No, don’t worry: I don’t need your sympathy or commiserations. I don’t really understand this (pretty universal) idea that getting older is the subject for ribald mockery.
The teenagers are particularly prone to this kind of thing. Do you remember 9/11 children? No, because (adopting teenage sneery tone) we aren’t all REALLY REALLY OLD! (pause for general laughter). No we don’t remember Diana dying because we were only (snort) three years old! (falls off chair in hilarity).
What’s all this about? Am I supposed to be apologetic about the passage of time? Is time passing somehow terrifically hilarious?
The worst of it is, I have a horrible feeling that I used to do the same at their age, Lord forgive me.
Anyway, hilarious or not, time passes. Listen, time passes. And I am fairly neutral about it. I mean I am not massively thrilled about the deterioration of body and mind that age will inevitably bring. But, as a lovely old lady called Ethel I used to know when I was a kid used to say, the thing about getting old is that it’s better than the alternative.
But it’s not just that being old is better than being dead (though it is, of course). Getting older has plenty of compensations. I’ll never see seventeen again and thank goodness for that. It’s a cliché that I see the truth of every day – youth is wasted on the young. I see them fretting with their hair and sucking in their non-existent flab and worrying about the size of their thighs and I want to yell – STOP IT! You look the BEST you will ever look, try to enjoy it. But they won’t, because they can’t. I look at pictures of myself as a teenager and the sight of it makes me feel a bit giddy. God, I had NO IDEA. I was just the same, thinking everyone was looking at my pimples.
But then, at some point, the self-consciousness ran out. It didn’t happen overnight but it happened. Motherhood helped, I suppose. It’s hard to be vain when you are smeared with Marmite and smell permanently of Petit Filou. Your standards slip. You stop wanting to look perfect; I was just happy to look clean. Sometimes.
And at some magical point in time – long past – I stopped worrying about what I looked like. Well, not nearly so much as before. Because instead of looking alright, just about passable as I did through my twenties and thirties, I now can manage not bad for my age. Something that can only get better as I get older.
I know what clothes suit me. I look confident, because I am confident. And I am confident because, at this magical point in the past, I started to realise what the teenagers don’t, and can’t, not yet – that the vast majority of people weren’t looking at me AT ALL. (What an incredibly vain thought that was. Only the young could be so self-centred as to imagine such a thing.) And even if they were – who gives a stuff about what they think?
And it’s not just the superficial appearance – what’s inside has changed, too. Although misery and pain and heartache are not the preserve of the young folk – middle-aged hearts get broken too – well, at least we know that the pain will end. That life goes on.
And as the years go by, you collect really really cool stuff, stuff that really matters. Stuff that’s worth having: like friends, and memories. They are two of my very favourite things, and I will be enjoying a good portion of both tonight. And drinking beer, because these days I drink what I like, and I wear what I like, rather than dressing seriously so people will take me seriously. In fact I hope to God that no one DOES take me seriously. I am not really a serious sort of person; it’s taken me all these years to come to that conclusion, with some relief.
The great thing about the 21st century is that being middle aged doesn’t mean we can’t play any more. And I make the most of this freedom. I sing in public. And I dance like a fool, because I don’t care what I look like. I behave in ridiculous ways because I don’t care who’s looking. And I have been around the block enough to know what matters – friends, family, love, fun. And what doesn’t – pretty much all the rest.
So, maybe I’m half way there. Maybe not quite, maybe a little bit more than half way. Either way, the view is pretty good in either direction.
I may not know the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but at least I know not to waste any more time worrying about it.
So. Another candle, another cake, another year.
Bring it on.