I am a baby boomer – one of the many children born in the years soon after the Second World War when all the surviving armed forces returned home and started families. All over the country, schools were built or expanded. My own senior school used to have 200 pupils, but within two years this shot up to more than 2,000. Classes were large, and we had 13 classes in a year, with usually over 30 pupils in each class.
There were advantages. The large numbers of course required large numbers of teachers, so we weren’t stuck with just a few. Many of the staff had trained in unconventional ways – former army chaplains, or those injured in the war, who took very short intensive training. We had one French teacher who admitted openly that he was only a page ahead of us in the book as he was actually a history graduate. We had a former coal miner teaching us religious education – he had spent the war down the mines and then retrained, and there was a German teacher who was actually a trained rabbi – a refugee from Hitler’s Germany.
Because they came in fresh, and all together, they weren’t bound by old established ideas, but were innovative. There was no National Curriculum in those days, so as long as we could pass the exams they could teach us how they liked and what they liked.
Another advantage was that we grew up with the National Health Service. Nowadays there is a lot of criticism of the health service, but there were free baby clinics, vaccinations as required, antenatal care and the safer delivery of babies. I look back to just a generation earlier when many babies were born with just the help of a completely untrained neighbour or relative as this was cheaper than paying for a midwife, or going into a nursing home. One of my grandmothers lost two babies when they were only 9 months old, the other lost three of her sons in infancy. In not one of these cases was a doctor called.
Baby boomers are now reaching retirement age. The ones I know though have not retired. They just don’t work for money any longer. They feed the homeless, run charity shops, ring church bells, clean up canals, go on archaeological digs, care for grandchildren – all this when they aren’t digging their gardens, cheering on their local teams, travelling round the world, or going to college.
And this is a generation who knows how to celebrate. I am invited to all sorts of things these days – everything from just a sunny day, to the tenth anniversary of a kidney donation.
We grew up in a very different age, but somehow we have managed to adapt: Most of us are keen Facebookers, and we know how to Google for information, shop online and use Skype to keep in touch.
My daughter is actually jealous that I grew up to enjoy the 1960’s and its music and fashions, and I am really glad that I’m a baby boomer, but then I bend down to pull out a weed, and realise I’m a baby no longer.