an open letter …
While I study those who are older than me, I envy those younger. It is their ignorance I covet.
It was a lovely little reverie. He wrote, this particular reader, how he was “easily seduced” by “a young lass with shapely gams in a kneelength gingham skirt sashaying down the street”. I’m sure it’s a sight thin on the ground these days. And I could’ve/should’ve left him happily gadding about his 1950s fantasy, however, I couldn’t help but remind him how he had already shared this very same fun fact with me in an earlier letter. He took it well. “Definitely a sign of advancing years when I start repeating my gingham crush.” Still it was cruel of me, unnecessary, and hypocritical, too. Because now I find myself wanting to tell you something I fear I may have already in a previous column. About Madonna. That we share a birthday. It was the Thursday before last, our special day, and I thought of her, as I always do. Except this birthday was a particularly significant one for her. A milestone. Her 60th. I have always taken solace in the knowledge Madonna — that hellraiser, that sex bomb — has 16 exact years on me. If she can do it, so can I; along that vein. But 60? I know, I know, it’s just a number, but it seems wrong, somehow.
Aware of my preoccupation with the ageing process, Peter had some sage advice. “Never be jealous of someone younger,” he wrote, “they, too, are headed down the same path you tread.” It was the sort of simple truth that, once pointed out, you cannot believe had never occurred to you to put in so many words yourself. He’s right, while I study those who are older than me, I envy those younger. It is their ignorance I covet. According to studies, children start to grasp death’s finality only around the age of 4 and it’s later still before they begin to comprehend its universality. Nonetheless, even when the realisation your time on Earth is finite does sink in, I reckon most of us, deep down, continue to cherish a secret hope that somehow we are unique, that we alone will live forever and ever.
But, I get it now. I really do. While more confident, less anxious (believe it or not) than I ever was in my 20s, I no longer feel like the world is my oyster. At 44 it has dawned on me I probably won’t accomplish everything I’d dreamed I would, visit every corner of the globe I’d imagined I would. Recently a friend invited me to travel somewhere with her, somewhere fabulous and exotic, somewhere I’ve already been, and I couldn’t understand why I was so tepid on it, until it occurred to me that I have to choose now. That, given neither time nor funds are unlimited, if I do this then I can’t/won’t do that.
Conceivably it’s a good thing. Certainly there can be a sense of relief in this refining of opportunities, in accepting you’re never going to be a rock star, or even win a karaoke competition, because, let’s face it, you’re a rubbish singer. And maybe this is what it really means to be a grown-up; maybe it indicates a self-awareness that only comes with maturity. But then, too, I have watched as my grandmother has gradually lost the ability to do the things that have her whole life given her pleasure. When her dwindling eyesight drove her to give up sewing and floral art, she took up making birthday cards. “I’m afraid it’s my swansong,” she said, presenting me with this year’s version. “It’s too hard.” Sorry, but no matter how you look at it, that sucks.
When a teenager, John believed he would be better than his father, different. “As the decades rolled by I have found myself on many occasions looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Hi, Dad’. And it doesn’t have much to do with physical appearance! I don’t think we can do much about our genetic inheritance or the effects of our upbringing. It’s just there. All of it.” For his part, Francis found last week’s column laughable. “Give it up,” he urged. Obviously, the fact you are reading this page today means I was unable to fulfill his request. However, he did ask something else of me. “You are in this for the money and no number of long words and confusing metaphors will do you any justice … I beg you to take a break from writing for Canvas and improve your style. I look forward to next week’s piece and hopefully my name in the ‘Following on’ section.”