What would you do if you met yourself at age 24? Marvel at his waist size, perhaps, or astound him by going to the cashpoint and withdrawing £20 while hooked to a heart monitor to show how that act isn’t stressful to you anymore. Perhaps the two of you could bond over a game of pool, or you could sit and explain when every girlfriend over the next few years is going to wrong him, and how. Beat him at FIFA. Tell him to buy bitcoin.
I mean I’d personally put 24-year-old me in a headlock and walk him bodily to the nearest toilet and flush his head down it, flush flush flush, then kick his ass, then kick his ass again, then flush his head again, then one more ass-kick. Then I’d take him to the barbers and sort his haircut out, but that’s tertiary. The main thing is the ass-kicking and head-flushing. To make a point.
Twenty-four is a good age, arguably the best age you can ever be, and sadly you are too 24 years old about it at the time to properly enjoy it. I suppose, there, deep in the nature of being 24, is the truth of it: if you appreciate how good you have it at the time, you can’t properly enjoy having it that good.
If you live the age of 24 with the warped and bitter perspective of a 30-year-old man, it wouldn’t actually be that fun. It’s like how you always fantasise about going back to school, now, with your man-brain, and everyone being astounded at how smart you are and how effortlessly you get A grades.
You’d be top set maths, now, wouldn’t you? And you’d get into Cambridge with the A-level results you were meant to get but didn’t. It sounds good, right? No. Your adult mind would not be able to cope with playground politics, with relying on your mum to give you lifts. You’d be preternaturally smart, yes, but life would drive you to the brink of insanity. We get, more or less, the mind our body deserves.
Twenty-four is great because it’s about the last age you had no pressure on you. Twenty-four, for me, was fantastic: I lived in a dirt-cheap flat with two incredibly fun dudes who were into party drugs and Grindr, I never had any plans made more than about a day in advance, I had a ridiculously mundane job where essentially my role was ‘answer emails’ and nobody ever, ever minded if I was late.
“He is 24,” people must have thought of me, when I rolled in half an hour over what my timesheet said I did, again. “He exudes 24-ness. You cannot hate that. You can only excuse it.”
What a year, what a year. And I probably could have chased that youth dragon for longer, if I wanted to – into 26, 27, even – but then, without me noticing, I started doing incrementally adult things.
I hit 25 and opened an ISA (I did not understand fully what an ISA was then and I don’t now, but it’s the point: it’s what an ISA symbolises). I stopped asking for the cheapest lager at the bar.
The same year, I, like a doomed idiot, moved in with a girlfriend. Suddenly the parameters of my life had changed.
I couldn’t just eat a Snickers for dinner anymore, I had to consume and pretend to enjoy lentils. I couldn’t play Red Dead Redemption deep into the early hours, because we had a box set to work through. You don’t know the moment you have ruined your youth until you’ve done it.
They say pressure makes diamonds, and I am not going to deny that: I am, undoubtedly, a wonderful, sparkling diamond. But the pressures of adulthood have only increased since the heady 24 days, and there’s no reversing out of that: job pressures, social pressures, money and relationship pressures.
Recently I had to start a Google Calendar on my phone to keep track of all my social engagements, and I wonder how 24-year-old Joel would recoil in horror at this: just him, and the pub’s cheapest pint, nowhere to be, no expectation or pressure, the worst haircut in living British history.
I envy him, deeply, but in another way I really, really don’t.
And I want to kick his entire ass for not appreciating how good he had it at the time.
(Main image: Warren Wong, other images: Big Machine/iStock)