When Baby Boomers come of age: how will services cope?

English: Photograph of a Female Demonstrator O...

We were born between 1946 and 1964, after the second world war, and we grew up to be ‘the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation to that time’ with peak levels of income and expectations founded on freedoms associated with a teenage culture no generation before us had been able to enjoy. We were ‘the pig in the python’, the bulging cohort of financial, social, and intellectual liberty unleashed on a world that had queued, made do and mended, put up and shut up, kept calm and carried on. We have been noisy, demanding, musically irrepressible, politically vociferous, powerful, influential, hedonistic, ethical, liberating, and liberated. Our pig felt the California sun on its back while it cantered through Strawberry fields, raised it hemlines, and spawned the ‘yoof culture’  whose children live in Facebook and on twitter. We had our cake and ate it, and now we’re about to retire.

There’s every chance that, given our raucous, adolescent gallop through life, we will not age gracefully. Instead, we will power along, invading the spaces young people used to claim as their own by pitching up at Glastonbury,  at universities, and on their social networking streams. We’ll even be in their schools as mentors and not just because we want to deliver to the kiddies all of our accumulated knowledge, but because we have no intention of leaving our own youth behind. We have downloaded a copy of the urban dictionary and we’re not afraid to use it.

So we’ll be fine. What I’m not so sure about is the fate of the organisations waiting to receive us: the pensions and insurance agencies, the care homes, the networks of libraries, evening classes, fitness groups, and community centres with their sense of off-peak resignation. Ours is not a cohort that understands about coming second and that being ok. Which is not to say there will be no hardship for many of us; today’s austerity measures and the erosion of pensions ensure that this will be a constant threat. It’s the expectations that seem likely to be different. Churchill apparently said something like,  ‘Up with this, I will not put’, and his post war babies pretty much have this running through them like Blackpool through a stick of rock.

I am just beginning to encounter the interfaces, as an almost retired person, with organisations whose function and communication are essential to my well-being, and the first thing I have discovered is that they like distance. After years of recording in written notes, and latterly on computer, all professional communications, I am finding that this is no longer possible because I am not permitted to email anyone. Suddenly, at a time when both handwriting and memory are likely to be a little less sparky than before,  I have to rely on the phone to make enquiries about matters important to the way in which I will live the rest of my life. While ‘they’ have a computer screen in front of them, and a string of records detailing names and dates of any contacts, I am balancing a handset (remove from ear to press 6 and miss next option), and scribbling illegible hieroglyphics onto a shifting scrap of paper that the cat will later throw up on. The alternative is that I write and then wait two or three months before phoning (with pen and messed up paper) to discover that it never arrived.

This is not acceptable. Dignity, independence, self esteem, and competence are not promoted by depriving people of the tools they are accustomed to using and that offer clear threads of evidence in the event of a mishap, and making them reliant on inefficient methods almost designed to maximise their gathering weaknesses. These may have been familiar to the generations that preceded us, but they are not our tools of choice and things will have to change. Our health services are learning how to have a more accessible ‘front facing’ identity by adopting social networking and inviting patients and the public (who turn out to be the same people, amazingly) in through the doors as colleagues. It might take some time for the more administrative services to do likewise because they don’t have personal contact with their clients so distancing is much easier. But they will need to get a move on because the BabyBoomer pig is on the doorstep, bearing the mud of a thousand festivals and ready to rock (the establishment) and roll (on their nice clean 1950s carpets). Actually, that sounds like fun …

‘The Justice box’ up now on Ether Books

‘Jesus loves her, Jesus loves her, Jesus loves the murdering bitch.’ Emmy chuckles to herself in that private way only people whose heads are somewhere else can do. She hunches up on the bed and grabs her knees; pulling them up to her chin, and hugging them like babies.

‘Pretty boys,’ she says; and bites into her knee cap.

On Ether Books now.

Writer of the day …

For twenty four hours only, we bring you, fresh from the sofa and back-to-back episodes of ‘The Bridge’ because she didn’t get it the first time round – MOI! http://theetherblog.posterous.com/writer-of-the-day-suzanne-conboy-hill. Hurry up, it’s pumpkins and mice again in a bit.

‘Cat Nav’ flash fiction on EDF

“Now you’ll stay in at night,” Joe told Houdini, the big, orange, cantankerous-looking tabby he was trying to stuff into a carrier. Not flippin’ likely, said Houdini, although of course he didn’t because he was a cat …

On Every Day Fiction today.

‘The Justice Box’

justice box book cover‘Jesus loves her, Jesus loves her, Jesus loves the murdering bitch.’ Emmy chuckles to herself in that private way only people whose heads are somewhere else can do. She hunches up on the bed and grabs her knees; pulling them up to her chin, and hugging them like babies.

‘Pretty boys,’ she says; and bites into her knee cap.

On Ether Books September 2012

Escape Pod flash competition

Escape Pod (podcast)


The third EscapePod flash fiction competition opens to voting on September 20th. There are ninety-six SF stories (two of them mine, and no I can’t tell you!) all 750 words or under, competing in ten preliminary rounds. The first three of each go to the semi finals, and the top two from each of these, to the final.  Join EP forums (free) to vote, then stick around for some quality podcasts – three of which you might have chosen yourself! http://escapepod.org/ Obviously, it helps if you like science fiction so if you don’t, while the rest of us put our critic hats on, you get to do maths homework instead. Fair deal?


‘Baby Bird’: new SF short story

‘I keep thinking we should have left it to die, you know, rather than do what we did …’ on Read Short Fiction today. A tale of a personal road to hell paved with the best of intentions. What choices would you have made?


Student Publishers: what are their responsibilities to authors?

Students Studying


Anyone who writes short stories, flash, or essays knows about the hunt for a market and the cycle of amendment and revision that goes on each time a piece comes back. Then eventually, (when the moon is blue, all the planets are aligned, and you remembered to bury a raw steak at the end of the garden), that wonderful, beautiful acceptance from the most discerning of editors (obviously) pops into the inbox. You landed one!


Selection of a market, in my experience, goes from aspirational to ‘that’ll do’, with ‘that’ll do’ becoming increasingly aspirational as the rejections mount up. Sooner or later, anything with a permalink starts to look acceptable but I like to think I’ve exercised considerable restraint in avoiding indiscriminate publishers for the sake of an entry on my cv. It’s easy enough to do that – read what’s already there and decide if the company you would be keeping is acceptable. If it isn’t, don’t submit, but then revisit your piece to be sure it exceeds that standard and you’re not just looking to ride on the collective glow (if there is one) of other work. That end of the integrity chain is in your own hands and you can control your public image to a reasonable extent by using a bit of strategic nous.


But what about the publishers? What about their integrity? Leaving aside the languishing in slush (and the disrespectful cognitive set the word itself generates), most publishers I have worked with have conducted themselves professionally. Two, though, have caused me concern either by ceasing to publish or becoming unresponsive and, to all intents and purposes, dead. Let’s be realistic, publications fold for all sorts of reasons and I’ve experienced these too. The editors made the reasons clear and they always included elements of overwhelming and unpaid work. But the two that bother me did not sink under that kind of weight. Both were MFA projects, which means that those of us who submitted there in good faith were actually unwitting subjects of a student experiment. That peeves me. Had I known, I may have chosen to submit elsewhere because transience would seem to be a major risk in such circumstances. I am also rather annoyed about becoming someone’s project – a part of something for which the primary goal is a qualification and not the publishing per se – without being told. That feels disrespectful; it also feels unethical. In science, whenever we invite participants to join a project, there is transparency – we have to disclose our status and the intent and duration of the project. Critically, participants must consent in full knowledge of the impact. MFA/MA students are writers themselves, how is it possible they and their tutors don’t seem to recognise the element of exploitation that underpins apparent current practice?


I have no problem with universities encouraging publishing  projects, but I would like to see them taking more responsibility for the ethics of disclosure, choice, and maybe even post-qualification continuity. At the very least, I would like to know that a market is a project, and to which university the students are affiliated. There, at least, would be a recourse to complaint in the event of poor practice – and wouldn’t that be important feedback?

I’d like to hear – what’s been your experience of publishers? Have you fallen foul of student publishers? What happened to your publication if the project ended?