Confessions of a kipper

Lucy Knight wonders if her generation's plight might, at least partly, be its own fault

Before I went to university, I read an article about "young adults" who had to endure the humiliation of returning home after they had graduated, because of the huge debts they had racked up while studying. They owed money in the thousands. I was staggered. Their plight made me think only one thing: what losers. There was no way that was going to be me.

That was six years ago. Now here I am, 25 years old, three years out of university and - oh the shame! - living off my parents. I earn money on a sporadic basis, but they pay for pretty much everything I do, eat and sit on, and I am unable to support myself in the way I had envisaged as an idealistic 19-year-old.

My parents are shelling out just over £600 a month for me. That's not to mention what they've already spent on university, holidays, clothes. I have come away from university with the tiniest of debts compared to others I know, but, as a currently unemployed graduate, I am aware that I am eating away at the finances my parents once hoped they would be spending on themselves.

In the past five years there have been many surveys examining why young people are still living at home with their parents. They have recorded a growing number of 20- to 35-year-olds seemingly still unable to cope in the big wide world without help from "the bank of Mum and Dad" - one finds that a third of men in that age group are living with their parents - and the reasons range from debt and poor wages to convenience and laziness.

A 2005 corporate responsibility survey for the Prudential sheds some light on the sorry state of the personal finances of my generation - and there is some cause for alarm. Fifteen per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds thought an ISA was an iPod accessory, and one in ten thought it an energy drink. I know nothing about mortgages, am struggling with tax forms and actually don't know how much my overdraft limit is.

Another survey identified the "kipper" phenomenon (Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). Catchy. It found that four out of ten parents were still helping their "adult" children, at a cost of £20bn a year.

Perhaps more worryingly, a survey by BBC2's Money Programme found that one in seven parents who had an adult child at home had remortgaged or taken out a loan to help their offspring.

I'm in a similar position to most of my friends. Some have plans and are saving up for a flat, while others are still paying off debts from university and questioning their career choices. To a large extent these are all things that are being done at the expense of our parents' ability to enjoy their retirement.

Last year, Reform published a report entitled Class of 2006: a lifebelt for the ipod generation. That's not an Apple iPod, it's an IPOD that stands for "Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden". The report described the "carefree baby-boomer generation" as increasingly living life like teenagers.

Well, isn't that supposed to be what you do once the children have grown up? The report's prediction that my generation will shoulder a 48 per cent tax burden is not something I look forward to. For now, though, we young adults still in the nest could ask ourselves: do I really need that iPod, those skinny jeans, the nights out, the holidays? The answer, for now, must be: No, not really.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The great generational robbery

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State