I've been thinking about age, after reading Little Red Boat. I'm going to be 40 this year, and it's made me all age-aware.
It's such a weird thing, time. Mostly you don't notice it. It's just there in the background, ticking away, quite straightforward. There's stuff that was, stuff that is, and stuff that will be. All very neat. But throw age into the equation and it's very confusing indeed.
Am I young or old? Was I young last week? Last year? Last decade? If not, when did it stop? Or when will the youngness stop? Anyone who's got more than a few birthdays under their belt knows: You can easily be both old and young, but it still confuses the hell out of me.
I'm young because I can remember being five and I laugh at silly stuff and damn it, I just know what it's like to feel young. But I'm old because those other people over there, those ones who are officially* young? They're so damned young! And they do really stupid stuff like have their trousers fall down on purpose, and they run about all full of energy and don't even notice me and damn it I just don't get them. But I'm young cos see those old people over there? They're slow and wrinkly and grey and parochial and a bit paunchy and laughable and I'm much younger than them. But I'm old because... see those folk over there? The slow-parochial-laughable ones? They were born the same time as me. But I'm young because I'm less than halfway through my life and I have effing ages to go yet, and I'm damned if I'll be old for the rest of my days. But I'm old cos I use words like "damned". But I'm young cos I have young children. But I'm old cos I have young children. I'm a mum. I'm in the next generation up. And I'm knackered.
I'm old because the stuff I did when I was young, the stuff which still makes me feel young... it's so old it's been right out and come back in again. When I was officially young, stuff from the 50s and 60s was making a comeback. And then it was the 70s' turn, which was my own childhood, but that was fine cos it all happened when I was a baby which was ages ago. But anyway, that 50s and 60s stuff? It was dead old. But cool. And now... there are new young folk, thinking and feeling the same way... about the 80s! My time! Which was surely never cool?
I went to a 40th birthday party a couple of years ago. It was in an Irish club. You know the kind of place. A glorified village hall with a tiny bar, beers on tap, boxes of crisps. A bouncy dance floor and flashing disco lights. People took small quantities of ecstasy and danced to Leftfield, just like they did in the olden days. I got a sudden flashback to when I was a teenager and got taken to a Grownup Party, where the grownups were paunchy and did Dad Dancing, and thought they were cool but weren't. And here I was now... one of them.
I was watching Coronation St the other day. Steve McDonald was getting married to Becky. Which all seemed perfectly reasonable. Single bloke falls in love with cute woman, gets married. And then I realised... Steve McD is the same age as me, more or less. Slightly younger? Slightly older? That's the first problem: I don't know. And Becky. She's quite young, I think? In her 20s? Not sure about that either. Apparently people past a certain age are particularly bad at recognising people the same age as themselves. But anyway. What does this look like to other people? Does Steve McD seem really old? Are we supposed to be amused and slightly disgusted? Sometimes it feels as though the whole world has aged with me, and where once the "main characters" in soap operas were the 20-somethings, they're now the 30-somethings and 40-somethings... but that's how soaps work. They provide a range of characters and you focus on the ones you can relate to the most. In Eastenders, Billy is 50. 50's quite old, isn't it? Does that mean there are viewers out there who think of Billy as essentially an old man? But he isn't! He seems about my age, and that's not... oh.
When you're in your teens and early twenties it's all very simple: You are young, your parents are middle-aged, and your grandparents are old. But from then on, the goalposts leap about so much they're more like Magical Jumping Goalposts from some bastardised version of Quidditch. My parents are in their mid 60s and have recently become pensioners. But they're only middle-aged, surely? And my grandparents, who are still alive... they're old. Occasionally people have suggested that I might be middle-aged. Me? Middle-aged? But... but...
I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point. It's confusing, that's all. It's just so bloody confusing.
*Somewhere there should be a government agency whose job it is to assign official ages. You would get a letter in the post: "Congratulations, you are now officially middle-aged. We have enclosed your complimentary packet of Werther's Originals."
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