Bernard Trafford: Was I there for the 1970s? I don't think I'm quite sure...

Newcastle headteacher and Journal columnist Bernard Trafford on why he's forsaken a midlife crisis in favour of a nice cup of tea

Dr Bernard Trafford Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Jesmond
Dr Bernard Trafford Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Jesmond

I’ve said it before, but it’s not easy being middle-aged. I think we should regard the topic of being in our 50s like a sleeping lion: better left alone, and certainly not to be poked with a sharp stick.

Except some fool always stirs things up. I blame Mariella Frostrup who recently appeared in the papers looking, it has to be admitted, pretty good at 52 and declaring it’s a great age to be.

Everyone got excited and started drawing comparisons. Madonna’s apparently an icon for people my age, though I’ve never felt the need to wear pointed metal-ware on my torso. Even Johnny Depp’s 51: when he appeared at last week’s Hollywood film awards I reckoned he looked a lot seedier than I do, though he’s a few years younger.

It seems we over-50s are now expected to adopt a particular lifestyle. When I passed the hurdle, I thought I was only required to have the odd midlife crisis. Yes, I changed job and moved to Newcastle, settling full-time in an area where I’d regularly holidayed for more than a decade. That was more a decision than a crisis.

I did experience perhaps one when I bought my 1998 Mercedes sports car. I love the retro approach of lifting off the hard top in spring and storing it in my neighbour’s garage (I haven’t got one), pressing the button and seeing the hidden hood unfold gracefully. So elegant, so German.

Unfortunately my fellow columnist David Banks was blind to its classic magic (still purring effortlessly and without trouble after 112,000 miles). He accused me the other week of driving a 23 mpg gas-guzzler, mocking my attempts to source cheap fuel.

Heartless! Anyone who really knows me understands I wouldn’t drive anything so extravagant: it does a cool 26 miles to each gallon cruising through the Northumbrian countryside, roof down, soaking up the sun, enjoying the warmth. Okay, I lied about the last bit: fortunately it has such a powerful heater that, as long as Mrs Trafford wears three extra layers of clothing, she doesn’t suffer frostbite between Wooler and Newcastle.

It gets worse. The papers are convinced we 50-somethings grew up in a drug-fuelled atmosphere of Woodstock, Hari Krishna and free love: “If you can remember the 70s, you weren’t there”, goes the saying.

Age is finally perhaps dimming my memory of the 70s. But what I really recall is, well, not quite being there. I took up jazz partly because I thought playing the trumpet would attract girls. I was wrong. By the time we’d packed up after a gig, they’d all disappeared. We always blamed the drummer for being too slow.

Universities in the mid-70s were allegedly thick with marijuana smoke: so did my 1970s pass in a drug-induced haze? No. No one ever offered me any. Possibly beer fitted better than wacky-baccy the mediaeval music I was studying. For most of the 70s I was indubitably naïve and mostly bemused: and, at well over 50, I’m not sure much has changed!

Apparently I’m off the pace. Recent articles suggest my generation is hooked on booze, illegal drugs and rampant sex.

We certainly have a sense of freedom: we don’t have to dash home to relieve the babysitter nowadays. But even after a self-indulgent meal or an evening at the Theatre Royal we Traffords, walking home, meet the serious party-goers just setting out.

When the streets of the Toon are alive with revellers, we’re home, catching the late news with a cup of tea.

Free spirits? Maybe. Wild children second time round? Hardly. Nowadays we’re ready of an evening for the proverbial pipe and slippers.

Except that the pipe is now outlawed as dirty, smelly and carcinogenic. And slippers? Hell, they’re the sort of thing your mum and dad used to wear in middle-age: you swore you’d never, ever be like them.


Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.


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