craig-tilly-2016-05-21

The bright side of the wrong side

I feel better about it than I expected. Maybe because turning fifty is just so incredible, so obviously ridiculous that, like Death itself, I can’t take it seriously or think about it too much. This is the first age milestone that I’ve actually feared as it approached, but it passed last Friday with that monotonous sense of continuity that time uses to fool you that nothing’s changed. It’s going to happen, it happens, it’s gone.

I’m now “a man in his fifties” – irrefutably middle-aged, not only more than halfway through my life, but perhaps more than halfway through my adult life. We may be an ageing society, but more than 60% of the UK population is younger than me. I’ve got used to no longer being the youngest person in the room, but I’m not yet used to often being the oldest. In the good old days, if I’d had a proper job, I would have been able to retire in a decade’s time, perhaps less. If I’d become a police officer, I’d be gone already.

These are the things that preoccupied me as I approached fifty. And I sought, everywhere I could, crumbs of comfort. I had a relatively “old” Dad, so I am only the same age now as Dad was when I was four (and he lived until I was 43). If you discount university, and a bit of faffing around afterwards, and accept that I will probably have to work until I’m 70, I’m only just over halfway through my real, proper working life (and less – yes, less – than halfway through my self-employed career). My hair isn’t yet grey (I swear those few pale strands are blonde). I’m not sure I could say the same about my facial hair, which may be why I haven’t joined the Beard Bandwagon (anyway, we’re past “peak beard” now, aren’t we?). Someone told me the other day that they thought I must be approaching forty, not fifty. I still have a decade and a half to find the money to put my three-year-old daughter through college.

But suddenly, I’m there and none of those things seem to matter. As the day itself dawned (not literally, although I did wake up at 5.50am and couldn’t get back to sleep – another side effect of getting older, I’m told), I felt a burden of malevolent expectation lift from my somewhat stiffened shoulders. I didn’t exactly feel euphoric – more serene, and serene will do. It’s the oldest cliché in the book, but there really is bugger all you can do about it. And reaching fifty is obviously better than the alternative.

For a while at the weekend, I almost felt like I was entering a new, even exciting phase in my life. Fifty looks better from the other side. I kept looking around to see what had changed, but found I had the same money worries as yesterday, the same job, the same house, the same family, the same prospects for the future, the same annoying habits, the same body, the same face. I do have some new clothes courtesy of my Mum (who else would buy you a jumper in early June? But mums are, of course, usually right and my birthday turned out to be one of coldest June days I can remember). Nothing has changed, but it’s as if I’m seeing the same things in a different, brighter light.

So, I’m over the line, and now I have to make the best of it. Being the oldest in the room could mean I’m the wisest (mmm, maybe not often), or that I’m the most experienced (a bit more likely). I’m starting to form different expectations of myself, starting to think about doing more of the things I like doing and might be good at, and less of the things I think other people think I should be doing. And I like a lot of things I’m doing. I’m enjoying spending time with my daughter, I’m enjoying writing again (even if deadlines still bring me out in a cold sweat), and I’ve even found out that I quite like making websites. I still don’t like gardening much, but maybe that will come.

Photo: Me and my daughter, Matilda, on Cup Final day, 21 May 2016.

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