The joy of getting older

It was my 42nd birthday this week (cards, presents and gifts via my PO Box address, please). This isn’t a particularly momentous age to reach – at least I didn’t think it was until I noticed that I’m now *two* 21-year-olds. That depressed me greatly for a while, until I realised I’d never want to be 21 again, But it did get me thinking about age, and how age has a very bizarre impact on your social life.

The older you get, the more prior warning you need before any social engagement. That seems to be how it works for most people, anyway. It’s a rather sad side effect of becoming an increasingly responsible adult, so it would seem. But why does this happen?

When I was a young kid, full of fizzy pop and E-numbers, I didn’t make arrangements at all. Life just kinda happened around me. I lived in the moment, where chasing after my brother with a handful of mud was as valid an entertainment option as getting on my bike and hurtling down a hill at breakneck speed. At that age you don’t think about tomorrow, you think about *now*. You exist perpetually on the cusp between past and future: living for the present.

The only times, as a kid, that you think about planning for the future are: 1. Your birthday; 2. Your summer holiday ; and 3. Christmas. And it’s not so much planning as psychically willing time to go faster so the day in question arrives more quickly. The longest wait that any human ever experiences (with the exception of waiting for late-running trains on the British rail network) is the time between going to bed on Christmas Eve and the time your parents are fully awake on Christmas morning. I can remember this taking what seemed like several weeks. And I could never understand why it took at least an hour for my dad to transform from a yawning sleep monster into a civilised human being capable of unwrapping his Christmas present. Now that I’m a parent, I understand that yawning all too well – so, apologies for getting you up so early for all those years, Dad!

Car journeys to holiday destinations were another example of the how time can be stretched out beyond the tolerance or patience of a small child. It seems like several long months of my formative years were spent in the back of a beige Ford Cortina waiting for the tell-tale whiff of seaside air that told us we were nearly at the beach. And don’t forget the sweaty ham sandwiches, fresh from the Tupperware, and the slightly-too-weak, luke-warm orange squash. Happy days, the 1980s.

But Christmas, birthdays and holidays aside, most of my childhood was spent just ‘doing stuff’: playing, running, cycling, climbing, drawing…all the fun ‘ings’, basically.

Then, without much prior warning, you become a teenager. Suddenly it’s vitally important to be invited to things. You’re no longer living in the *now*, you’re worrying about the future and ruining your childhood innocence with worries about whether you’ll get invited to so-and-so’s birthday party. And if you do, will what’s-her-face be there. And if she is, will you be able to talk to her without getting tongue-tied. And…and….and….the list of existential questions goes on.

This worry about future social events carries on long into your twenties. The worries change slightly (Is this club cool enough to be seen it? Are these trousers the right ones to be wearing? Will what’s-her-face think I’m a knob if I invite her back for ‘coffee’), but the underlying existential angst is much the same. We spend our time worrying about what other people think of us and, by doing this, we don’t enjoy the here and now as much as we should.

Then, wallop!, you settle down with what’s-her-name and become one of the breeders. And at this point a strange and marvellous thing happens: you stop caring what people think about you. You become less shallow and more contented (if a lot fatter around the middle). You no longer care if you’re listening to the most hip band, or going to the most challenging free-form theatre night. You’d rather be on the couch on a Friday night, wondering why Chris Evans only does The One Show once a week (and what Matt Baker does on a Friday night to let off steam from presenting this national TV staple for the rest of the week).

So if you *do* want me to leave the sofa these days. I need to know a LONG time in advance – preferably about 6 months in advance, if possible. Just Facebook event me – I’ll see if I’m free.

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