OPINION: The Swinging Sixties’ Flower Power generation is still on its feet

Verity in Ilfracombe. Picture: Tony Gussin

Verity in Ilfracombe. Picture: Tony Gussin - Credit: Archant

At the invitation of its leader, Shirley Jones, I had the pleasure of being a guest at Ilfracombe Friendship Club, which meets at the Lantern each Wednesday fortnight. 

It alleviates loneliness and isolation, and cares for all its members. Perhaps the town’s longest established club, it started life in 1946 as a protest group campaigning for increased pensions. In those days, retirement accompanied either a much-reduced standard of living, or one dependent on savings. For many today, life isn’t so different. 

Ilfracombe’s food bank reports a seam of poverty running through the town, one likely to grow as the financial impact of Covid-19 makes inroads into family budgets. Following interest rate rises, rents and mortgages are sure to increase, along with soaring gas prices, placing more demands on pensioners and working families. 

Nobody wants to rely on benefits to supplement their income, but as those qualifying to receive the UK state pension are aware, it remains the lowest in the developed world, and is pitiful in comparison to the Netherlands. Portugal pays its single pensioners 95% of the average national income, with Italy and Austria slightly behind, but certainly more generous than our own meagre benefits, which are closer to those of Poland and Estonia. 

After a lifetime’s work, all employees deserve a comfortable retirement free from financial worry. Most of Britain’s senior citizens resent, and are embarrassed by ‘pensioner special’ concessions and ‘OAP discounts’. 

They would rather be paid a sufficient income enabling them to shop without such demeaning mark-downs, and one guaranteed by the very state that they themselves have financially supported over half a century of taxation. 

Members of the Friendship Club believe that the term OAP is an insult. Rarely do those who reach pensionable age feel old or decrepit, but rather, one’s seventh decade presents new challenges and goals. 

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Another lifetime stretches ahead, perhaps a quarter of a century, in which to change career, travel or go into business. Looking around at the Friendship Club’s so-called ‘oldies’ I spotted familiar faces who volunteer for the RNLI, Ilfracombe Museum, National Trust, and have even acted as marshals at Covid vaccination centres. 

We really must value our over 60s for their immense contribution to society. They are the generation responsible for all the technology and innovation we take for granted. If you pick up your phone and Google ‘Images of the Flower Power Generation’, you’ll be dazzled by images from a colourful, optimistic and exuberant world once inhabited by today’s pensioners; a carefree culture, and one bright with hope. 

Those beautiful, fresh young Woodstock faces were born in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By 1963, an explosion of youthful optimism engulfed the globe. It was a constructive rebellion, driven chiefly by a revolution in music and dress that liberated us from the grey years of post-war rationing in a tired and barely solvent country 

We enjoyed then freedoms of expression now vanished from a Britain in which we walk on eggshells, anxious not to offend or provoke those who find offence and provocation in everything. There’s a saying that if you remember the Swinging Sixties, you weren’t there. I was, but those flower-power youngsters, now in their 70s, are growing anxious for the future of their grandchildren. 

Common sense and discretion seem to have evaporated, but pensioners still practice amongst themselves the unwritten rules of polite discourse and good manners now considered old-fashioned. If we sometimes appear grumpy about the obstacle course of PINs and passwords, it is because we spent our younger adulthoods in a world not quite so blighted by routine distrust and institutionalised suspicion. 

Today, we are tracked, checked and scanned in a nightmare world of ambient surveillance and security that has become normalised. Pensioners hail from a time when trust in others was commonplace. 

Sadly, it makes them vulnerable to sophisticated scams that threaten to impoverish the unaware. In Ilfracombe’s Friendship Club a strand of 1960s hippy love and peace lingers, even though there are no flowers in their now grey hair.

The Gazette's man in Ilfracombe, Dave Griffin

The Gazette's man in Ilfracombe, Dave Griffin - Credit: Contributed


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