Let’s make one thing absolutely clear. I’m not old. The government says so.
On my 30th birthday, I can remember thinking that I was now officially a grown-up. It was a time when I would be taken seriously, my opinions would count for something, I would be a confident and mature member of society. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for all of these things to happen. So, what exactly changes as you become older?
As a young man playing rugby, I had two nicknames, both provided by my 1970s PE teacher, Mr Younghusband. Due to my extraordinarily skinny legs, he took great pleasure in calling me Bambi, but it was the other nickname that friends and colleagues may find harder to understand these days. Due to my fresh young looks, he also called me Baby Face. Looking at photos of myself at that time, I can see why.
These days, I stagger out of bed into the bathroom, switch on the light and find myself looking at my dad’s face in the mirror.
This is followed by the daily chore of shaving. I started shaving at an early age, but was never a particularly hairy person. As I get older, I find that I have to shave more face. This includes my top of my nose and ears. Occasionally I have to get out the special clippers that trim the abundant forests of hair growing inside my nose and ears.
I have a pact with Lady Barton St Mary in that if I should be in a position not to be able to do these things for myself, she will have to take the reins. Or nose hair clippers. If she left it unattended, within 6 months my head would look like a badly wound ball of fluffy wool.
I should be grateful really, at least I still have hair, which Lady Barton St Mary very kindly pointed out is very similar to George Clooney’s. Most other people like to compare it to Adrian Chiles’ (for those of you not aware of him, he’s a sports presenter on UK TV who looks like a potato and I’m apparently his lookalike). Also, like Clooney, I have teeth. But not all of them anymore. And not necessarily in the right order. But at least enough to disqualify me from The Jeremy Kyle Show.
Also, my head has changed shape. During my sporty, virile 20s and 30s and my active and masculine early 40s, my head and face were fairly well proportioned. Nowadays, the shape of my head resembles that of a butterbean, as gravity grabs hold of my jowls and pulls them towards the centre of the earth. I’m beginning to do a good impression of Droopy the Dog saving nuts in his cheeks for winter.
“Don’t stand sideways, Baby Face, we can’t see you,” Mr Younghusband used to bellow in his northeast accent, whilst his Welsh assistant, Mr John, stood next to him, cackling. Then Mr John would take a big drag on his cigarette and add in his thick valleys accent, “Make sure you run around in the shower, Bambi, else you won’t get wet, will you?”
So it continued throughout my adult life. People envied and teased me about my skinniness, not quite in equal measure. Then one day, not long after my 40th birthday, I started to gain weight. One night, playing 5 a side football, I relieved a young man of the ball with a little bump to his shoulder, which nearly sent him over the boards. The ref blew for a foul.
“Watch it, you fat bastard,” the young whippersnapper snarled. I was dumbfounded. Almost overnight, I’d changed from stick man into Mr Blobby. A few games later, carrying an extra 3 stone, my right knee decided to take drastic action by tearing up my cartilage and liquidising my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). My team mates were devastated. Mainly because it took all of them, plus help from the opposition, to carry me off.
As I get older, I have to be vigilant in the battle to stay in shape by eating the right foods. I don’t eat bread. An excess of carbohydrates and alcohol cause the most fearsome heartburn. Running has been my choice of exercise for the past 5 years, with frequent abuse from the local agricultural students. “Stop! You’ll kill yourself!” is one of the more polite rebukes. Perhaps they mean it, maybe they really do care. The survey pointed out that 16-24 year olds consider middle age to start at 32. Other runners overtaking me look down at my hinged knee brace, lean their heads to one side in a sympathetic gesture and say, “You’re doing very well. Are you training for something?”
“Yes,” I reply, “a mid-life crisis.”
Then there are all the health issues. The aches and pains, groans and moans. Holding your breath to put your socks on. Waking up to find that somebody has crept into your room in the middle of the night and either a) smacked you round the back of the legs with a cricket bat, b) twisted your head a la Regan in The Exorcist and left you with a broken neck or c) made you lie all night on a pebble beach. There are more, but you get the idea.
This leads me on to health professionals and how they introduce you to approaching maturity. It only takes three little words to make your head implode. The first time I heard these words was when I was 42 (according to the survey, 9 months before women feel they are no longer young. 38 in men, if you’re interested). I went to the opticians. She tested my eyesight, and then did that optician thing where she sat nose to nose with me and stared into my eyes. I kept my mouth shut, just in case. Finally, she leaned back.
“You do need a slightly stronger prescription and you have a skin tag on your right eyelid, but at your age you can expect these things.”
And there it was. At your age. How many times have I heard that since? One morning I leapt out of bed to find I had evidently badly injured my foot in the night. I could hardly walk. This continued for a couple of days. I went to the doctors’ surgery.
“Gout,” said the 14 year old GP, as he gazed at his laptop computer, no doubt cramming for his 4th form Biology exam.
‘Gout! Bloody Gout! That’s a condition for old men who drink lots of port, use ear trumpets and get about in a bath chair!’ I thought, ‘Not me! I’m young! I saw the Sex Pistols, for goodness’ sake!’
“Are you sure?” I asked. He glanced at me momentarily. I was mistaken. He was no more than 12.
“Oh yes. At your age, it’s a very common thing.”
I limped home, disconsolate, knowing that I would have to tell Lady Barton St Mary and probably my friends. The Sexton was very sympathetic. Who am I kidding? Of course he wasn’t. He laughed like a drain. Until the following month, when he had to hobble to the surgery with the same symptoms.
Then there’s the eyesight issues.
On our trip to the Lake District, Lady Barton St Mary and I took advantage of having some time together by having a romantic, candle lit dinner in a restaurant in Ambleside. However, when the young waitress brought the menus, our eyes and the limited light meant that reading was extremely difficult, both of us trying to focus on the words. This entailed the regulation middle aged exercise of moving the menu back and forth as if playing an imaginary trombone. Within a couple of minutes, the waitress returned and without a word placed a bread basket in the middle of our table. The bread basket didn’t contain bread, hoewever, just several pairs of reading glasses of varying strength. We mumbled our thanks to the waitress as we rummaged through the pile.
I have been short sighted since I was a child, but only enough so that I needed glasses for driving and watching TV (not that I did a lot of driving as a child). I was constantly comforted by health specialists telling me that one’s eyes changed as you grew older and that my short sightedness may get better. I’ve just had my eyes tested. They lied. Now I’m short sighted and long sighted and I need two pairs of glasses.
Of course, there are advantages to age. Younger, attractive women are more likely to strike up a conversation with you, since you couldn’t possibly be seen as a predatory threat. Unless you’re a member of the Rolling Stones.
By the way, when I say younger women, I mean between the ages of 28 and 45. Anything younger would be regarded as ‘children’. Sometimes, you can impress the younger ones so much they’ll say, “Oh, I really like you. You’re just like my dad.”
The first couple of times you have to smile, make your excuses and have a little weep in the men’s room. But after a while, it becomes something of a badge of honour. Of course, the other great thing is that all those old ladies you never looked at as a young man have changed into babes, but not the sniffy babes of your youth, no, babes that react kindly to your flirting, even willing to join in. Be warned, though. I have heard that as far as attractiveness goes, men are less noticeably alluring as they age, until they get to 55, when they become invisible to women. This may be advantageous when trying to avoid those jobs around the house, you may think, but I believe this invisibility is exclusively reserved for sexual attractiveness. Thanks, nature.
Middle age brings a certain air of authority; younger people seem to accept your advice, since they believe that because you have been around for such an incredibly long time, you must know everything. This often means that nowadays, if I’m asked my opinion or advice on any subject, I can spout any old rubbish that pops into my head and the younger recipients accept it as words of wisdom, very often nodding sagely. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that people like me can give real guidance on affairs of the heart. Why not? I’m a man of the world. I’ve been married for a long time. The only thing is, when it comes to dating somebody or successfully being able to impress and make a romantic acquaintance, I am completely hopeless. The last time I had to do anything like that, Haircut 100 were at number one; even then, I had to be prompted by Lady BSM. So, my advice to anyone seeking help with affairs of the heart, don’t ask a bemused, middle aged, long time married individual. If you care to see my blog ‘Mummy Knows Best,’ you’ll understand why.
But do you know what? I’m pretty sure I’m happy being who I am. According to the government survey, people over 80 thought middle age started at 52, which means I’m a mere whippersnapper.
I have experience; I have two independent children, who have given and will give me lots of love and laughs over the years, in return for my dignity, looks and money. I have a beautiful wife who stills seems to find me amusing and attractive (in that order) and who is prepared to shave me if the need arises.
I’m a mature, responsible, sophisticated man.
But enough of listing my qualities. I’m off to try and complete the next level of ‘Hit Man’ on the X-Box.