The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

Iturned 50 last week­end. Well, when say ‘turned’, it was more of a slide ac­tu­ally, with my legs flail­ing for grip as if there were a gi­ant smelter at the end of it, like the one in Toy Story 3 that al­most con­sumes Buzz and Woody and all the rest of the toys.

When you tell peo­ple your 50th birth­day is ap­proach­ing, they come back at you with plat­i­tudes. ‘It’s the new 40,’ they smile — seem­ingly un­aware that they are the umpteenth per­son to share this non­sen­si­cal ba­nal­ity.

Trust me, it’s not the new 40. Hit­ting 40 is great. Un­less you’re very un­lucky, you still can leap from an arm­chair with­out push­ing a re­as­sur­ing hand into the base of your own spine. You can read a text mes­sage with­out spend­ing 20 min­utes search­ing for the glasses you even­tu­ally re­alise you’re al­ready wear­ing, be­fore mak­ing a men­tal note, with some alarm, that it’s time for an­other trip to Spec­savers for a stronger pre­scrip­tion.

At 40, you re­mem­ber where you put some­thing down. At 50, ev­ery day in­volves a fren­zied hunt of some de­scrip­tion. It might be for the mo­bile phone be­fore you even­tu­ally con­cede de­feat, ring­ing it from the land­line be­fore fi­nally hear­ing a muted buzzing from some­where un­der the du­vet.

For men, who aren’t af­forded the lux­ury of a sim­ple rum­mage through a hand­bag, it can be check­ing the pock­ets of eight jack­ets on three pegs and in two wardrobes look­ing for a driv­ing li­cence that, rather oddly, in fact has found its way to a kitchen press.

Re­mem­ber a time when you could leave the house, lock the door and hop straight into the car? When you hit the half cen­tury, for­get about it. No sooner have you sat into the driver’s seat than you re­alise you’ve for­got­ten some­thing — and, yes, that’s usu­ally your phone or your glasses. So you dash back, fetch them, get back in the car and think, ‘Did I leave the heat­ing on?’

So you dash back in again and, no, you didn’t, but you do no­tice the light is still on in the bath­room and as you go to switch it off, you also re­alise the iron in the bed­room is

Fifty is not ‘the new 40’. At 40, you can re­mem­ber where you’ve put things. By 50, ev­ery­thing is a fren­zied hunt

still plugged in. Hav­ing made ev­ery­thing safe, you go back to the car and start the engine be­fore hav­ing a lit­tle de­bate with your­self as to whether or not you locked the front door, so you get out again and re­alise that, yes, you did. What used to take a minute now takes 10, just to get out of the house.

And when you come home each night, there are leaflets on the mat that used not be there be­fore, of­fer­ing you cheap mid­week ho­tel breaks for the over-50s or spe­cial in­sur­ance deals, as if your house sud­denly is less likely to spon­ta­neously burn to the ground when in fact you’re the one who keeps leav­ing the iron plugged in. And, of course, creaky joints aren’t the only sign that time re­lent­lessly marches on. There are more fre­quent night-time jour­neys tip­toe­ing along the land­ing, if you’re with me; and the re­duced tol­er­ance for crowded, noisy pubs, where once you loved them; and a grow­ing im­pa­tience with younger peo­ple, not be­cause they’re stupid or an­noy­ing but just be­cause they’re young.

And, de­spite the fact that you swore blind you never would do so, you hear your­self say­ing that x, y or z was bet­ter ‘in my day’, as if you had been granted only the one and it some­how was the tem­plate for how ev­ery­one should be­have there­after. Noth­ing, how­ever, is quite as chas­ten­ing as the day you re­alise you have started to talk to the tele­vi­sion, roar­ing at a guest on Tonight With Vin­cent Browne as if he or she were in the room.

So, no, 50 is not the new 40 but nor, I have dis­cov­ered, is it a slide down the slip­pery slope to a fur­nace. I was lis­ten­ing to the same mu­sic this week as I was the week be­fore. None of my am­bi­tions seems any less likely to be achieved sim­ply by the pas­sage of this birth­day, big roundy one or not. And at least I can look for­ward now to be­ing 60. That re­ally IS the new 50, I’ve been told and I’m not go­ing to quib­ble.

There’s noth­ing we can do about it any­way, ex­cept re­sist go­ing on a Saga hol­i­day or keep­ing some mild strength in re­serve to floor any­one who men­tions ‘the golden years’ with a swift up­per­cut to the jaw.

At least, that’s the way I see it.

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