Magazine article The Spectator

Geronto-Chic Is a Class Thing

Magazine article The Spectator

Geronto-Chic Is a Class Thing

Article excerpt

SO WILL SuperTone take a year's unpaid leave to spend quality time with SuperSprog number four? Nice idea, but one cannot help but suspect that a long weekend and every third Thursday afternoon is more likely. But even so, aren't older dads just so marvellous, endearing and just generally cute and interesting? Aaah. Bless. Cu&ee, cuchee, coo. And, of course, John Humphrys is having one too, and even The Spectator's resident spartan, Stuart Reid, has been waxing sentimental about aged fatherhood. How much greater the joy the second time round (it is often in the prodigal soil of the second family that the quinquagenarian father plants his seed); how much older and wiser the man, thus more blessed the child; and how much more civilised - we grudgingly accept - is the modem view of fatherhood as a vocation rather than a state of grace. Above all, how charming, and how very interesting.

Rubbish, nowadays there is nothing remotely funny or clever about late parenthood. Not in London, anyway. I will admit that in the other four-fifths of Britain, including its other great cities, having children in one's forties or fifties qualifies for a few ribald comments and perhaps a picture in the local rag when the little mite pops out. But in the middle-class media London ghettoes which such celebrities as Messrs Humphrys, Blair and Reid inhabit, nothing could be further from the truth.

I know because I live in one of its most doctrinaire heartlands; a tiny enclave which,, like Kabul and Los Angeles, transcends parody. Primrose Hill is Mecca to devotees of the twin gods, Cappuccino and Croissant. Gone are the butcher, both the family grocers, and one of the greengrocers. Where once was a launderette, now there is a shop selling coffee beans, esoteric ice creams and Belgian chocolate (plus crepes, croissants and organic apple juice, of course). Gone are five out of the six pubs, their hearts -- twisted and ugly though some of them were - ripped out and replaced by the stripped and limed gastro-pseudery so beloved of London media trash.

And yes, I know, this land is my land. This is where I have chosen mainly to live for the last ten years. I am one of these people. But with at least one crucial difference: I was 23 when my wife had our first child. In the rest of the country, that is normal; in more working-class areas it is procreationally tardy. But round here such youthful begetting is seen as perverted. At 23, the proto-Primrose Hillian mate has not completed his university gap-years. It will be ten years more before he even goes to film school, and another decade still before he thinks of settling down. Even the bankers and lawyers prefer not to spawn until they have been made partner or taken silk.

The picture of arthritic older fathers unable to play the boisterous games with which 'all the other', younger, dads delight their offspring is a canard. Middle-class London possesses no such phalanx of young papas. It is 1, aged 31, who am the Ishmaelite at the school nativity. Becoming a father while virtually a child myself was a vulgar lifestyle infelicIty distasteful to normal, fortysomething fathers. As Dominic Lawson once summarised it, 'It's a class thing.' Most of the boys with whom I went to school in Handsworth are now fathers, many with children around the same ages as my own. And where my mother lives in rural north-west Wales, there is no known instance of a fertile heterosexual being childless at the age of 31. But among my male peers from Oxford, very few of them, though they are now in their early thirties, have any children, and those who do have acquired them only recently. …

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