FIRST thing each morning my face is reflected in the black screen of the laptop. Once that worrying sight has gone, I run my fingers over the rocky outcrop of headlines. Does this bump appeal more than that one?
Sometimes I look inwards instead, but introspection has its limits. There is only so much of value to be squeezed from the tattered soul of a middle-aged freelance/jobless person with money worries, limping ambitions and a late but stubborn desire to earn money from putting words on top of each other.
Occasionally I spot a new category into which I might fit. This happened the other day with the discovery of the “skipped middle”, a label for British parents in their 50s who, according to a survey, see their inheritances diminish as their ageing parents either spend the money on the grandchildren instead, or set it aside to pay for their own social care.
According to the Social Market Foundation, the “skipped middle” are those most likely to lose out financially as parents live longer and move from leaving money in their wills to handing it out while they are alive.
The think-tank found that four in ten older adults now believe their grandchildren are more in need of help than their own offspring.
So should those of us in the “skipped middle” feel hard done by? Oh, not really. Sometimes these surveys are specious at best.
This one, for instance, is reported to have found a move away from bequests on death to lifetime “gifts”, with the proportion of ‘in-life’ gifts from parents to children growing from 6.1 to 8.2 per cent of parents. Now that doesn’t sound a lot to me, and it hardly amounts to moving away.
Time for an honest confession. Down the years, we have been given ‘in-life’ help – and, by the way, isn’t that a horrible coinage?
Being in the middle, skipped or otherwise, is just what it is. My own midway point sees me with both parents alive and in their eighties, and three offspring in their twenties. My wife’s parents are still around too, and heading for 80, so between us we have a full set.
Sometimes we wonder what we might one day inherit, then we push the thought away, upset by the unseemly calculation.
But in the middle we definitely are. Early on we were way back in the shuffling queue, but not so much nowadays. Not everyone wishes to have children, but seeing a generation below is a comfort – and a worry sometimes too, as is having a generation above.
Thinking about it a few paragraphs in, such surveys are really rather annoying with their invention of dubious social categories. A whole industry has been built round sifting the soil of life in search of unremarkable nuggets.
With skipping on the agenda, here is a quote from the American journalist and humourist Arthur ‘Bugs’ Baer. He died as long ago as 1969, but his words still smart nicely.
“It was as helpful as throwing a drowning man both ends of the rope,” Baer wrote once.
There is as I know only too well another affliction of the skipped middle – the skipping of sleep. With that in mind, here is another line from Arthur Baer: “His insomnia was so bad, he couldn’t sleep during office hours.”
I can summon up a colleague or two who used to nod off at their desks occasionally, but it wouldn’t be fair to name names.