Apparently – brace yourselves – we can’t stop ageing. Time to pack up my crucible and robes and cancel my subscription to Practical Alchemy for Beginners. A newly published international study has concluded, in essence, that biological factors will continue to constrain our attempts to prolong life. “The trajectory towards death in old age has not changed,” said José Manuel Aburto, part of the team that analysed mortality data, rather crushingly, like that kid who told you Santa wasn’t real.
I could have told you that these flesh envelopes of offal have a sell-by date, simply from watching my husband (51) hobble around last weekend in a doleful cloud of Voltarol pain relief gel, having swapped his desk chair for an inflatable exercise ball for the afternoon in an attempt to strengthen his “core”. For me (46), a new orthopaedic chair was supposed to sort out my seized-up shoulder but inexplicably gives me aching buttocks in exchange: there is no combination of sitting, standing or lying that doesn’t hurt after half an hour now, and no shred of grace or dignity in the transitions between these states. We have the built-in obsolescence of crappy white goods, not the perennial majesty of mountains.
But oh, the compensations. No one under 90 should probably be allowed to talk about ageing and I have read enough “30 things I learned by my 30th birthday” lists to know that no observed experience is universal enough, or particular enough, not to annoy someone. But I do love getting older and here are a few – doubtless infuriating – reasons why.
Fighting. My partner and I used to fight all the time: I remember sleeping in his bath to make some obscure, furious point, missing parties because something explosively stupid happened on the drive there and conducting silent telephone sulks in phone boxes as a queue lengthened behind me. Our 17-year-old doesn’t have a middle name because of a dramatic blow-up en route to the register office. We still fight, obviously, but now we have all the shortcuts and cheat codes. I have probably been vile; he’s probably escalated dramatically and we both just want it to end so we can enjoy watching the French judge from Bake Off: The Professionals saying “sponge” together.
Being a woman. The risk of terrible stuff happening is still out there, of course. But the chances of having a vaguely uncomfortable time have, in my experience, vastly diminished: I’m spared the street harassment and grisly attempts at flirting. My ageing face in repose seems to promise not erotic possibility, but a boner-killing monologue on compost. How could I not love my marionette lines, sagging chin and general air of deep weariness, when they offer this glorious freedom?
Bluffing. I don’t do this sweaty, dishonest dance any more, the scrabbling, uneasy pretending to understand something when I don’t. I haven’t acquired wisdom, but I have accepted my own stupidity: on many topics (cryptocurrency, the boiler, South Sudan) I am as dumb as a rock and happy to admit it. That’s the next best thing, because if you say you don’t understand, you get to learn.
Social anxiety. When I did group therapy for anxiety at 30, perhaps one of the most reassuring revelations was that most of us rehearsed and agonised over the most innocuous conversations. In my mid-40s I am not much more socially accomplished, but I do have a rich memorised catalogue of my past howlers and humiliations to draw on. None of those killed me, so calling Specsavers unscripted to change an appointment probably won’t either.
Delight. The arrival of the Lakeland catalogue with its promise of novel storage solutions; a fig roll; managing to grow between one and three edible tomatoes … the absurd delight I take in trivial stuff is the best bit of my current age. I suppose it’s because my twingeing buttocks are constantly reminding me how fleeting everything all is. If I’m increasingly thrilled by tiny things, old age is going to be a Technicolor wonderland of perpetual delight as long as the Voltarol keeps flowing, right? If not, elders, don’t disillusion me: this is one area of ignorance I’m quite happy to preserve.