My birthday fell during the past week and, as it happened, I spent the day alone: no fuss, no disruption to my routines and no public outing of my antiquity. There were cards, of course - a disturbingly high proportion of which featured bottles of red wine - and there were Facebook messages, but otherwise my head was comfortingly in the sand.
But there is no denying the passage of time. At my gym, for instance, although they have now disabled the gismo that used to play “Happy birthday to you…” when you swiped your membership card, there is another, inescapable reminder: the monitoring matrix on the cross-trainer which requires you to enter your age. However, I entered the wrong number out of habit and went on to record a PB (personal best) of 127 heartbeats per minute while watching Sean Connery wreak havoc in SPECTRE’s secret bunker, during which time the screen flashed a warning that my heart rate was too high - which was troubling since it thought I was younger than I was.
The inevitable process of ageing and its periodic reminders bring to mind a question posed by one of our revered female literary figures - “What are old men for?” I am working tirelessly to dislodge its implied assumption of uselessness but my recent activities seem only to aggregate the evidence for her case.
At the suggestion of a friend I joined a jazz appreciation society. At my first meeting I was unsure of what to expect but, realising that I was in a room full of men whose demographic profile exactly matched my own and that the retrospective nature of proceedings was set firmly in the past tense, I doubt whether there is much scope for any proselytising aimed at a younger audience. Days later, when that same friend and I met in town for a beer, I recognised another generational challenge: the first bar we went into was evidently a young peoples’ venue where the beer offering was completely alien to us. We politely excused ourselves and found a “traditional” pub nearby where we hoped to feel more at home. The beer was fine but the fact that we were the only customers in the place undermined our enjoyment by making us feel like the last survivors of our species.
Some days later, at the suggestion of another friend, I attended the Ultimate Rhythm & Blues concert which featured Spencer Davis and Maggie Bell plus The Zombies, The Animals and The Yardbirds. I went, I suppose, more from incredulity than conviction: surely these dinosaurs had died out long ago? And, sure enough, only remnants of the bands advertised were actually playing. The gaps in the original line-ups had been filled with talented young surrogates who had mastered all the notes, but it was the old-timers who were in charge of re-creating the magic of the sixties. Some of them, Maggie Bell especially, performed impressively but they were ultimately trading on nostalgia and, for me at least, the excitement of that first encounter could not be replicated. Not that nostalgia and harking back to the past should be dismissed as sentimental nonsense: as the years go by they are an inevitable consequence of having more stuff to hark back to.
Meanwhile, keeping abreast of current events, I noticed that Facebook just gave a couple of blokes $19 billion for some software called WhatsApp. I downloaded it to my phone so I could join in the fun but am struggling to find anyone in my address book, apart from my brother, who is similarly poised on the leading edge of hip communications media.