So, I’m in the process of getting my head around the question of when it was that I got so old. I’ve thought a lot about this. Mostly in meetings at work or on my commute*. This in itself could be a sign of middle age. That lack of focus, being easily distracted, daydreaming. Either middle age or I have the brain of a toddler. Now there’s a thought…
In case you think that the answer is obvious, it’s OK, I too know that the answer to ‘When did I get so old?’ lies in the passage of time. I understand that time passes and we get older. But the passing of time doesn’t cover how my head works, how my body creaks or indeed the phenomenal speed of the growth of my nose and ear hair these days. And time passing’s not that funny either.
In truth, there are a tonne of ingredients that help answer the question. In fact, the reasons are too many to mention, unless I write a book. And I haven’t got the time for that – I’m too busy daydreaming in meetings. So let’s explore a carefully chosen selection of the ‘ingredients’ that help answer the question of how and when I got so old.
‘I was an even bigger mess before they came along, believe it or not’
- Getting a wife and kids – Now on the face of it listing the first thing that answers the question of ‘When did I get so old?’ as getting a wife and kids sounds like quite the insult. For all good intentions, this could lead to a slap at least and the divorce courts as the worst case, but most likely scenario. But I don’t mean it in that kind of way. In truth, my wife and kids are wonderful and have been the making of me as a human being. I was an even bigger mess before they came along, believe it or not. But as an adult who is honest enough to say that he retains the mind of a child, having a wife and kids still doesn’t seem right. I mean, when you still make many of the same decisions as you did when you were 17, having a wife and kids is a perilous place to be and you could justifiably say that they’re the ones getting a raw deal here. However, it still feels all too grown up a concept to be part of. I’m part responsible for three other humans – two of them that can’t even hang up a school uniform on a consistent basis, have no volume control and seemingly have little or no knowledge of where the washing basket is – and that just doesn’t sit right. A wife and kids is the realm of adults and I still don’t feel ready to be one. A wife and kids is what my dad had, and frankly, the idea of being as old as him seems utterly abhorrent. I mean, I remember him at my age now – 46 – and he might as well have just wandered into our house from a Dickens epic as far as I was concerned. The trouble is I still feel pretty much exactly the same as I did in my long lost youth. When I hear my wife refer to her husband it still sounds vaguely ridiculous and far too grown up a club for me to be a member of. And when I realise that the husband is me, I feel heartily sorry for her. Seriously, when did I get so old?
- Shit at all trades and master of less than one – I’d assumed that as we got older us blokes just magically picked up skills. Middle age would have it’s comforts because I’d have a whole bunch of skills (or a skill-set if you’re in your twenties and reading this. Or you think you’re on The Apprentice). Washing machine needs plumbing in? No problem. Something needs re-wiring? Give it here. That fence has come down in the terrible storm? I’ll just get my tool box and some of the wood I’ve stored behind the shed. In fact, this kind of magic doesn’t exist. I can categorically state that I am as useless round the house as I was when I was three. And at least then I smelt nice. So not only did I get old – and let’s face it, confused – but I seem to have failed to pick up any man-skills along the way. And there is a multitude of evidence to back this up. I once tried to re-wire a light fitting and ended up electrocuting myself and blowing myself into our bath in the process. Literally blown across the room! I have mowed through the lawn mower cable, concreted in a washing pole that to this day still wobbles and put up a bathroom shelf (three times now) that slopes alarmingly downward and is so close to the underside of the accompanying cabinet that it doesn’t really function as a shelf. I also once had to fill the gaps in between the legs and top of an IKEA table with glue and newspaper so that it stayed steady and we could eat our tea off it because when I’d ‘constructed’ it, I’d done such an appalling job. And then, I gave it away to a charity at the end of it’s life in our house without even a second thought! Seriously, this could very easily be an endless list! How did I get so old and so useless? And when is it that I’m going to pick up my man skills?
- Lawn Pride – not an annual celebration of all things LGBTCBGB (sorry if I missed anyone) in my garden, but the unnatural care and attention that I give to my lawn. I mean, I even call it my lawn. I used to watch my dad mowing his lawn, putting in stripes, treating it with all manner of lotions and potions and then putting the sprinkler on it and wondering what had to go so badly wrong in life that a bloke would care so much about a bit of grass. But now, in middle age, I totally get it. It’s like an addiction. In fact lawn pride makes crack seem like a more healthy alternative. And crack is whack as Whitney Houston once told us, while no doubt off her box on…well, crack. The worst thing about this, by the way, is that my lawn is relatively ordinary looking. It’s greenish, but covered in weeds. However, age has brought with it an almost psychotic level of stubbornness that renders me utterly unable to even consider the merits of getting it turfed again! No, I’d rather mow it (with stripes) treat it, water it, re-seed it, rake it, talk to it. And still it’s like a shit green(ish) patchwork quilt! As well as this, I’m competitive. I look at my neighbours’ lawns and grin smugly to myself when I spot a bare patch or some weeds. Pathetic really. (Mind you, I still have the best lawn in the Mews!) When did I get old enough to be so devoted to a lawn? And more pertinently, when did I become my dad?
- Who are you wearing tonight? Erm…George @ Asda – It’s occurred to me that as a young man I took pride in my appearance. I still do, to be fair, although that’ll be news to some. However, as middle age has encroached there’s been a definite shift in standards. I was never one to wear only designer labels anyway, but the warm glow I can now get from a bargain T-shirt at Sainsbury’s or Asda was also never there before! I haven’t yet lowered my standards enough to start buying supermarket shoes, but I have little doubt that it’ll come. And I’ve got even less doubt that it’ll be a quickly rectified mistake! However, picking up a clothes bargain in a supermarket has definitely become a middle-aged thrill of sorts. And when my wife informs that there’s a 50% off sale at Asda or TU (Sainsbury’s clothing brand, if you’re in your twenties) I can’t deny that I get a strange kind of tunnel vision. I’ll find myself raking through the racks, not aware of how I got there, checking to compare ages with my fellow bargain hunters and swiftly moving away if I see that they’re noticeably older than me. I don’t leave though. No, I simply do a circuit of the shop, maybe browsing young people’s things like artisan milk, cheeses that I can’t pronounce or maybe something in the Gluten Free aisle, if I want to look really trendy, before swooping back to TU to hunt down a bargain. Then I’ll hear myself explaining said purchases to Louise, saying stuff like, “But it was £12 and I got it for £6. Where can you get a shirt for £6 these days? And think of the Nectar points!” To be fair, I’m more likely to buy a new top for running or something than a pair of jeans or a shirt that I’ll actually be seen in, but the lure of the supermarket clothes aisles cannot be denied. When, oh when did this particular middle age addiction descend upon me?
- Missing the technology boat – My final ingredient had to revolve around technology because there’s so much about technology that I just don’t get. In fact, on this issue it’s like I’ve been middle-aged since about 25. It’s pretty much all just passed me by. I used to amaze my parents when, aged 15, I could work the video (Google video, young folk), but those heady days have long gone! So, here we go – tales of technology that confirm the horror of middle age to me, but at the same time leave me wondering when and how it all happened. Firstly, up until mere months ago I was still buying CDs. And DVDs. And I’ll be honest, I’m really struggling to ween myself off them. Apparently music floats on a cloud these days and you don’t even have to pay or it. I don’t understand Bluetooth and the fact that someone can call me in my car, via my car is just bizarre. Someone tried to explain Bluetooth by telling me that the devices are speaking to each other, but this is way too much to cope with. It’s so bizarre in fact that when I had it I was forever pressing the ‘reject call’ button rather than the ‘pick up’ button, not through fear, but through pure incompetence as I couldn’t work out which of the symbols were which. I’ve somehow managed to rid myself of Bluetooth in the car now, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how. I regard PowerPoint as hi-tech. I probably only use 10% of the technology on my mobile phone. Jesus, I don’t even like being on the actual phone. Sometimes the microwave puzzles me – it has 7 (count ’em) buttons. I once volunteered to have a Smartboard at work (one of the first, when Smartboards were cutting edge), but didn’t turn it on for about 3 weeks, preferring to just write on the whiteboard. I still do. I don’t like using the laptop unless it’s plugged in. I can’t use my camera. I can’t use the printer at home. Apple watches (if that’s what they’re called) are obvious witchcraft. Fitbits? Same. I love my hoover because it’s got headlights. I bought it though, because it has a tool to polish the wood floor with – this tool frightens me and is therefore still behind the settee. I have never used a filter on a photo. Cropping photos is quite the challenge enough. I had a Facebook account for a full three years before I actually used it because it genuinely baffled me. I can work Alexa, to a point, but only to play songs, which I still find way too exciting. But the fact that you can sort of have a conversation with a little circular electronic thing is something I find exciting and terrifying, all at the same time. Our soundbars still frighten me when I hear the sound behind me, rather than just coming out of the telly. Our telly, a smart TV, petrifies me and I don’t dare stray too far from Sky Sports. Meanwhile, my wife and kids can navigate their way around anything on it. I’ve never played PlayStation or Xbox. If I had one of those robot vacuum cleaners I’d follow it round, you know like those cats on YouTube? I regularly ask the family to pose for a photo then take a short video of them standing still and smiling for too long, because I somehow switched the camera button to video. I’ve never told them this. (One day these ‘films’ will be discovered and I’ll be outed as some kind of cinematic genius). I don’t know the difference between gigabytes and megabytes. And I think PC World are just making TBs up, whatever they are. And mentioning PC World, I still remember Rumbelows, vividly. I will NEVER, EVER do the Asda shop online because it would mean that I didn’t get to go to Asda. Our washer plays a tune when you switch it on and this makes me smile and sing along. Every time. I still only use 2 settings on the washer though. And all of this has been true, as I said earlier, for many a year. But here’s a true story that, when I wonder if I’m really all that old, gives me an immediate answer of yes. A while ago, I wanted to add a photo that also provided a link to a video when clicked on a Powerpoint. I tried cutting and pasting for a good couple of hours before asking for help. A younger member of staff introduced me to something called Snipping Tool and talked me patiently through how to use it. Thus, readily armed, having written the instructions down on a Post-It, away I went. I snipped away and created a whole scheme of work with these wonderful links, regularly gasping when they worked and getting genuinely excited about telling people, ‘Look what happens when you click on the picture!’ Later, another younger member came into the office and I happened to mention Snipping Tool. The friend who’d showed me how to use it joined in and mentioned that I hadn’t known how to use it. I then said that I thought it was amazing. My mistake here was to glance back at these two people in their twenties as one of them gave the other one the kind of look that said something along the lines of ‘Oh, how cute!’. Not cute as in ‘phwoar, look at Graham’s arse’, but cute as in ‘Aw, the old person is amazed by the simple technology that we’ve been using for years”. The kind of look that you might flash to your partner during your first Skype conversation with granddad, as he struggles to look into the camera and talk at the same time. Although, it’ll be no surprise to learn that I’ve never actually used Skype. The kind of look that tells me I offer less and less to the world and that I really am drowning in middle age! And by the way, Chloe, you’ll have to explain Snipping Tool to me all over again for the new academic year.
* I only mention the commute to make it look like I’m listening in meetings, but if you’ve been in a meeting with me, you’ve probably noticed I’m not really listening. I’ve quite possible already told you this. However, if you didn’t know, if I’m in a meeting with you, it’s odds on that I’m not actually listening. I’m thinking about being old. Or worrying about technology.