Monday, 19 November 2012

A 60-year old chats to his 20-year old self

So, that’s what the next forty years look like. What do you think?

You mean you’re not rich or famous?

Is that what you want?

Not really. I just sort of assumed I’d be both.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. Obscure and comfortable is your fate.

And you got married? And had a son? I thought we’d agreed we weren’t going to tie ourselves down? What were you thinking?

I know you think you’re an interesting, moody, unconventional loner and free spirit who doesn’t like children and would rather die than live in a conventional house and spend most of your life with one woman. But during the next forty years you’ll spend no more than a couple of months truly on your own – and they’ll be the two most miserable months of your life. You will always dislike crowds and parties and small-talk socialising – but you’ll discover you are rubbish at being on your own.

As for your general dislike of children, that’ll last until the moment your infant son lets out his first wail – and if you sigh and roll your eyes once more, this conversation is at an end, sonny.

Okay, but I’m hoping not to end up talking entirely in clichés. Go on.

You’ll come to home ownership relatively late in life, and, while you’ll occasionally wax nostalgic about the freedom from responsibility represented by rented accommodation - and whine about the cost of house maintenance - you’ll feel pretty damn relieved when you finally pay off the mortgage and realise that this tiny little part of the planet is YOURS. Roots and all that.

As for being tied down, well, in your case it’ll turn out to be the most delightful, liberating, enriching aspect of your whole damned life. And I’m aware how uxorious I’m sounding.

What does uxorious mean?

You’re at the best university in the world, you lazy, ungrateful wretch – look it up!

Grumpy old bastard, aren’t you!

Actually, I’m a lot more cheerful than you are – it’s just I wish you were putting in a bit more effort at university: you’ve left me with a lot of catching up to do. As for gratitude, well, that’s something you’ll develop – you’ll end up being grateful for all sorts of things.

Oh God, religion. Seriously?

Come on, you’re no atheist – and you know it.

But Anglicanism? Boring! Besides, all the proofs of God’s existence I’ve studied are quite ludicrous.

You’re not ready for it yet, and won’t be for a long time. You’re never going to be a Holy Roller, there won’t be any Damascene conversion, and those proofs will always strike you as silly - but one day the world won’t make sense without it. I can’t be any more specific than that – but there’s a good reason you feel at peace whenever you enter a church: let’s leave it there.

Hmm. Okay, let me be positive. Writing books and working for the BBC. Far out!

Yes, I thought you’d be pleased. The other good news is that, apart from your first, brief job, you’ll never do anything boring for a living.

Excellent! And you read a lot, and watch movies and you’re as crazy about music as I am – you’ve even learned to play the guitar. But what happened to the art? I spend every spare moment drawing.

Something had to give. I tried to take it up again a few years ago, but I’d lost it.

Okay. But Cornwall? I don’t even know where that is. And all this nature stuff. Cliff-top walks and wildflowers. And loving fireworks. And not wanting to live in the centre of town. What happened to America? I’m pretty sure I’m meant to end up there. Glad to see I’ll be going to Venice a lot and seeing plenty of other places – but shouldn’t you have travelled more? And did you have to get ill in your thirties and have to give up drinking? Gee, thanks! And couldn’t you have made more effort to lose weight? Okay, I’m really pleased you haven’t turned into some boring old lefty, but hasn’t politics turned into a bit of an obsession? I’m just not that interested. As I never read a newspaper and don’t really care what’s happening in the world, how come you ended up in TV News for ten years? And…

Enough! Just live it!

Okay, one more question. Most of your friends are the friends I have now. How come?

That isn't a problem - it's a blessing.

Oh please, I might just throw up!

Sorry – but it’s true. You just don’t realise what a superb start you’ve had. You will eventually. The bad news is that you won’t enjoy the next ten years that much – you’ll have quite a bit of success and you’ll have lots of experiences, but they’ll leave you feeling confused and hollow and unfulfilled. The good news is that you’ll then enjoy each succeeding decade more than the last – and I promise you that you’ll be infinitely happier in 2012 than you will be in 1982. There’ll be plenty of bumps along the way, but nothing you can’t handle.

So, a miserable decade to look forward to. Wonderful.

It won’t feel that bad when you’re going through it. Right now, you think you’re pretty much a fully-fledged adult – but you’ve got an awful lot of growing up to do. I know how dull and unappetising this sounds, but you’re just going to have to learn the hard way that it’s better to embrace responsibilities than try to run away from them.

Crikey, you really are old, aren’t you! Doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh-riot.

Oh, there’ll be plenty of laughs – don’t worry about that. Less rioting after you give up booze. Anyway, what kind of life were you looking forward to?

Not sure, really. Write books, work in TV and have lots of friends.

That’s all guaranteed – and a lot of other good stuff besides.

Okay – I’ll settle for that. One last thing.


Worried about turning 60 tomorrow?

Nah. Doddle. Sixty isn’t as old these days as it was in 1972. Besides, Dad died at 60, so I’ve never been able to imagine what it’s like being any older than that. It’ll be interesting to find out.

Good luck, old man.

You too. If I’m still around in ten years, let’s do this again. Meanwhile, do us both a favour and get a bloody haircut!

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