Life and Turning 40

Born in 1971

When I left school at 18 I quickly discovered that time bends but not in our favour. At school time drags interminably; every minute in a French lesson seemed like an eternity of confusion; every second playing rugby on a rock hard pitch in winter was like a season of misery; every massive homework assignment about Shakespeare was a mountain to climb. And then off I went to Uni and time was my own. I got up when I pleased; I went out every night in search of love and beer; and every Monday held as much joy as Saturday. But Holy Moses that all flew by. Before I knew it I was 21 and facing my final examinations.

At 27 I envied those who were 21. I didn’t have a painting hidden in the attic and so my youthful looks were fast been corroded by the passing years. I was having to work and although this was far less pleasurable than being a pretentious student time was still flying by. It is also the time when you realize that a lot of boats have already sailed. I would never play footie for England. I would never be ‘discovered’ by Hollywood as the new Tim Roth. As you approach 30 you give up on the notion of your potential. Reality creeps into your thinking. It is at this point that a man thinks that he had better get married since he is not going to run into Scarlett Johansson at the King and Castle. It is also the time when the issue of money can be depressing. Friends and contemporaries have good jobs, have taken steps up a financial ladder and have even taken out a mortgage. While you still wear the same baggy sweater you did at University.

Health is another issue. At 30 most of my friends had stopped smoking and were drinking less. You look at yourself and you discover that as your body deteriorates your desire for drugs ? both licit and illicit ? have only increased. Those around you go to the gym and drink coconut water while you regularly go to Koh Phangan and drink Thai whisky. Still, at 30 life remains fun even though it moves at breakneck speed towards that frightening day when you turn 40.

And then one morning you wake up hung over and it has arrived. You are 40. For many men and women this is not a moment to celebrate. A decade has shot past your senses and again you are not rich, you haven’t managed a menage a trois, you don’t own anything worth having and even that favourite jumper of yours has been lost along the way. You feel cheated by life. Where is the wisdom that I was promised with age? Was it lost in the post? Jesus and Buddha had brain change moments at 30 and here I am at 40 with no more understanding of the ways of the world than I had when I was 30. It also dawns on you that the next awful landmark is around the corner. The half century.

This is of course all too cynical. They say life begins at 40. For me this is partly true. At age 40 my baby daughter was born. Witnessing the birth of a new life; the heavy responsibility of protecting and guiding the fragile thing through the same mazy life choices as I went through has made me understand one thing. We live our life in a blur of self obsession. We are concerned with things that are irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things. Why bother counting off the years when it is only you (and the tax man) who is paying attention? Age is a means of pigeon holing people the same as gender, sexuality and ethnicity. People make their reality tunnels easier to navigate through the short hand that pigeon holing represents. Let them live like that, my hope is that I communicate the alternatives to my daughter so when she gets to 40 she will realize that her dad wasn’t such a nutcase after all.


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