In Which I Become Arthur Bryant

Observatory

Photo on 26-03-2013 at 10.33

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?

44 comments on “In Which I Become Arthur Bryant”

  1. Mikeyboy says:

    Slim hipped indeed! I would never have thought 60. What else can I say apart from Happy Birthday.
    Mikey

  2. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    Sixty eh ,Don’t worry about being forgotten there will always be a small corner of Essex forever Fowler, at least in the weight of books.
    Start worrying when beige and pastel shade clothes start looking good.

    Happy Birthday

    all best
    STALKY

  3. DavidF says:

    Having just turned 42 at the weekend all I can say is bloody hell, you look amazing. Damn you.

  4. BangBang!! says:

    Happy birthday Mr Fowler, you look great. You’ve left your own mark on the London landscape, you can be sure of that.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Part German, too. Hummmm….
    Our “icebox”, there’s a fine old word, has two magnetic buttons stuck to it:
    “Hi! I’m Aries! I’m pushy!” and “Being married to a German builds character!”
    Being long married to this combo, I find it excellent.
    And on a final quite cheery birthday note, I find the 70’s (for me at least) are the new 50’s. So enjoy your 60’s, which should be your 40’s or so.
    Always there’s birthday guidance, always, so here’s mine: Keep your interests youthful, bin gift books such as “101 Reasons To Be Glad You Are Old” and avoid entering breakdancing competitions, unless your insurance is the best.

  6. Philip Jackson says:

    Happy Birthday Mr F! Remember, it’s only a number :0)

  7. Dave B. says:

    As long as people read books, and as long as London still stands, you will never be forgotten. Happy Birthday, Chris!

  8. andrea yang says:

    Mr. Fowler, I think you must have found the fountain of youth in some unexplored corner of London and are keeping it a secret! Happy Birthday… and as for becoming Arthur Bryant, nothing to fear there, he has always been my favorite of your dynamic duo!

  9. james says:

    Happy birthday Christopher, long may you write.

    You obviously keep fit and presumably eat well too, but I think age is also a state of mind. Unlike most people, you come across as someone who genuinely loves what they do for a living and therefore has a greater capacity to enjoy the lifestyle that success affords. So feeling young at heart is bound to have a positive effect on the way you look.

    And good point about crusty MPs, although it’s not just the conservative ones. You’re older than Tony Blair and George Galloway, yet look fifteen years younger than both. Hell, you look younger than Boris Johnson who’s only 48 but could already be mistaken for Donald Trump.

  10. John Howard says:

    Happy Birthday admin. Reached my 60th just a few months ago and feel exactly as you do. One of the great things about the boys is the the crazy things ‘their’ ageism can throw up. Here’s a thought, do you think that Arthur and John are the two sides of Admin or are they “just” two?

    As Phillip says it is only a number. And my 34 year old daughter isn’t ashamed to introduce me as her dad.

    We are not old at all. just our bodies (Don’t think I could get an insurance company to look at me Dan)

  11. Henry Ricardo says:

    I can tell you how it feels to turn 70, but I’ll just hope you find out for yourself. Happy Birthday, young man.

  12. Alan G says:

    May you have many more, Chris.

    As my Dad said to me last year

    May you have many more, Chris.

  13. Alan G says:

    How did that happen?

    Meant to say “As my Dad said to me last year – at least I won’t have to worry about dying young”.

    Quite the motivator, my old man.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    It *is* just a number. Keeping an interest in the world around you keeps a person current and that is what youth is (aside from the flexy joint thing).

  15. Mike Cane says:

    Whoa. Happy birthday. I won’t depress you by asking if you have a Countdown Clock in your head now. Damn. I just did. It ticks for me every day and I’m not six-oh yet (if I ever get there).

  16. Peter says:

    Dear Christopher, Happy Birthday! Don’t worry about turning 60. As the famous german singer Udo Jürgens puts it in one of his popular songs: “Mit 66 Jahren, da fängt das Leben”. Life only begins at 66. Have a great Birthday!

  17. Ilinca says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr Fowler, from a faithful follower and huge fan. I’m so excited to have “found” you some years back, all the way from Romania. I hope you have a great few decades (of writing and whatever other kinds of fun) ahead of you.

  18. J. Folgard says:

    Loved this little list above, so happy birthday indeed, admin! As you keep enjoying the good parts of life, you contribute to making your readers’ days more interesting too -so here’s to many, many more! Cheers-!

  19. ediFanoB says:

    Happy Birthday!
    As long as you feel well and your in such a good shape it is indeed only a number.
    In six years time I will know by my own how it will feel to turn sixty.

  20. Stuart Pack says:

    Damn chronology!
    Many happy returns!

  21. John De la Cruz says:

    Many happy returns…I wonder if the PCU should look into reports of a fountain of youth in the King’s Cross area?

  22. snowy says:

    🙂

    Happy birthday to you
    Squashed tomatoes and stew
    Bread & Butter in the gutter
    Happy birthday to you

    🙂

  23. Andrew Christy says:

    Happy New Decade, Chris!

  24. Bob Low says:

    Happy birthday, Mr. Fowler! The older I’ve got, the more interesting the world seems. This helps to balance up some of the less enjoyable aspects of getting on.

  25. pheeny says:

    Many Happy Returns Mr Fowler

  26. pheeny says:

    And I am so glad you stuck to your guns about Bryant and May being older chaps – people are mistaken in thinking that an older character cannot have a broad appeal – witness the success of William Hartnell as the first Doctor

  27. me says:

    Happy Birthday, I would have said 48! (Although I know that isn’t possible). Hmm I need some of your face cream…

  28. Sam Tomaino says:

    Happy Birthday from someone who turned 60 a little over 6 months ago!

    It sure is strange!

  29. Happy birthday! I love Arthur Bryant, so I think it’s a good thing you becoming him. I went to your Amazon page to see if there was any chance there were any Bryant and May books that I’d missed. No joy — but when I saw that it was your birthday it seemed the right thing to do to leave a message! (I’ve never written a fan e-mail before — this is the closest I’ve ever come!). I do love the series. Enjoy the new decade! I did.

  30. UnionJack says:

    Happy 60th Mr Fowler! Your books have meant a lot to me over the years, from Roofworld on, glad you’re doing good and there are plenty more to come!

  31. Simon Sperring says:

    Many happy returns you slim hipped so and so.

  32. Simon Sperring says:

    Oh, I forgot your present, here it is

    http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/march/27.htm

    I’ve kept the receipt if you want to change it!

  33. trevor allen says:

    Happy Birthday !!

  34. Dan Terrell says:

    If Admin has “become Arthur Bryant” at the young age of 60? How old is Arthur? I sort of thought he was in his late 70s, if not 80s? But looking quite good for someone who once had a near death experience.
    (Which I suggest might make a rather nice plot device. After all, if Arthur “crossed over” and managed to return, he may have a deep memory of that round trip. And he may have an unrealized sensitivity to murdered souls, which perhaps, his witchy friends sense in him. Would explain some of his seeming off-beat reading choices. And that below-desk pot plant may be an unrealized gateway, in addition to so good for the senior joints. Oh, sorry.)
    Just pondering over strong coffee.

  35. admin says:

    Hmm, the vexed question of how old Arthur Bryant is. To quote Cary Grant’s famous telegram reply. ‘Old Arthur Bryant is very well.’
    BTW thank you all for such kind thoughts – I am about to step up my output now that time is running out.

  36. Elizabeth Endicott says:

    Belated Happy Wishes for the coming year from an American fan of Bryant and May (and from one who also recently turned 60).

  37. Helen Martin says:

    Cary Grant? I was told it was a reporter sending copy to New York. His editor sent a telegram demanding, “How old Gar Wood?” to which the reporter replied, “Old Gar Wood fine, how you? All of these stories are probably apocryphal but very funny. Arthur Bryant is as old as the reader desires or believes him to be. John May, on the other hand, is ageless. The point of confusion I find is whether or not Arthur was married to his beloved before she died.

  38. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    Stepping up output! This is good news for me but not so good for Mrs STALKY who is clinging on to her remaining saleable body parts like a lion on a three legged wildebeest.

    all best
    STALKY

  39. Stephen Groves says:

    By the way do writers ever retire by themselves or do publishers retire them ?

    all best

    STALKY

  40. Joel Meadows says:

    Chris,
    an excellent, intriguing piece as always. As a fellow Londoner, born in this city, a lot of this resonates. Although I am quite a bit younger than you, we share similar occupations…

    best

  41. Steve says:

    Gravity = Death.

    Think about it. As one ages, all sorts of things begin to sag that didn’t used to. Gravity is pulling us down and, ultimately, pulls us right into the ground.
    And on that cheery note, happy birthday!

  42. slabman says:

    Belated happy birthday, Mr F! Ooooh, doesn’t he look well?

    For me, London fosters a certain state of mind – it’s always choosing to walk down the street you haven’t walked before, rather than the one you have. It’s thinking, ‘gosh, those gargoyles are fascinating, and – whatever I’ve just trodden in, it’s bound to wipe off”. It’s the joy of discovering junk shops with prosthetic legs and busted accordions hanging in the window. It’s moody and taciturn, and it’s knowing I can find someone to call me ‘darlin’ for the price of a pound of apples. It’s knowing how to walk anywhere in the centre, while being completely flummoxed by giving directions to the same place. It’s being blasé about just about the appearance of just about any odd character, apart perhaps from the mythical gent in a bowler and pinstripes. All of this, I get from Bryant and May, who become more and more like old chums with every new book.

  43. J Griffin says:

    Belated Happy Birthday!
    I turned 60 18 months ago, fit as a fiddle and then bits started dropping off. Nevertheless I would endorse everything you said especially about the TV and cooking. I also get women ‘of a certain age’ randomly chatting me up in supermarkets, something my (decade younger, but not as healthy) wife is constantly amused by. I think it’s your ‘Tory MP’ effect. Their husbands have potbellies and are bald, and I don’t.
    Don’t forget, incontinence pads make your ‘packet’ look promising.:) There’s a silver lining, in the dark clouds shining……..

  44. Jon Anderson says:

    Admin- I wonder if it’s time to coin a phrase that particularly describes those of us ( and I sneakily include you in this category,) who as they get older, find themselves having a more generally liberal attitude toward life, while at the same time clinging ever more conservatively to the past, in the form of its history and institutions – maybe ‘schizophrenic’? I find myself championing the freedom of lifestyle that the modern world has engendered, while at the same time watching in horror as that lifestyle runs roughshod over what came before. Of course, what came before was infringement of personal liberties, prejudice, colonialism and knee-jerk reactionary jingoism, so that’s not all bad. But at the same time, the beloved institutions of our past are being sidelined, ignored, and swept away. Especially those that encouraged and fostered the infringement of personal liberties, prejudice, colonialism and knee-jerk reactionary jingoism. Do you get my drift here?

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