Getting old no longer means becoming your dad. Andrew Dickens kicks off our guide to the new agelessness
Christmas is here. Again. There have been so many Christmases. So, so many. Excuse me while I go to empty my pipe in the outhouse before I doze off in my slightly whiffy armchair and dream about suet. Where did I put those slippers? Better pop my bifocals on.
OK, that’s an exaggeration (honest), but I’ve seen a lot of Christmases, and for many years I was made to feel like I should – beyond spending my money on people – be a non-participatory observer. That I should sit, drink and watch, because I’m a grown-up (by which I mean someone with responsibilities such as housing myself, not dropping anyone’s children and doing my own washing). This is because, I was informed, Christmas is “for the kids”.
I won’t argue with that. However, I’ve recently had a revelation: ‘kids’ now includes me. And it includes you. It includes all of us, from twentysomethings to seventysomethings and beyond. A childish revolution has taken place, a bloodless coup of youth, a retaking of immaturity by people with hair under their arms. We’re all big kids now, and I am both witness and evidence. I would call this revelation a Christmas miracle, but it’s not just about Christmas. Plus, it happened in autumn.
In October, I turned 40. In April, I wouldn’t have told you that was soon to happen, such was my fear of its arrival. I’ve never feared an age before. Not 30, not 21, not 6, not 15, not 36. You get the idea. But 40 terrorised me for months, stalking me, knowing that one day, assuming I lived long enough, it would find me – like a binary Liam Neeson. That’s how age works.
I was paralysed. I hesitated to do anything energetic, fun or new for fear of hearing the phrase ‘mid-life crisis’; I hesitated to do anything sedate, cultured or uncool for fear of hearing the phrase ‘middle-aged’. I wondered if my girlfriend, practically a child at 37, could face never again dating a man in his thirties. Can you even have a ‘girlfriend’ at 40? This, too, bothered me. I was a pathetic, paranoid prisoner to an arbitrary milestone-cum-millstone.
My face laughed off the jokes from friends and family, but inside, geriatric tears moved slowly down the cheeks of my soul, complaining about younger tears in teary hoodies. This number – this manmade entity, this series of lines – seemed like a genuine barrier. A temporal Berlin Wall appeared and I was in the grey, crumbling East. I couldn’t accept it. Then, just as it was set to pounce, came that revelation.
I thought, Why do I feel like this? Pharrell Williams is older than me, for f*ck’s sake. Why should I stop doing things I want to do? Because I’m supposed to ‘act my age’? What does that even mean?
I’m childish, I’m immature and I don’t want that to change. It’s fun. I can’t stop my body ageing (though I maintain great faith in stem cells), but I refuse to let my personality get old. And I saw, with my cataract-free eyes, that I was not alone.
Everywhere we can see that men are defying the conventions of age; we’re all Peter Pans, even if we have mortgages and estate cars and can’t fly. To somewhat butcher Dylan Thomas, people are raging against the dying of their twenties, their thirties, their sixties, even. We’ve instead entered an oxymoronic Age Of Agelessness.
These men are successfully holding on to their youth, not with a desperate and creepy Gollum-esque grasp for their precious past, but with a firm grip, lofting it like a trophy engraved ‘F*ck you, outmoded expectations associated with life phases’. It’s not the catchiest of war cries, but you get the message: at all ages, we can, and will, unabashedly act like kids of all ages.
We’ll act like teens; the rock’n’roll spirit – or the jump-around-like-a-tit spirit, at least – undimmed. I’ve not seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, but I’ve drowned in a sea of drunken thirty- and fortysomething Stone Roses fans, and watched a grey-haired man gurn his face off for the entirety of Screamadelica. Did he look ridiculous? Maybe. More so than a teenager doing the exact same thing? Nope. Did he care either way? He most certainly did not. He just felt love, and thirst.
We look younger. Men of any age can wear jeans and trainers; we lather on youth-preserving moisturiser and have graduated haircuts; we shop at Topman, even if the assistants have no recollection of the 20th century. We even manage to keep our trouser waists from heading towards Nipple Town.
And the regression goes beyond these Young Adult activities. We’ve got pre-teen energy levels – you know, the ones that are really annoying from actual pre-teens and make the words ‘family friendly’ among the most feared in the English language. Men have never moved around so much. I ran my first marathon at 39 and followed that up with an ultra-marathon. I cycle more now than at any time since I passed my driving test. My dad did a duathlon aged 70.
There’s some expansion-avoidance involved here; no level of immaturity will change your metabolism; but it’s also because, other than hormonal imbalance, nothing feels more kid-like than running around, going out on your bike or having a low-standard kickabout in the park.
Actual children don’t even get their own films now. From Toy Story to The Lego Movie, they’re made to appeal to parents as much as, or maybe more than, kids, because adults want to have fun, too – and they pay for everyone to go. There have been four Transformers films, this year saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Paddington Bear films. Next year will give us more Star Wars. Were six-year-olds nostalgically screaming out for these? No. Those words mean nothing to them. Were adults? Quietly, yes – and we’ll watch them with or without an appropriate minor.
The Neverland Pound is being spent everywhere, which brings us back to Christmas. It’s a time for kids, but what would kids do if they had all the cash? They’d make it Christmas every day, that’s what – which is exactly what the big kids have done.
Buying for children has always been the best, shamelessly regressive Christmas shopping a man can do; a time to stride into a toy department and demand, without fear of reproach, a test drive of Scalextric or a go on the Nerf range, before buying something you think your juvenile recipient should like because you like it. You could do this because it was Christmas, it’s for kids, but now we shop like that all the time: for them, but also for us. Video games, water pistols, comic books – they all come in adult sizes.
No matter what our age, no matter the time of year, we feel the right to own toys and games, to pull wheelies, to don hoodies, to dance like idiots at gigs by acts that weren’t even born the first time we went to a gig. We’re putting the boot into expectations without fear of slipping a disc. Viva la revolución.
So the next time you laugh at the undignified sight of an ‘older’ gentleman, knee deep into Friday night, off his face and on his groove, or pedalling to work on a BMX dressed in a suit, or wearing a non-ironic Lego T-shirt, think to yourself: would you rather be that man or the one… Why am I even asking the question? I’m with Mr Undignified every time. I’m not growing up – and if you don’t like that, you can stick it up your bumhole, you big poo face.
(Images: Will Holmes/Rex/Getty)