Middle Aged? Moi?


I think I have a fairly balanced opinion of myself. I’m a middle-aged, midlist author who was able to start writing full-time only because I surrendered my so-called best decades to hard work in a day job. I don’t think I’m having a crisis, which I guess is a good sign.

But a number of new books are out on the subject of ageing and its shifting perimeters, in which it’s generally agreed that the concept of ‘the male midlife Crisis’ was manufactured as a sales tool, and that before the 20th century age was not an essential ingredient of one’s identity. People were classified according to “marker events”: marriage, parenthood and so on.

Now demographics and marketing have subdivided lives into lots of little fear packages, until we end up with a situation where teenaged girls are undergoing liposuction.

As Marcus Berkmann, one of the authors, points out, “one of the most tangible symptoms of middle age is the sensation that you’re being cast adrift from mainstream culture.” Any man over forty who has tried to buy decent casual clothes or find entertainment aimed at him knows that urbanites are particularly susceptible to living in a hysterical, infantilised culture. There’s an article on the subject in the Independent here.

Lately the bowler hat and the flat cap have been making a comeback on the streets of London, as if we now want to decide our own social groups. The question arises as I try to ascertain who my next book is really aimed at. Go too young and you risk dad-dancing in front of your laughing juniors, too stuffy and you lose your core readership. I’ve set this week aside for attempting to learn to walk this particular tightrope. All thoughts on the New Ages of Man (and Woman) to the usual spot…

‘A Shed of One’s Own – Midlife Without the Crisis’ is by Marcus Berkmann (Little, Brown, £12.99); ‘In Our Prime’, by Patricia Cohen (Scribner, £16); ‘Middle Age: A Natural History’, by David Bainbridge, will be published by Portobello Books on 8 March, £14.99

5 comments on “Middle Aged? Moi?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Ahhah… That may be why a number of your recent leads have had a darker pitch: “Now I Feel Really Old,” “Ancient England,” “…Missing Teeth,” etc.
    Buck up, man. You have a year, plus some weeks, to go (if I Googled the right Christopher Fowler) before you achieve another big round number. (Remember back when we were first descending from the trees – both paws still firmly clutching the tree bark and one hind foot stretched cautiously out to test the mysterious ground – we didn’t live long at all. We were snatched up by the gobblers: “Shadow, moving shadow alert! Mates! Back to the tree!) Only recently have many of us humans had the good luck to reach and pass the big digits: ding, bing, bing. Aging has always been an issue, but who’d want to go completely back? The arches may go, but with luck the mind gets better. (Medical research seems to have verified that some of the “little fear packages” are real, BUT have been greatly hyped, which is another “and so it goes.” $$$
    As you did, I worked through my so-called best decades in a day job. I’ve had two lengthy careers and only now have been able to get back to what I wanted to do when I started out. I look back at that time as my intensive research decades. and I have a little card that says: “Always insert somewhere a variation of ‘Old head on young shoulders’ to account for distanced view point.”
    So good luck young man.

  2. J F Norris says:

    I hate to disillusion you but we all passed true midlife when he sailed by our fourth decade. It’s not the fiftieth birthday that should be the milestone for middle age nor the fifty-fifth. To quote he brilliant George Carlin: “How many 110 year-olds do you know?” I won’t say that youth is all a state of mind because my aching joints, failing eyesight and rebellious GI system love to remind me of my true age (I passed the half century mark back in December 2011), but I just find talking about my age so very tiresome. I’m only reminded of it and how frustrating it is to be 50 in a youth worshipping culture when I refuse to give in to trendy technologies that “everybody” is using or in my refusal to dress hipper or get my hair “done” so I look half my age. I earned every single gray hair on this head and I display them all with pride these days.

  3. Steve says:

    I’d be happy to get my hair “done”, but my hairline seems to have receded all the way to the back of my head.
    I could afford to do the whole transplant/facelift/necklift/implants thing if I chose; but I just don’t care enough. I rather enjoy being a curmudgeon. When I met up with Admin a few years back for tea, I mentioned that I don’t like people. His statement was, “And yet here (London)you are.” I actually DO like the thick press of humanity in the world’s greatest city – it’s more persons than people I dislike. Life gets too complicated when one becomes entwined with individuals. I spent many decades being way too involved with way too many people’s lives. These days I prefer my drama on television.
    Age? I’m often startled when I see the old guy staring back at me from the mirror. Internally, I suppose I still feel as if I’m in my 20’s. Rather a backward leap from 60.
    Fashion? Haven’t cared about it since….probably the 1970’s. I wear jeans and t-shirts most of the time although my wardrobe includes some very expensive items. I don’t give a damn what a man my age is “expected” to wear; I’ll dress the way my wife sees I see fit. Not difficult to find jeans and t-shirts no matter what currently passes for fashion.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    My hair is thinner than it was but it’s still mostly brown. If I lost a considerable amount of weight I might be able to fool people about my age, which is 70 this coming May, but it’s not worth it. My husband says I’m impossible to live with when I’m dieting and since I’m difficult enough at the best of times I don’t bother any more. My, we are confessional today.
    I don’t know how you determine readership appropriateness, admin, because your readers are probably looking for a jolt of some kind and chronological age isn’t a large part of that.Who are you trying to screen out – the youngsters or the oldsters?

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Bah, middle age comes quicker than people give credit for. You ask young people, they get to decide. Also if you can look at folk in the pub and think of them as ‘young people’ to do so, then you don’t really need to ask do you?

    I sympathise though. It’s no good saying write-what-you-wish-to, because whilst you can and do, you’ve also got to produce a product, to sell wholesale, to those who’ll sell retail. It’s no good as a carpenter making chairs when tables are the big sellers. You can make chairs when you’ve got a lot of tables out there. That’s fine, it really is. I look forward to your doorstop thriller, not only to see how it stretches you but also that genre.

    It’ll all be good, and you can have jelly on your birthday.

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