Jane Bradley: Don't be smug if you can change a plug

So what if Millennials can't do lots of basic tasks, many older people can't even make jam, writes Jane Bradley.

This is what the inside of a plug looks like (Picture: Getty)
This is what the inside of a plug looks like (Picture: Getty)
This is what the inside of a plug looks like (Picture: Getty)

Stop press. Young people can’t change a plug, bake a cake without looking at a recipe or use cutlery in the right order. A report out this week also reveals that just 17 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 know the number of feet in a yard, while only 32 per cent can sew on a button.

Even marginally older young adults struggle with tasks which your granny would scoff at – with fewer 25-to-30-year-olds able to read an analogue clock than even the youngsters. Of course 90 per cent of the oldest age bracket can do that; the remaining ten per cent, presumably, have some legitimate excuse, such as when they were a lad, clocks hadn’t yet been invented, or some such schtick.

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“There’s so much we can learn from our older generations, but there’s a real danger that we’re losing valuable life skills and pastimes,” warns Joan Elliott, managing director at Bupa Care Homes, which carried out the survey.

I have to say, what has stunned me most about this data is actually just how incompetent the older generation actually appears to be.

We all know that Millennials are useless – it’s a truth which is universally acknowledged. They sit around, drinking their turmeric lattes while simultaneously munching on avocados, complaining about their late Deliveroo order and how their favourite TV show has dropped off Netflix.

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Generation X-ers (in which I think I count myself – I’m on the border, it’s woolly) aren’t much better. Of course, we can’t change plugs or replace tyres. Don’t be ridiculous. We’re too busy worrying about our children’s school catchments and pretending that we know what SnapChat is, so as not to lose face with the Millennial whizzkids at work. But the real mind-boggling statistics include the fact that just 15.35 per cent of the older generation know how to ballroom dance and less than a third of them can make jam. All older people are supposed to be able to do these things, surely? They should be able to start a campfire or crochet at least – something that apparently only 32 and 22 per cent of that age bracket respectively can accomplish.

The key thing is that “older people” – or at least what Bupa classes as “older people”, the over-55s – are no longer old. They are not, as my grandparents were, the war-time generation, they are mainly Baby Boomers. Even someone who is 80 today was born in the late 1930s – and became adults in the 1950s, when the modern way of life was beginning to emerge. Kitchen appliances were becoming commonplace and consumer society was born.

Bonafide Baby Boomers did not have to make do and mend, at least as adults, at any rate. They were unlikely to make their jam and marmalade from scratch to spread on their homemade National Loaf – they brought their own families up in the 70s and 80s, when convenience food was king and TV dinners sat proudly on the laps of knee-socked youngsters as they spent their evenings in front of the gogglebox. We have to accept that what we think of as the true older generation – the women who learned how to polish their shoes until you could see your face in them while they were in the WAAF, then married and brought up babies in a house with an outdoor privy; the men with manual jobs who spent Sunday afternoon with their heads under the bonnet of the car (if they had one) and never needed to visit a garage – are a dying breed, if they are not dead already.

What’s more, if the survey had included daily activities necessary to live in the modern world – such as paying a bill online or setting up a new printer – the tables may have been turned.

While it might be nice to look nostalgically back on the years of stiff upper lips, in modern life, crocheting a doily will be little use compared to being able to send an email or ensure your computer’s anti-virus software is up to date.

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Of course, the internet is being blamed for youngsters’ lack of knowledge, with three-quarters of people admitting they feel that younger generations do not have the same levels of general knowledge due to a reliance on search engines, while two-thirds put older generations’ superior knowledge down to simply having no other choice than to remember things. A further 45 per cent say that older people’s expanse of knowledge is due to having fewer distractions “back in the day”.

According to the survey, 87 per cent of adults wished they knew more practical skills, without having to turn to the internet for help. There are certain skills, such as being able to spell without using a spellcheck – which shockingly, more than half of 18-to-24-year-olds and 28 per cent of over-55s admit they cannot do – which are fundamental to life, generally, modern or traditional.

Yet there are others which are not. Knowing how many feet make up a yard or the number of pounds in a stone is fairly redundant in this era of decimal measurement. Times change. In the Stone Age, there were skills which were considered essential which even the most capable of wartime grannies would struggle with.

The survey found that 62 per cent of people across all age groups agree that older generations tend to be wiser. That may be so, but arguably, wisdom is something undefinable that comes with age – not necessarily the ability to carry out certain skills.

And in 2078, as our children’s children grapple with whatever technological gizmo the modern world has to throw at them, those 2018 Millennials will no doubt sit in their nursing homes, sipping their turmeric lattes and tutting about how much better the world used to be.