not such a great club after all.) I am at the vanguard of Gen X. Apparently, we are more ambitious than the boomers and developed the concept of work life balance, but they have better pensions. We are basically the generation that needed lots of drive to succeed but have reaped comfortable rewards for our aspirations.  Our children are sadly part of Generation Completely Buggered, a new cohort confronted by the challenges and problems created by those going before them.

Feeling slightly wistful, I have done some research therefore into the year I was born and have discovered (conveniently) that there are many events with contemporary resonance to today.

On Jan 4th 1965, President Johnson proclaimed ‘The Great Society’ in his State of The Union address. It was based on his manifesto pledges in the previous year’s election campaign to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. However in February, Malcolm X was assassinated  followed a month later by Bloody Sunday when 200 State Troopers attacked 525 civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, as they attempted to march to the state capital of Montgomery. Two weeks later, undeterred Martin Luther King jr. and 25,000 civil rights activists  famously completed the 4-day march from Selma. In December, The UN adopted the ‘International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.’

The year was defined by civil unrest in the US. In April, the first Students for a Democratic Society marched against the Vietnam War with 25,000 protestors converging on Washington, D.C. These demonstrations proliferated across the globe during the year. In August The Watt’s Riots broke out in LA after complaints of police brutality against a pregnant woman. They were supressed by 14,000 National Guard resulting in 34 deaths and $40m of damage. 

Sir Winston Churchill died in January and was granted a state funeral. No one would have imagined 55 years later his contribution to the country would be severely questioned and his statue in Parliament Square boxed-in for its own protection. At the end of the year, Charles de Gaulle was re-elected at 75 as President of France, not too dissimilar in age from the current US presidential candidates.

It was a year of landmark innovation. On the 16th July, the Mont Blanc Tunnel was opened between Italy and France, illustrating the borderless Europe of the future. Two months later, The Post Office Tower was opened in London presaging the capital’s future role as a tech hub.  (When I was a child, I visited the revolving restaurant at the top which was revolutionary but also made you very queasy.)

For all the febrile protests and anger, the year was one of cultural milestones. The Who released their single ‘My Generation’ signalling the growing dissent of younger people with the values of their crusty parents. The Rolling Stones enjoyed their first US Number One with ‘Satisfaction’ and The Beatles, conquered all before them, including their iconic concert in front of 56,000 people at Shea Stadium. Mary Quant started a revolution of female emancipation with the launch of the miniskirt whilst Pizza Express launched its first branch, not realising the role pizza would play as a staple takeaway food to help society survive lockdown. Predictably, Manchester United won the league and Liverpool won the FA Cup. My beloved Spurs, as ever, won nothing. 

July 26 was a Monday, heralding my arrival into the world, full of boundless optimism, devoid of cynicism and wondering what my contribution to society would be. As it turns out, I am 11 days younger than David Milliband and 5 days older than JK Rowling. What this proves is probably very little, other than ideally, I still need to get published and stand for public office.

The history of that year suggests nothing much has changed. We are still riven by poverty, prejudice and political machination. Five days after my birthday, President Johnson launched Medicaid and Medicair to provide healthcare to the vulnerable. 2020 has shown we are all sadly powerless in the face of disease. More upsetting is the inadequacy and iniquity of healthcare systems and politicians across the globe to eliminate its spread.

And what of the future for my three children over the next 55 years? They will have to rail against the system, like Vietnam protestors, but also celebrate the cultural richness around them like the millions who flocked to buy Beatles LPs. Their world may be technologically enabled, fluid and flexible but it will also require tenacity, resolve and resilience to carve out opportunities and build sustainable careers, if that is what they want to do. 

We must all move forward as if we are at the start of a new journey. The world’s problems and human nature may not change drastically, but the innocence and enthusiasm with which we confront these challenges will be key to both our success and mental equilibrium.

I love musicals and am not ashamed to admit that their sentimentality and ebullience provide me with comfort and hope. Of course, 1965 was a great year for them. My Fair Lady cleaned up at The Oscars and The Sound of Music was in cinemas. In November, Man of La Mancha opened on Broadway, running for 2328 performances. (You all knew that, didn’t you?)  Its most famous song is ‘The Impossible Dream’ and its lyric is an unintentionally apposite guide to help us navigate these quite frankly rubbish times. I can’t sing, one of life’s ironies given my unstinting commitment to jazz hands and a show tune, but if I could, I’d belt out this mantra to help me through the next 55 years.

To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/To run where the brave dare not go/To right the unrightable wrong/To love pure and chaste from afar/ To try when your arms are too weary/To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star/No matter how hopeless, no matter how far/To fight for the right/Without question or pause/To be willing to march/ Into hell for a heavenly cause

Let’s look to a brighter future and hope that we can endure a commercially robust present based on adhering to decent, honest values. And if that thought doesn’t merit you buying me a big present on Sunday, then I don’t know what does.