“I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled”. Myself and HDEOpener-in-chief Conneally are (mis)quoting this line to one another with increasing frequency these days as the spider of wisdom spins her silken thread through his beard, or (to complete my ludicrous analogy) the piranha of baldness feasts upon my former crowing glory.
Sorry, enough experimental scribbling. The point is, we’re none of us getting any younger and I for one am wondering when, or if, I will every see myself through the eyes of others. When I dance (rare enough the spectacle) I see, across the dance floor of my mind’s eye, a thin, elegant mover, sans belly, sans wonky knee, sans white man’s overbite. To paraphrase Sting, when I dance, angels run and hide their bling.
But with relentless, ruthless certainty, time is ticking. The arrival of children in one’s life seems to only speed the process. You’d think it would be the opposite. The new vaults of memories being filled: you wake at first light to see their sweet faces reflecting the light like soft new plums, you rush to complete the day and fall into dreamless sleep, but no, it’s the other way round. You become more acutely aware of your mortality, and how fast your are burning your allotted years.
Hot girls may still look at you in the street, but (indulge me, eh?) perhaps only thinking “wow, what a good looking guy he must have been” or “hmm, expensive suit, but still somehow casual. Stylish, I bet he writes poetry”.
And of course there’s the feeling that there is just so much to do and it’s impossible to keep track without losing the… where was I?
I won’t give away any state secrets, but if you add together the ages of HDEOpeners numbers one and two you get a pretty good score, not three figures of course, nowhere near it, but the hard point is we are already both past the sell-by label which would have been slapped on us had we been born a century earlier. As it is, thanks to pills, jabs, sewage pipes, clean water, something approaching peace in Europe and basic health knowledge, we can both look forward to double the 1909 score or close to it.
Or not, of course. We still have to contend with weird and scary new viruses, fanatics who know God’s mind better than he/she, mutated cells, microbes and something as mundane as the number 7 bus.
Five short autumns ago a wise Irishman (ah, but is there any other sort) asked me was I married, did I have kids? I gave the savvy smile I’d been perfecting all through my thirties and answered in the negative. “Well don’t leave it too late”, he practically snapped at me - despite this being a) a formal reception (partially in his honour, I concede) and b) the first time we’d ever met.
Five autumns on and I have me jewel and darlin’ wife and two princesses and while it’s a bigger struggle that I ever thought it could be I still start and end each day (exhausted, middle-aged) but with the almost euphoric rush that I am still, against all the odds, here. Alive. Thriving. Putting on the pounds of weight and wisdom. Livin’, lovin’, keepin’ on.
Even though I was left with two roaring and hungry daughters this sparrow-fart, when herself had a doc’s appointment, things still conspired to be beautiful. Somehow, me and the lassies ended up standing on the dressing table, toothbrushes in hand, singing Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” to our reflections. (Yes, we had indeed been watching Shrek with our porridge, well spotted).
And yes I rue and miss and ache for the days of sitting at the zinc for hours lifting tubes of white-collared blackness, but I have that t-shirt and very occasionally I can still wear it. I don’t miss it that much, truth be told, and wouldn’t trade it for the robes I wear now.
We made it. Johnny, David, Dave, Des, Kayleigh, Colm, and more didn’t. We live for them. Our friends from teenage years who lived fast, or at least too quick.
They never made it to Georgia, beautiful Georgia, that scrunch of mountainous mayhem by the Black Sea, which this blog knows well. One of the most poignant of the many toasts made by Georgians, is the toast for the dead. It may seem inauspicious, even rude, to bring up this taboo at a social occasion. But when a skilled Tamada (toastmaster) does it, it's poetry. You can see, feel, almost hear the beloved ones enter the room and stand by your shoulder. A silence, a tear, and the feast continues, each one appreciating the other more.
Getting older really is a privilege. I’m just, just beginning to glimpse it. Bring it on.