In Which I Become Arthur Bryant
As regular readers know, I’m not much prone to swearing in print, but….fuck. Today is my 60th birthday. Let’s take that slowly; six-tie-th…
Trust me, it’s a bigger shock for me than it is for you. I certainly don’t feel any different to 30, except that I’m not worried about money all the time now. For me, 60 was once the gateway to senility, a cobwebbed door through which no-one wanted to pass. It led to tobacco-stained uncles who gave you half a crown, and sad aunts who smelled of lavender, a world of antimacassars and aspidistras and Brylcreem and whispered loss. Now I turn on the TV and see fat, balding Conservative MPs from the shires who turn out to be 32, and think – maybe it’s London. Maybe going out to art galleries and gigs and fringe theatre and pubs doesn’t make you raddled and ancient after all – maybe it keeps you a bit sharper. I’m hurt about the thoughtless ageism I hear and see everywhere – it’s one of the reasons why I made Bryant & May so old. But God, a lot of people tried to dissuade me from doing that.
The first of the gang to go has already gone, and others are following, but here I am in the same old T-shirt and jeans, living pretty much the same life that I was living thirty years ago. I come from a long and very English (ie part German) line of tall narrow-hipped scarecrows, which isn’t a good thing between 13 and 22, but is quite nice now.
Certain things happen with age, and this is what I’ve learned.
You lose parts of your peer group as friends marry / move away, so you need to keep refreshing friendships.
You finally have more confidence to talk to others, but start worrying that they’ll think you’re old and boring, so you listen more and lecture less.
You notice older friends who’ve started to live in a mythical better past, and start avoiding them lest they taint you.
You get bored when someone appears to have just discovered something you’ve known for 30 years, but it’s important to let them have their moment of discovery.
You either become more conservative or more liberal as you age – I’m way more liberal now than I used to be.
You live for the thrill of first discovery again, and often get that from travel. At the same time, my partner is younger and gets three weeks off a year, so I realise I may not do as much travelling as I’d hoped. I see no point at all in travelling alone.
You become a pretty good cook.
You read a lot more and watch even less television – I never watched much to begin with, and now it doesn’t get turned on from one week to the next.
You’re still excited for the future.
As for London, I remember a city of misted streets that looked full of ghosts. Everything was grubby. If you leaned on a fence, you usually had to have your coat dry-cleaned. It was as if the spirits of the war dead had left their residue behind as a reminder for the next generation, a city of soot and shadows, of corner groceries and family butchers, of a child being reprimanded for pointing at a black man in an empty, silent street. I now live on the edge of the most crowded crossroads in Great Britain, with over 72 million people passing through my local station each year, the most notable ethnicities being Chinese, Asian, African, French and Italian. That’s the part I love most, because underneath it all is the same city of Pepys and Johnson and Wren and Victoria. But sometimes I wonder if I’m one of a dying breed who wants to remember the span of history.
And eventually I’ll join the forgotten throngs of the city, happy to be absorbed into the warm Portland stone and red brick and yellow-clay London soil. What could be cooler than that?