Things not to do on your Birthday


Reflections on my 53rd birthday

1. Don’t calculate how far through your life you are.

Too late. I am taking an online “life-expectancy calculator” and ploughing through a plethora of questions. I am wondering why my marital status, level of education or frequency of flossing will affect the length of my remaining life. Or why excessive worrying will shorten my life. I would contest that worrying about having a car accident or my house burning down will only prolong my life. It is a well-known fact that pessimists live longer. Worry can make you do reckless things like fitting excessive smoke detectors (we have four) or driving with excess care and attention (work in progress).

So the “life-expectancy calculator” has just notified me that I will live to 81. It also has a few tips on how I can secure this or even add a few extra years. If drink less red wine, take the stairs and persuade a few relatives to live longer, I may live to be 84. My dad made it to 78, my mum to 45 so anything over 80 would be a decent innings.

Either way I am approximately two-thirds of the way through my life. There, I calculated it.

This last trimester will be certainly be different. The first was the whole excruciating effort of growing full-size, becoming independent, learning stuff, finding a wife, acquiring money and spending it on basic possessions. And all of this whilst trying to remain fashionable. The second trimester – in pregnancy when you feel your best – involved producing children (which is always fun), striving for job fulfilment and acquiring unnecessary possessions, photos and pastimes.

So now I am in the final stage, which apparently (research suggests) is our happiest. We allegedly have more time, more money and our testosterone (chaps) has settled down to a level where we are less driven, less stressed and less competitive. And in theory, we stop trying to be younger than we are and accept that it’s best to stick to M&S and steer clear of Reiss.

2. Don’t dwell on aging and the end of aging

I still have all of my own teeth (appropriately crooked, tarnished and chipped), all my own hair (appropriately sophisticated with flecks of silver-grey) and all my own wrinkles, aches, inappropriate squishy bits and incurable habits.

I am fairly optimistic about my health and appearance. So long as I continue to worry about doing anything stupid (like cycling on dark, rainy country roads). In fact I’m pretty convinced I will die by hitting something hard in a dramatic accident. If I am not ploughed to death on my bike by a lorry, I will smash my car at high speed into a stationary object, or plunge to my death off a very tall building. Either way, I hope I don’t have a lingering death. I hope I won’t even have time to “get my affairs in order ”or clear my inbox. It might be handy to have time to update my facebook status.

We all inevitable worry about mortality and infirmity. Something will get you in the end. If I don’t go out with a literal bang, I hope to emulate my dad who caught a little bit of cancer but died quite quickly, in otherwise good health and in good form, with his wife and children around him.

3. Don’t obsess with your number

It is a truism to say that our age is only a number. And there is a myth that being young is superior to being old, whereas the opposite is of course the case. We older people really do feel fundamentally the same as we did when we were young people. I don’t know about you, but I still have most of the anxieties, hang-ups, wounds and insecurities of my youth. My political, social and spiritual beliefs remain unmoved. My attitudes and values remain fairly consistent, along with my flaws and frustrations.

I recently met a group of people I had not seen for 30 years – their voices, laughs, mannerisms and behaviours were uncannily unaltered. They just looked a little more worn down. Hopefully we become more mellow, accepting and forgiving of others and of ourselves. In theory I know more than when I was younger, although I’m not sure what that is exactly.

I will miss being 52. I liked the idea of my life being represented by the 52 weeks of the year. So now I am onto one of those infrequent and imperfect 53 week years which makes year-on-year sales comparisons so awkward to deal with. I also enjoyed having a playing card for every year of my life. I had reached the King of Spades. Don’t ask me about the queen of hearts. Now I am onto the jokers. Which, on reflection, doesn’t sound so bad.

So I have some good years to look forwards to. A final third. Just save me from ever settling down. As we get older, the need to enjoy and to improve this beautiful but flawed world is even more urgent than it was.

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