“Age is irrelevant.”
I was aware it was a sweeping statement, which is why I rather liked it. Of course age is relevant – when you abide by the rules that is. At sixteen you can have sex, at eighteen cast your vote, at twenty-one you’ve won the right to hire a car. (Is it me or do these milestones get less and less exciting the older we become?) But honestly, what is age, other than a number? A countdown to one’s eventual demise, which, let’s be honest can strike at any time, young or old, or even just ‘in-between’.
The subject, or should I say ‘concept’, of age has never been more pertinent for me than of late, and not because I’m struggling with the speed at which life seems to be slipping by, but more because in the last year or so my misspent youth has suddenly caught up with me – pretty much the whole damn cast and crew of it. People whom I last saw in some dodgy pub twenty years ago are back in my consciousness and on my facebook feed and I have to say, it’s wonderful. We may all look a little different (and thank God for that) but essentially we’re still the same people who ran amok together all those years ago. As adults we have not really changed at all; the connection, the association, the affection and the general attitude to life, are all still intact. If I’m honest, it’s felt a little bit like going home.
So the concept of age has been in my thoughts a lot of late, and it would seem in the minds of many others too. Only recently I read an article by Mariella Frostrop in The Guardian trying to describe her own struggle with reaching fifty; an experience which she describes as “traumatic”. A day or two later I happened to see an episode of Futurama dealing with the subject of ageing (or rather ‘de-ageing’ for want of a better word). On top of all this a friend of mine aged himself prematurely via a smartphone app and posted the results on Facebook. Of course I just had to have a go too, but I’ll save you the trauma of that visual treat.
Then just a few days later I found myself in the back of a somewhat garrulous taxi driver’s black cab and we got talking about past musical influences. He described to me how he still goes to Northern Soul nights with friends he’s had since his teens (he’s now in his 50s) much to the horror of his children who think it’s time he ‘grew up’. We both agreed how lucky we are to live in an age where age no longer seems to matter to anyone over about twenty-five and certainly not to our generation at any rate. It is quite acceptable nowadays for people to be great friends with those twenty years younger or older (I am lucky enough to have both) and for dads to go gigging with their sons. We are no longer ‘invisible’. Even BBC Radio 6, who are at the coal front of new music – admittedly with a somewhat older demographic than, say, Radio 1 – have a slot on their breakfast show called ‘Middle-aged Shout Outs.” We are the butt of our own jokes, as if we can’t quite believe that it’s us who are meant to now represent the slippers and cocoa brigade. Sure we knit and sew, we garden, we fish – I’ve even caught myself listening to folk music of late – but somehow we tell ourselves this is all very ironically postmodern, rather than a sign of us slipping slowly into our dotage.
As fifty becomes the new thirty and forty the new twenty, it seems to me that age, and its increasingly devil-may-care attitude, is now something to aspire to rather than to dread. It is more likely these days to be a catalyst for cracking a joke, rather than a cause for concern. Instead of feeling marginalised, I for one feel part of an amazing club where the fast laughs (more often than not at our own expense) go whizzing over the heads of our kids and the film stars, rock gods and television presenters age right alongside us, if a little more slowly. I don’t doubt there still remains an achingly cool club solely for the young to which I am no longer welcome, but I have no problem with that. In fact it seems to me that more and more of them are trying to sneak a way into ours, and who can blame them. After all, our parties still have the potential to be just as wild as ever (if perhaps a little shorter) and you are free to leave your social anxieties at the door because nobody gives a damn what you look like anymore.
Maybe I am just a sad old fool to think all of this; just another middle-aged madam desperately trying to hold onto her youth like so many before her (stop laughing in the back there, kids) but I’ll leave you with this little anecdote, which I think sums us Generation Xers up perfectly:
Chatting to my great friend about her younger brother’s forthcoming fortieth birthday party, I asked if her parents were going, to which she replied in all seriousness,
“Yes, but they’ll be the only adults there.”