Behind the tombola

A milestone birthday. Today marks 40 years since I was forcefully extracted from inside a screaming 16-year-old girl, for once not behind the tombola at the local fete while ‘close-knit’ villagers bay for vengeance.

Yes, today is the day I fill out the second half of my dirty old man application form. If anyone tries telling you 40 isn’t old, ask them to imagine how they look through the eyes of someone half that age. Youth is the future, as a confused Jeremy Corbyn will soon find out when they euthanise him in favour of some infant in a suit.

I don’t honestly care about 40 because I’ve been old for a decade already. Turning 30 was the point at which I established that ambition was futile, and my hopes and dreams live in the same realm of realism as ducks driving tractors. I’ve no fear of a midlife crisis because 10 years ago I lost my mind so entirely I found myself watching a magpie chase a squirrel round a tree in Uxbridge with no idea how I’d got there. Where’s Uxbridge? Precisely.

Weighing medical advances against prodigious Guinness intake I’m probably a few years over halfway through all this, catastrophe notwithstanding. I guess it’s worth reviewing progress so far to see if the downhill trundle’s worth the bother.

Thanks to goals set at the very lowest level possible, on the face of it this existence seems tolerable. I have friends who occasionally return my calls, a woman who continually saves me from myself and family who live a minimum of 20 miles away as the crow flies. My views are of the left and age isn’t changing that. I am ethically commendable and morally risible.

But is any of it worth it? What matters to me now? Am I who I once was? Christ, for all our sakes let’s hope not.

I don’t understand the world any more, but I’m past the point of caring. Voters flock to strongmen like the 1930s never happened. Britain’s electorate every few months chooses whichever option seems most likely to screw over the greatest number of people, via xenophobia, complete inaction or, next time, Boris Johnson. If Trump aims for North Korea and hits Beijing by mistake, well, humanity’s had a good run. If you can’t laugh at all this at 40, post-hope but pre-dementia, you must have had kids.

Last week I went into a shop at just gone 11pm in search of a bottle of water. Can’t do it mate, tills are closed. It’s just water though, I can just leave the 70p here, take the water and you can ring it through in the morning oh my God did you not hear me the tills are closed. Fear and incomprehension at a refusal to follow every little rule, this is where we’ve let ourselves be led. But the older I get the more I rebel and chuckle at ‘Keep out’ signs. What you think is tinnitus is actually a specific frequency only old people can hear, of the ping fuel makes as it hits the bottom of the metal tanks at the crematorium, so what does any of it matter?

The other day I read they’re once again ‘reinventing the BBC for a new generation’. In three years, it says here, £31.4m will be spent online, on content that will include video, live online programme extensions, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps. If any words sum up a world speeding off into the distance while I hobble behind, waving my stick in the air vainly, those are they. There’s always a new generation. I don’t remember which one was mine.

You can tell I’m already properly old because social media makes no fucking sense to me. I love that you all think Facebook is benign, and that they don’t make money every time someone posts a Jihadi screed or a grainy photo of a baby and, wait, is that a cock? Office jobs mean I’m surrounded by dickheads forever shovelling their worthless views into me, so the need for Twitter remains a mystery. Someone reading this once put a picture of their Weetabix on Instagram and they simply can not explain why they did that.

But that’s just it – I don’t really understand any of you. Come on, let’s work this out together, you and I. What the fuck are you on about, really? There, you understand my problem when you see it from my angle.

My body fucking hurts at 40. I sit on a wallet and my back’s ruined. My calf muscles have the durability of a bag of Chipsticks. I have the digestive system of a man yet to make the switch to ‘shawarma’. My brain’s hardly in tip-top shape, and the next person to suggest ‘talking’ as a solution will get my invective right up the amygdala. On the plus side my liver will probably be worth a few quid one day and you won’t even need the formaldehyde.

I don’t have any kind of career, just a succession of tedious jobs that pay too much for me to stop. Some people get paid to search rivers for bodies, others to give terminally ill children happy experiences before they die. I ‘write micro-copy’. Oh well. Shame I can never seem to make any of this shite a bit more micro, eh?

Clearly my 40-year-old self has become one grumpy motherfucker. No doubt, to some extent it’s a carefully crafted persona masking untold insecurities. On the other hand every single thing that ever happens in the world seems geared towards making its inhabitants more and more furious, not least the progress of time itself, which this morning has filled my life with “Inside every 40 year old lingers an 18 year old thinking…BLIMEY! WHAT HAPPENED?” And a ferret in a flat cap, naturally.

Still, I’m sure I can be a right pain in the hoop but at least I aim for ‘not boring’. Recently I’ve realised this might now be my sole ambition for the hours or decades left to me – to remain someone who keeps people on their toes. Odds are you will not have the conversation you expect with me. Yes I might say something inappropriate, but there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll make you shoot lager out your nose and the other 50 is where you file ISAs, decking, parents’ evenings, objectives, travelcards, stakeholders, Dyson, IBS and the gym. The price of keeping you away from that terrifying mundanity is the occasional Yewtree gag and that moment when you’re not sure if laughing would have you straight up in front of a magistrate.

So this is me at 40, raise a fucking glass. I don’t collect stamps any more, or play table tennis, or climb trees, or give a shit who wears the fireman hat. I watch horror films, comedians and bands, collect countries like stamps, go to the football and the cricket, read incessantly and learn whenever I can, walk and walk the streets of London, play games, somehow still play squash, keep pubs in business and write this shit. I work when I have to and I’m happy when I don’t. I’m often wrong but I know when to admit it. I am not who I was and I am who I made myself.

And if you don’t like it…heh, yeah, you’ve got it.

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