Sunday, December 02, 2012


I am learning to drive. I've put this off for twenty-odd years: I learned while a teenager, as normal folks do, but the sheer selfish aggression (apparently) required for driving put me off. I didn't have it in me. Of course I was taught by a Met Police driver, qualified for pursuit and intercept up to 180 mph or something stupid, so it was inevitable I would be taught driving techniques that were highly offensive.

I am approaching thirty-nine, an age more loaded and significant than forty itself what with being a precursor and all. It's not helped by taking place on the 21st of December, which is supposedly the end of the world. That puts a lot of pressure on one. I not only have to fix my life before I hit forty, but before I hit Arma-fucking-geddon.

I think the midlife crisis - or at least the male version of it - is mischaracterised. Thought to be a desperate attempt to recapture youth, I think it's actually an equally desperate attempt to correct it. The older you get, the older you realise you'll be when you die: all of the decisions and shortfalls of youth that you thought irreversible and unfixable are, it turns out, not so much. You have time, at my age, and resources: we cannot travel back in time to relive those moments but we can fix a few things here and there, do over those things we thought fixed and immutable.

Life, essentially, is not too short. That said, it's harder when you do it later. I like to think there's a nobility to doing things the hard way, without compromise... but I'm probably wrong about that.

Or maybe not. Lately I have decided to start shaving with an old-fashioned safety razor: it's much, much harder than using modern disposables, but once mastered the results are at least as good. A friend of mine is a teacher of small children, who I have been privileged to assist in small ways - cutting out cardboard bones to feed to a small stuffed puppy, whose role in enforcing class discipline is at once abstract and ingenious - and it occurs to me that, for such new people, every way is the hard way. Perhaps that is what we seek as we grow older and deliberately take those difficult roads: the sensation of childhood, of knowing how uphill a struggle our life must be, because we don't know enough to comprehend the easy ways out.

Maybe we need things to be hard once in a while. Not merely challenging, an inconvenience, but for failure to be a real and significant possibility.

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