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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 09:48 GMT
Why are we so grumpy?
By Brendan O'Neill

Titles from grumpy merchandise
Having a moan has become fashionable, whether it's about grammar, chavs or cheap furniture. But do we really have anything to grumble about?

In 2004, a new breed of commentator stormed the worlds of publishing and TV punditry: the grumpy old man (or woman) who believes, in the immortal words of Brit popsters Blur, that "Modern Life is Rubbish".

BBC2 led the charge with Grumpy Old Men, the programme that allowed world-weary blokes of a certain age - Bob Geldof, Will Self, Jeremy Clarkson - to gripe about a given subject. Their targets included Ikea furniture ("it strikes terror into my heart", said grumpy old actor Ken Stott), mobile phones and Pop Idol.

Some bright spark has set up a website called Grumpier Old Men, where grumpy old men "of all ages" can get things off their chest in a Grumpy Forum and even purchase Grumpy Gifts which proudly claim not to be recycled, biodegradable or politically correct.

Then there is the "Crap" series of books (their words, not mine) which started with Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live in the UK, followed by Crap Towns II: The Nation Decides, then Crap Jobs and Crap Cars.

Was life better before we all had cars?
One group of people who seem to drive these modern moaners really nuts are chavs, otherwise known as Burberry-clad, young working-class men and women. Two new books mock the apparently dangerous youths stalking our streets and their strange cultural habits.

Once you've brushed up on the 50 worst places to live, the 50 crappest cars to drive, and the 50 most godawful people to bump into in public, you can bemoan the declining standards in the nation's reading and writing habits.

Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation has become a publishing phenomenon, selling millions of copies around the world. And it has spawned a fair few imitators who also have a gripe or two about "dumbing down".

If modern life really is in such a parlous state, it perhaps isn't surprising that some have started to hark back to the past, to that apparent golden age before there were mobile phones, call centres and crap cars (or any cars for that matter). This nostalgic bent to today's grumpiness is best captured in the title of Michael Bywater's book, also published this year: Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost and Where Did it Go...?

'Better off today'

It's time that the grumpy old men and women put a sock in it. For all their dire warnings about the collapse of civilisation into tastelessness and grime, life for the vast majority of Britons is far better than it was 50 or even 20 years ago.

1915: 63% of people died before 60, down to 12% in 2004
1900: 140 deaths per 1,000 births, down to 5.7 deaths in 1999
1901: life expectancy for newborns was 45 for boys, 49 for girls, up to 75 (boys), 80 (girls) in 2000
1914: 10% of people own a house, up to 68% in 1999
1900: 89% of homes privately rented, down to 10% in 2000

We live longer, healthier and wealthier lives than any of our forefathers did. Modern life is far from rubbish - in fact it's a far safer place for the newborn and the old (perhaps explaining why there are so many grumpy old men?), and surely that is something to celebrate.

We are better off than ever before. Many more people own a house and car today than in the past and malnutrition is rare.

The grumps despise crap cars, but at least more people have cars these days, which has made life easier for working families and hard-pushed mums. Taking kids to school and doing the weekly shop is no longer the exhausting trek it was 30 years ago.

On top of that, 85 per cent of British adults have access to a TV. And we aren't the cultural dregs that some imagine us to be.

There were 167 million visits to British cinemas last year, the second highest number in 30 years, and book sales continue to rise at a time when nearly everyone over 15 can read and write.

We're healthier, better off, more entertained and more mobile than anyone in those "Lost Worlds" ever was - so why aren't we happier? Why have we turned into a nation of Victor Meldrews who can only see the downsides to modern life?

Victor Meldrew
Do moaners have a good point?
Perhaps it is because today's grumpiness is not motivated by a cool appraisal of the modern world, but rather by old-fashioned snobbery.

Look at the moaners' main targets - chavs, or people with "crap jobs" who live in "crap towns" and buy "terrifying" furniture from Ikea, eat in soulless fast food restaurants and chat endlessly on their mobile phones, in bad English.

What seems to make the grumpy old men so grumpy is a certain class of people and their habits.

Behind the distaste for the modern world there seems to lurk an even greater dislike for the people who populate it. And such snobbery is something we should all moan about.

A selection of your comments appear below. Thanks for contributing to the debate.

I think having a good old moan (within reason) can be good for you sometimes - provided you can find someone to listen. It can even be funny sometimes - especially when there are people who take it lightly and have a moan and a giggle with you. It's part of life. Accept it.
Francesca, London, UK

Modern life has given us aspirations, and unfulfilled aspirations have brought disappointment to many. As for improved life expectancy, what is the point if it just means more years as a frail old person in a crap town full of chavvers?
Phil, UK

Modified Vauxhall Novas parked outside the house emitting the kind of bass that causes windows to vibrate, preteens giving you verbal outside Spar because you won't go in and buy them 10 Bensons and gangs of lads giving you filthy looks because you have the audacity to drive along the stretch of road they want to walk down the middle of. I live in Chavsville and I don't give a stuff if it isn't politically correct to moan about 'the new British underclass', they are a bloody nuisance.
Vik, UK

There are things to moan about but the 'Grumpy Old Men' and their female counterparts are being given airtime to grumble about nothing more important than style, largely that of poorer people. 30,000 children a day die from extreme poverty - that is preventable deaths - is that not something more worthwhile to grouse about? And do something about? Support the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign.
Eric, UK

The author seems to think that it is a good thing that more people own their own house and car, and that 85% have TV. Why is this good? Wealth alone does not bring happiness, debt is higher than ever, road congestion is unbearable, pollution high, and TV schedules are full of dumb programmes about celebrity and property. As for being grumpy, it's cathartic! Some of us still have high standards.
JL, London, UK

We've had 60 years of peace, face no serious threat of war, no prospect of starvation, and have eradicated most of the big killer diseases of the past. Instead of cheering, we moan about the small irritations of life. Perhaps instead of studying punctuation or crap towns, a few lessons in contentment might do us more good.
Anna Langley, UK

I am surrounded by the Chav phenomenon. Burberry baseball caps worn at strange angles, burberry tracksuits, very badly 'modified' cars. The whole nine yards. Most of this I could put up with if it were not for the total and utter lack of a social conscience that seems to pervade the whole of the chav 'community'. No manners, no respect for themselves let alone anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.
Stu, England....Essex

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
Philip Shaw, UK

These whingers are just bored complacent rich people desperately trying to pretend there is some sort of hardship in their long, well-fed and easy lives. It's easier to moan than admitting that if there is something wrong with your life then it's probably YOUR fault.
Mike Webster, UK

I'm mighty grateful to live in the present day, and in this country. As a nation we don't know we're born. Self discipline and respect should be increasingly encouraged both at home and in schools.
Richard Swinn, England

It's the insipid weather, even the climate has no conviction. How can the cup be half-full when viewed in a dirty grey light? With the sun never setting on the Empire a hundred years ago, what did we do? ...Packed it all in and retreated to this grotty little rock when we had our pick of sunsets, beaches and geographies. Balfour has a lot to answer for if you ask me.
Nigel Harper, Windsor, UK

What Nigel Harper fails to realise is the people who made the decision to retreat from Empire were the Establishment and they had a bolthole ready - Europe. They went straight from the last major colonies head first into the Tuscan trough, and there they remain. They had no interest in the crap lives which most people live in this country. Until we remove the monarchy and achieve American- or Australian-style democracy, where the people matter, nothing will change.
Tony Shields, UK

I don't know what is worse: old men moaning, or people moaning about old men moaning, or people moaning about moaners moaning about moaning...Modern life is full of opportunities, make the most of it!
Dan, UK

Have you considered that moaning is therapeutic, and that as a nation we have always moaned about something, everything or nothing? It's what we do instead of trying to change it. Incidentally, the only grump I would really go for is the declining standard of English
Richard, Southampton

It's true - most of us have never had it so good. But it's also true that bad manners are on the increase and more and more 'educated' British people can't speak or write their own language very well. I can't see anything wrong with pointing that out. (As for 'chavs' - that's a media creation and nothing to do with snobbery on the part of the general public.)
Chris B, UK

The author is wrong. People in their middle and late age are tired of the decline in morals, manners and respect for other people. We may be better off but that wealth has made us selfish, self centred and egotistical. People feel life owes them a living and while they all demand their rights few accept their own social resposibility.
Terry Emerson, London, UK

Life should be about quality not quantity. The figures about life expectancy only become valid if the quality of life improves. Some of us live in an overcrowded part of England in the midst of extremely bored set of people. No wonder too many of our more thoughtful and sensitive citizens are leaving our shores.
Peter James, UK

Despite all these benefits/improvements, people seem more spiritually and socially barren than ever. So we can talk to people anywhere in the world, we just don't seem to have anything worthwhile to say. The boom of expectation that has come with increased affluence has brought with it a poverty in the human experience.
Chris Green, UK


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