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The sound of the hairdryer blasted above the tape machine. I gagged on hairspray, and my hands were tacky with hair gel—having “big hair” was high maintenance. Rain was an ever present danger. These were the days when the hardest boys in school wore make up and tucked pink Pringle jumpers into their stretch jeans, and no one sniggered. This was the briefest period of our lives and yet the most vivid: youth. But the idiotic dreams of youth are soon picked off by the sniper of responsibility and commitment. All that remains are some embarrassing photos and each generation's shared soundtrack of pop songs. Now we are told that youth is extending into middle age, but it is more than that: youth has become a god and must be worshipped.
Nostalgia is nature's gift to humanity to make the past look brighter than it actually was, giving us the energy to trudge on with the misery of our lives. So, recently in a cold and wet field on the Ayrshire coast, 15000 fans poured into the “Retrofest” 1980s pop revival festival—my wife had insisted that we go. The line-up was a galaxy of pop fluff and fashion criminals that I would have paid not to see in the 1980s: Curiosity Killed the Cat (the ridiculous hat), Nick Heyward (the jumper tucked into jeans), Howard Jones (the vegetarian); Kajagoogoo (the mullet hairdo), to name but a few.
The crowd gasped at the middle aged men and women who stood before them. Likewise the stars gazed out at what must have seemed the world's largest parent teacher association meeting. But shiraz wine goggles soon adjusted our vision, and the pounds and the years came rolling off. My prejudices were unkind, for free of youthful vanity the performers were more accomplished musicians. They rocked—talent is not ageist.
Society's tasteless fashion for youth devalues older people, and this even operates in the NHS. As with their musical counterparts, many NHS staff may have lost the sparks of youth, but their talent continues to smoulder, warming health care with their maturity, experience, and consistent performance. We need to protect older NHS staff from the sniper of early retirement by acknowledging their talent and retaining them within the workforce. Soon all the new young “all As” trainee doctors will try to storm the medical stage with their silly haircuts and stupid certainty, but remember: old docs still rock.