Thursday 23 October 2008

Am I older and wiser or crumbling and madder? Whichever, it’s great not be young!

Still strutting their stuff in their dotage, I wonder if the Rolling Stones might want to change the lyrics of their song ‘Mother’s Little Helper’:
‘What a drag it is getting old!’
might easily be replaced by:
‘What a drag it was being young!’
As a precocious teenager, already an irrepressible scribbler, I kept a diary from the age of 15 to 21. Being even then a heinous control freak, I created around this last-thing-at-night ritual a rigid rule: the entire space of each day must be filled; with what and of how low a standard did not matter, as long as every line was filled with words of some description.
Occasionally I dip in and out of this turbulent collection, and recently revisited the years 1977 and 1978, taking a long sad look at the painfully insecure and wretched teenager that I was then. With unequivocal conviction I can now tell you that I don’t mind being older.
When I was a teenager I felt the need to prove my truths to everyone, and insisted that I was right. The rest of the world was wrong, and I was making sense. As an older man, I believe in exactly the same truths, but harbour no desire whatsoever to change the world to mirror my ideals.
Just ain’t worth it, guv’nor.
In fact, far from wanting to transform the world into a happy fluffy place, I focus simply on my own happiness (which necessarily includes the happiness of several others, lest I sound even more egocentric than usual). Essential to that pursuit is the need to understand the world a little, in all its tawdry glory.
The pure black and white ideals of my youth now live a settled married life with my own elaborate cynicism.
I know what I think is right, and I try to live as close to it as I can.
But our species is insane, and therefore I must limit my expectations to assure my ambition of happiness can be realised.
Of course there’s the obvious downside to getting old. My neck hurts, my belly is explosive; my tooth hurts and where in the past I could happily put all these ailments and as many others as I could dream up into a bag marked ‘Classic Neurotic Jewish Hypochondria’ I now have no choice but to see them as symptoms of my own mortality.
So I’m going to die sooner rather than later. Well, if age has taught me anything, it’s not to worry about what I can’t control, so I’ll let that one go. Discovered years ago that exercise and good eating is more about healthily enjoying the life you’re living, rather than staving off your death for a few more years, months, days.
Age also tempers how much advice you can take. Walking the Prom is my physical and spiritual lifeline, and now somebody’s saying that it’s lethal to walk on flat surfaces, and that we should wear special shoes that make your plates of meat feel like they’re treading on jungle floor.
Yeh but no but no thanks. Been around the block and know now that if it works for me, I’ll stick with it. There doesn’t have to be a right or wrong. There is no absolute.
Why should I listen to this week’s experts when last week they were calling the collapse of Capitalism a ‘Credit Crunch’? Now that I’m older I know that there is absolutely no point in making sense out of the absurdities of this world.
I’m never going to understand a world where ‘genocide’ has become ‘ethnic cleansing’. How did the extermination of entire populations end up sounding like a mango-scented bathroom scrub?
Ah, if only somebody could have told that idealistic and fervent teenager that he’d still believe the same things 30 years on. All that parents and relations ever said was that I would grow out of it, I’d see, ho ho yes; but I didn’t.
I just realised that these were my truths, and the rest of the world was way beyond my control.
It’s all upside down. They euphemise the global financial collapse into an ice cream flavour, and hyperbolise the new comedy show on TV.
You tell me which sounds more important: ‘Credit Crunch’. ‘All New Must See Major Event’.
Given the choice, would I want to be a child now?
Well, I wouldn’t want to be a child in the United States, where a new law allows parents and legal guardians to leave any child up to the age of 19 at hospitals.
The idea of the law was to decriminalise parents who had dumped their children after having their own lives put at risk through violent behaviour. But, as reported by The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, nobody expected such a massive response. On September 13th an 11 year-old was handed over by his grandmother to a hospital in Omaha, because he was, she said, ‘destructive’. On the same day in the same State, a 15 year-old boy was left with authorities in Lincoln, because he was disobedient and a possible gang member. As she explained to the Omaha World Herald:
“I didn’t abandon him. I wanted help for him so when he hits 18 he’s not a menace to society.”
Over the next three days, four more children (a girl of 12, three boys aged 11,15 and 18) were handed over, and the following day Gary Station turned up at Creighton Medical Centre with 9 of his 10 children, saying he could only look after the one since his wife had died in childbirth.
My fellow columnist in Nebraska’s Papillon Times wrote:
“Birth Certificates aren’t receipts. This isn’t a store refund.”
So no thanks. I don’t want to be an abandoned teenager, any more than I want to be an insecure under-experienced youth. Of course I yearn for youthfully robust health, and sometimes I do wish that the first snooze on the sofa of an evening hit a little later than 9.30 (“It’s the fire! It’s the fire!” I exclaim, knowing of course it’s pure age).
And yes, I do feel sorry for you Colyoomistas, who have to suffer grumpy crotchety old geezer rants, but at least they’re honest, which is a lot more than I can say for the often-exaggerated and occasionally entirely fictional sex life I found in those diaries!

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