September 2008: The ageing process

One of the surest signs that you are getting old is when you realise that, across from the breakfast table from you one morning, you have a fifty year old, bald headed son. And watching and listening to the chat all week about kids starting school made me realise that the only time in our lives when we can’t wait to grow older is when we’re kids.  If you’re less than ten years old, you’re so excited and anxious about age that you think in fractions.

Just ask your young nephew his age.  “I’m four and a half!” he responses with pride. Try telling somebody that you’re thirty-six and a half and watch the expression on their face. But your nephew is four and a half, going on five. That’s the key to a proper aging process as far as he is concerned.

Later, when he gets into his teens, he’ll begin to take a few more risks with age. Teenage girls are especially good at this.  They jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.

“How old are you?”

“I’m going to be sixteen!”

She might only be thirteen, but it’s not telling you a lie by saying; “I’m going to going to be sixteen!” When she reaches thirty though, it’s a different story, as we all know.

After the teens, comes the greatest day of your life. You become twenty one years of age. Or, if you’re one of the impatient teenagers of today, you become eighteen, allegedly the age of reason. Three years is a long time when you’re young, you see. But whether you’re eighteen or twenty-one, it’s the wording of that phrase that matters. You become that age.

It sounds like an achievement, which indicates a real ritual is taking place. There are lots of erstwhile forbidden and forbidding stuff you can do now, like voting undeserving idiots into power and buying fags over the counter.

On reaching this major milestone, the rest of your twenties roll into one big long year. Whether you’re twenty three or twenty seven, you’re still the same age and so are your friends.

But then you turn thirty. This is when the women begin to get forgetful. Suddenly you turn the big three oh.  The phrase itself makes it sound like you were a glass of bad milk. You can hear your friend’s remark:  “She turned thirty, we had to throw her out as she went sour on us”. There’s no more fun now, the good times are over.

You “become” at twenty one and then you “turn” thirty. Things can only get worse. What’s in store for you next? I’ll tell you what. Now, my aging friend, you’re “pushing” forty. Hold on there a minute. Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. We try and console ourselves by saying that forty is the new thirty. Not a bit of it. Forty years old is forty years old. Don’t kid yourself, your kid days are well and truly over.

And before you know it, you’ve “reached” 50 and all your dreams have faded away. Your life, for all intents and purposes is over. Again the language we use tells us the real story. “Reaching” fifty a major achievement in itself, a struggle, a race to the bottom, as it were.

But wait. There’s more, if you’re lucky. Your friends might find themselves telling everyone that you’ve “made it” to sixty. It is around this time that people start to speak on your behalf as if you weren’t in the room with them. “He’s made it to sixty, you  know, just last week”.

So far, you have become twenty one, turned thirty, pushed forty, reached fifty and made it to sixty. At this stage in your life, you’ve built up so much momentum that you actually “hit” seventy.  In between things start to go all wrong, Body wise, everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.  You feel like you’ve partied the night before, and you haven’t been out anywhere. You address book contains only the phone numbers of professional medical people and you have too much room in the house and not enough in the medicine cabinet.

The only gleam in your eye is when the sunlight hits your bi focal glasses. You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions anymore. You turn out the lights for economic rather than romantic reasons. When you bend down to pick something off the floor, you think to yourself “is there anything else I need while I’m down here?”

And it gets worse. Have you ever found yourself standing on the landing, forgetting whether you were going up or coming down the stairs? No? What about when you go into a room and forget what you came in for? You end up doing a tour of the house looking for signs of recent activity like a DIY job in progress or a phone off the hook, ignoring the strange looks your nearly and dearly loved ones are giving you.

A dead give away to the aging process is when you start holding onto little bits of timber just because you might need them to stir the paint during next year’s planned house makeover. That is the day you have become your father.

And when you get into your eighties, every day is a complete cycle and a huge landmark.  You “hit” lunchtime, you “make” teatime and you “reach” bedtime, which gets earlier and earlier every week as you struggle to stay awake past the nine o’clock news.

Time, in your mind’s eye, is slowing down drastically and when you get to your nineties, you have started going backwards in age.  You find yourself saying things like “I’m in my early nineties” and “I was just ninety four last birthday”. And you revert to using phrases like “I’m ninety two and a half”; just as your great grandson proudly announces that his is five and a half. Ah yes, the cycle of life.


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