Happy birthday to me! I've reached 58 which is in some regards an admirable milestone. From the Paleolithic era to the days of early modern England, a male commoner like myself would have been considered exceptionally lucky to see out his thirties. Most of the credit for this probably goes to vaccines and antibiotics, though the stable social period through which I've lived has seen little in the way of war and much in the way of an affordable, nutritious diet which has probably helped a lot.
Grateful though I am then, I can't help feeling a little less like celebrating my birthday as each year passes. One doesn't realise it but as a youngster, time appears to pass incredibly slowly. Then, as we age, the years soon start whizzing by faster than a Japanese bullet train. This is due to a phenomenon that I've mentioned before (in Things that wind me up http://andaluciasteve.com/things-that-wind-me-up.aspx ) called Weber's law. Weber noticed that how we humans perceive change, varies in proportion to the thing being measured. Although a year is always the same length, when we are children we compare a year to the total years we have lived, five or six of them or whatever. As we approach retirement, we maybe compare a year to say sixty or sixty five years. We can't but help then, thinking that years are getting shorter. Our perception of the length of a year varies logarithmically as we age. It is quite chilling to extend this notion, as author Anne Rice did in the 1984 Gothic novel 'Interview with a Vampire', to a life-form that has achieved immortality. The vampire Louis in the book describes the ' terrible tedium of a perpetual earthly existence', as the years become centuries and the detachment from mortals grows, and as the world changes and the vampires do not. Imagine years passing as seconds. What a horrible thought!
OK you might think I'm writing this from the perspective of some grumpy guy who 'got out of the wrong side of the bed' this morning. You would be right. I just got my first spam-email for a funeral plan. That makes me feel more than just old. It makes me feel 'one foot in the grave' old!
It wouldn't be so bad if it was just a case of the years accelerating before our eyes but they seem to do this with such malice. I saw a meme on Facebook the other day which captured this very succinctly. It read "Getting older is just one body part after another saying 'ha ha, you think that's bad, well watch this!"
Temporary Kings is a novel by Anthony Powell, the penultimate in his twelve-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time. It was published in 1973 and remains in print as does the rest of the sequence. In the penultimate book of the sequence, Powell describes ageing as like being increasingly penalised for a crime you haven't committed.
It certainly feels like that My first pubic hair scared the hell out of me at aged ten. More recently I discovered my first grey pube which nothing on earth had prepared me for. One wonders what is next? Male-pattern pube-baldness? I hate to even Google it!
Alexander Smith wrote "An essay on an old subject" which captures the mood of ageing far better than I ever could. http://essays.quotidiana.org/smith_a/essay_on_an_old_subject/ He starts with "The discovery of a gray hair when you are brushing out your whiskers of a morning—first-fallen flake of the coming snows of age—is a disagreeable thing. So is the intimation from your old friend and comrade that his eldest daughter is about to be married. So are flying twinges of gout, shortness of breath on the hillside, the fact that even the moderate use of your friend’s wines at dinner upsets you. These things are disagreeable because they tell you that you are no longer young,—that you have passed through youth, are now in middle age, and faring onward to the shadows in which, somewhere, a grave is hid."
Another insightful piece about ageing was in something written by Ernest Hemingway which I read years ago. In fact it was so long ago I can't even remember if it was from a book, an essay or possibly someone else's recollections of him. I've been trying to track it down but without being able to remember any of the key words or phrases other than 'wine' I've had little success, as this is a topic he raises often. Anyway, the general gist was that he considered it a travesty of life that, as one ages, one learns to appreciate more and more the value of a good wine, while at the same time one's body conspires to reduce one's ability to drink the stuff. Having had the odd bout of gout I know what he means. Thank god for Allopurinol. There is a big slice of virtual birthday cake to any wizardly researchers out there who are able to locate the source of the original quote.
Being a bit of an introvert I've never much enjoyed the concept of celebrating my birthday with a party or other get-together. It seems oddly narcissistic to say "This is all about me" and to force my friends to come along, buy me gifts and express their liking of me and sing to me for no other reason than that is what birthdays are supposed to be for, i.e. sucking up to me and kissing my behind. I'm really much happier with a simple message on my Facebook wall, or maybe a valued card from those rare and special people who are not online. The less fuss and the less reminder that I'm getting older, the better I like it!!