On your 40th Birthday


Dear friend,

Congratulations on reaching your 40th year. As somebody who passed that mark a short while ago – well, it feels a short while ago – I thought I ought to offer some advice on how to deal with this landmark event, as I can tell it is sitting uneasily on your shoulders.

Let us start with the number. For many this number looms on the horizon like some monstrous precursor to infirmity. Yet the difference between being a 39 year-old and a 40 years-old is not one year but one day. For the vast majority of your life you have gone from day to day without noticing any changes. Today should be no different. It is just a label, a category; something we affixed to ourselves when young and forgot to remove when it became of no consequence. You are one day older, that is all.

Now let us move on to how you will be treated by others. You may receive the odd wry smile or sympathetic look from those close to you, but these people will only be reacting to you and your demeanour. Show them that you are happy and they will be happy for you in return.

For some however, today will be an opportunity to tease you relentlessly, especially those who have yet to reach this glorious point in their lives. Take this as a sign of their immaturity and rise above it as only the wise can. Being 40 is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to embrace. It may have been the start of the slippery slope half a century ago, but life is much easier now. Your body is unlikely to have undergone the same hardships as your forebears meaning that this is the prime of your life. You still have the energy and ability to do whatever you please combined with the knowledge and experience to choose wisely. If someone younger than you laughs at the fact you are 40, laugh back; both because you know how wrong they are and because karma has a tendency to be a right bitch on these matters.

It’s also easy to get to this point in life with regrets, to look where you are and wonder what could have been if you had made different choices. Don’t. You are not Sam Beckitt and this is not Quantum Leap. You cannot change what has happened in your life so you should accept it. Some people act in denial, trying to cling to their past by staying ‘down with the kids’. Others look to abruptly change their lives to behave as the person they wish they could be. This is another path to mockery, because while there is nothing wrong with new things, you are not being true to who you really are. You are 40 years old, the best of ages. You have no need for pretence, just be you, and if being you means a pony tail, leather trousers and a Harley Davidson, then go for it.

My final piece of advice is enjoy it. You are only 40 once and time moves ever onwards. Be proud of being 40 and make the most of your day, because no matter how you feel now you will look back on this day in ten years time and think how wonderful it was to be forty. And ten years after that you will feel the same about fifty, and ten years after that you will feel the same about sixty…

Ten more signs that you are approaching middle-age

Fancy a holiday?

Fancy a holiday?

Something strange happened to me last week. My blog exploded. I got more visits in one day than I normally get in a month (well three weeks to be exact.) After a bit of hunting I found out that my blogpost Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age was posted on The Afterword website by a nice person called Skirky. Thank you, Skirky and thank you to all who visited!

While I’m naturally delighted by all the new visitors, the best part was to read so many other suggestions for signs that you are approaching middle-age. So rather than keep these to myself, I thought I’d share them with you. A number of the suggestions have come directly from the comments on The Afterword, others were sent to me via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve even thought of a few more myself. Many thanks to everybody for the suggestions. I’ve named the individuals concerned where appropriate. If you think of any more, please feel free to add them in the comments below. Enjoy!*

1 The oofHelena Handcart The oof is something familiar to all middle-aged people. It is the sound you make when you sit down on a sofa, or the sound you make when you get up from the sofa. Bending down to pick something up, or putting your shoes on elicits an oof; so does picking up heavy objects. It is a little known fact that the single biggest reason for people leaving the SAS is the oof. Not so good when you are creeping up on the enemy. If you make a funny sound when you sit down, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age.

2 Falling asleep on the sofaOn the Fence I’m not talking about the 5 a.m crash after a hedonistic night out. The danger times for the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa tend to be, but aren’t exclusive to, 2:00pm after a large Sunday lunch, or mid-week around 8:00pm. The key point about the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa is that it catches you by surprise. If you find yourself opening your eyes and realising that the film you had started watching has finished, or the people you had been talking to have all disappeared, and you know that nobody could have spiked your drink with Rohypnol, then the chances are it’s a sign that you’re approaching middle-age.

3 When your broad mind and your narrow waist change placesTwang This really doesn’t need any further explanation. Lovely phrase.

4. Parker PensPencilsqueezer “If when those seductive adverts for life assurance flicker across ones consciousness and one finds oneself thinking “Ooo that nice Mr Parkinson wants to send me a free Parker pen, that would come in very handy for filling in the coffee break crosswords in Puzzle Monthly”. You are middle aged and can feel the chill hand of the Grim Reaper upon ones shoulder. It’s all Perry Como and slacks for you matey from now on.” – Thank you Pencilsqueezer, I couldn’t have put it any better

A fine figure of a sportsman

A fine figure of a sportsman

5. Golf Golf is the epitome of a middle-aged sport. For a start, you don’t require any athletic prowess. I saw a photograph of the winner of the open the other day and that man is not an athlete. In fact, looks more like somebody who’s been asked to take up a sport to get his cholesterol levels down. Then there is the fact it is based around going for a walk, a most middle-age pastime. Finally, and most damningly, there are the clothes. Slacks, a polo shirt and comfortable shoes. I rest my case.

6. You find yourself listening to Radio 2Emma For those of you not living in the UK, Radio 2 is the music station where youth presenters go when they get too old. It’s like the elephant graveyard of radio stations. Now I’ve been told many times by friends that I should give Radio 2 a go because “it’s much better than you think.” This isn’t true. Every time I’ve listened to Radio 2 the DJ has either been playing something by Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Keane. If you find yourself tuned into Radio 2 on a regular basis, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age. As for me, I’ll stick to 6Music thank you very much (waits for the comments that 6Music is just another station for middle-aged music fans.)

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let's things go a little

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let’s things go a little

7. You take up a sport to keep fit Many of you used to play sport for fun as kids. As you got older, some of you may have continued to play, but many stop, filling your time with other interests like going to the pub, or sitting in front of the TV. Then, as you approach middle-age, you realise that if you want to live a long life it’s not a good thing to be out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. So you decide to take up a sport to keep fit. Notice the difference there? Not to have fun, but to keep fit. So now our parks have become clogged with fat, balding men, red faced and sweating as they try to complete a circuit. Our streets are filled with lycra wearing cyclists with arses so large they look like they are sitting on a stick. Finally, kids are forced to use just half the pool to go bombing or petting, or any of the other things on the poster, because some overweight 40 somethings in speedos need to complete their lengths. Don’t try to kid yourself that the urge to exercise isn’t age related, not even if you combine all three and enter triathlons. It is a sign you are approaching middle-age.

8. The allure of the caravan As you plan your summer holiday, you think back to the fun camping holidays you had as a kid. You want to do that again, possibly with your own children, to take them to the places you went. Then the reality bites. Camping is uncomfortable. Camping can be cold, or hot, or very, very wet. It may sound fun cooking on a little gas stove and sleeping on an air-bed, but after two weeks of this you’re likely to be in hospital or in a mental institute. That’s when your mind wanders to the caravan***. What could be better? You have all the fun of the outdoors, but with the comfort of indoors. It’s so practical, and a cheap way to holiday. What could be better? If your thoughts are heading this way, it’s a sure sign you are approaching middle-age.

9. You sneer at lists like this in the belief that they don’t apply to you because you are still too cool for school, but they do, maybe not every point, but somewhere deep inside it twists like a knife that you know you are approaching middle -aged conformity and there is little you can do about it

10. You overreact to criticism This may have something to do with point 9.

*Disclaimer: This list is not a comprehensive list of signs that you are approaching middle-age. If you are looking for a more comprehensive, evidence based** list of factors, I suggest you try the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association. Issue 5 has just been released. It’s a blast.

** This in itself is highly contentious. For more information read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Fantastic book.

*** This includes trailer tents.

Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

There is no official start date to middle-age, so how do you know when it hits you. I’m in my early forties but I don’t think of myself as middle-aged, yet recently I’ve realised, how should I put it, that I’m displaying characteristics one could, possibly, associate with middle-age. It got me thinking. Maybe we should produce a checklist to help those of us to realise we aren’t young any more. Here is my first attempt at this list. If you have any others, please feel free to comment below.

1. You correct people’s grammar

You are walking down the street when you hear somebody say “I didn’t do nothing.” If the first thought that came into your head wasn’t “I wonder what they’ve done,” or “What’s going on here,” but “I didn’t do anything. If you didn’t do nothing you did, in fact, do something. It’s a double negative,” you are on the road to middle-age.

2. You don’t know who is in the charts

When I was younger I used to follow the charts avidly. Even though I hated most pop music, I knew who all the bands were and what the latest songs in their latest releases. I remember being thrilled seeing Nirvana on Top of the Pops as it was a sign that I wasn’t the only one who liked this type of music. Moving on to today, I was at a school fayre the other day (a middle-aged activity if ever there was one) which had a DJ to entertain the kids. At one point my wife came up to me and said “Did you know this is One Direction?” I hadn’t a clue. I’ve heard of One Direction and know they are big in the US, but I couldn’t have told you what they sounded like, which is a sure sign that I’m approaching middle-age.

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

3. You start to shop at clothing stores your parents shopped at

It starts off innocently enough. You need some new socks and you just want some that will last. Instead of going to one of the high street fashion stores, you find yourself in a department store, or even worse, Marks and Spencers. As you walk through the clothes section a shirt catches your eye. It’s just the type you like, in the colour you like and similar to one you already own. You then see another shirt, then another. Suddenly you realise that unlike the shop you used to shop in, you don’t need to filter out three-quarters of the clothes because you’d look like mutton dressed as lamb. No, in this shop the clothes don’t make you stand out, they make you blend in, and this feels good.

4. You’ve had the same haircut for at least ten years now

Short at the back and the sides, a little longer on top. I’ve said these twelve words in every hairdresser’s I’ve visited since I was in my mid-twenties. Now there may be a little less hair at the top to keep long, and the colour may have changed slightly, but my haircut is the same one I’ve been happy with for over ten years. The only time I don’t say those words are when the hairdresser says “Your usual?” That’s if they need to ask anymore.

5. You enjoy gardening

I’m not talking about the young tyro’s who have been brought up with dirt between their fingernails. If you’ve always loved gardening this isn’t for you. If, however, you’ve suddenly discovered the pleasure of mowing a lawn, maybe even with stripes, or you find yourself pulling the odd weed from your decorative border when in the past you used to strim down the waist high grass only when you wanted a barbecue, then it’s another sign you are approaching middle-age. If you have rented an allotment however, there is no doubt.

6. You start to desire a simpler life

When you were younger, every evening used to be full, whether it was playing a sport, going out drinking with friends, clubbing, weekends away; there was never a dull moment. Nowadays you could at home watching a re-run of Magnum when a text comes through asking if you fancy going to the pub. If you have to think twice because getting your arse off the sofa and putting some shoes on is too much bother, you’re approaching middle-age.

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

7. You go for a walk for the sheer pleasure of it

Walking used to be a means to an end. The only time you used to walk is if you wanted to get somewhere. That was it. Now, however, you could find yourself looking outside after a good lunch and realising that it’s such a nice day that it would be great to go for a walk. Not to anywhere, but because it seems a nice thing to do. You may even have a regular walk you go on whenever the desire hits you. This is not a young person’s thoughts. You are approaching middle-age.

8. Clubbing is something that happens to the young or arctic seals

Have you had the pleasure of going to a club recently and ended up wondering why you used to think it was fun to stand in a converted warehouse space where young women walked around in semi-naked groups to protect themselves from the meerkat-like packs of young men, desperation in their eyes, hunting for mates in a room where the music is so loud you have to shout in the ear of the person next to you to be heard, and you pay three to four times as much for a drink than the pub next door. Then you realise that most of the clubbers are avoiding you in case you report what they were doing to their parents. If this has been your experience then it’s time to admit that clubbing is a young person’s game, or for Canadians*.

9. Hangovers last three days

There was a reason I was sober in the nightclub. When I was younger I used to drink all weekend, have about four hours sleep, then turn up for work the following week fully fit and able to function. About four months ago I decided to stop drinking alcohol because even one beer would give me a hangover, and a few would leave me suffering for days. If this has recently happened to you, you’re approaching middle-age.

10. You look in the mirror and see one of your parents staring back at you

For the past few years you have only looked in the mirror to check an aspect of your appearance; is your hair OK, or have you got spinach between your teeth? Then, one day, you have a proper look at your face for the first time and to your horror you see one of your parents staring back at you. Unless you are the natural son or daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this is going to be a bit of a shock.

* Before you shout, yes, I know seal culling takes place in Norway, Greenland, Russia and other arctic states, it’s just most of us associate it with Canada. Sorry. It’s nothing personal. If you want somebody to blame, blame PeTA