Preparing for my middle-age
BEFORE we begin I'd like you to look closely at the photo at the top of this column.
That peach-like skin, those rosy cheeks and pearly-white teeth (we needn't dwell on the hair) – I know; what a vision.
The Herald has some gifted photographers, true artists who paint with light and can turn the back end of a cow into a fashion magazine cover shot.
So, in your mind's eye, I would like you to imagine that face in a less flattering light.
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Done? Now tell me how old I look.
Not my biological age – I'm 52, you know.
Would you say I was still young? Would you, dear reader?
Why, of course you would.
I am officially not yet middle aged.
According to a survey (perhaps not the most authoritative source, but bear with me) middle age begins at 55.
To be precise (why?) the onset of middle agehood is 54 years and 347 days.
So I can relax. After years of worrying that I was over the hill – and adding yet more frown lines in the process – it turns out I have got 875 days of youth left in me. Or possibly 874; my arithmetic was never good, even with a youthful brain.
You could argue that to rely on a survey done by an online learning site, which is trying to tell us that we are never too old to absorb knowledge, is to clutch at straws.
The point is, numbers are just numbers. My daughter turned teenagerish at 11 and my son became all "what-evah" at ten.
She is now 15 and showing signs of not only maturity but utter reasonableness. By 16 she'll be an adult in behaviour and looks if not the law. There is hope that he will be likewise when he reaches his mid-teens.
Age, through their eyes, is quite a different matter. Given good health and barring accidents and wars – and not being strangled for leaving the freezer door open – my lad can expect to live to 88, says the most recent report by the Office for National Statistics.
If he's mature at 16 (I can hope) and still breathing 72 years later, 52 really would be the mid-point of his adult years.
He does have a warped view of what it is to be 52, though.
"Do you remember the first plane?" he asked last week. I refused to answer that question until it was rephrased as, "Do you know when the first plane was built?"
To him the "olden days" is anything pre-Facebook. We were watching an old (middle-aged?) film the other day in which the pursued hero was desperately trying to find a phone box.
"Why doesn't he use his mobile?" he asked.
I explained that in the mid-1980s the few mobile phones around were the size of a house. He accepted that, exaggeration and all, without question proving that he isn't quite teenaged yet: he is still in the phase where all people of a certain age are all-knowing.
In his eyes, the equation "age equals wisdom" holds good until an individual reaches retirement. He is aware that a lucky few shake off the yoke in their late 50s, others not until they are pushing 70, but to him there is no difference: no work means a feeble mind. (I've yet to explore his thoughts on the mental capacity of anybody who is not in work through circumstances other than advancing age.)
His own accepted wisdom has been confused by the example of my mum who is in her 90s and suffering – no: afflicted, constrained or coloured, more like – by Alzheimer's.
His is used to her repetitive questioning as the loop in her short-term memory plays over and again. He was shocked, though, when the subject of his own (shaky) grip on maths came up and his gran – a former teacher – fetched a pen and paper and conducted a flawless tutorial, blessed by her steel-trap long-term memory.
Phone conversations with my mum are tricky affairs. Once we've discussed the weather and I've dropped a few hints about who I am, she can proceed hesitantly to explore the present and immediate past. I tread carefully as I know that as much as she wants to be up-to-date the process is painfully difficult because each stumble reminds her – temporarily – of her memory failings.
There is an exception: bizarrely, she never forgets our dog's name and will always ask in detail about him. I think it is perhaps because he never asks questions of her; she is in control of the situation.
Plus they are of a similar age. He is approaching 16 which, for his breed (Labrador), makes him her senior in human years.
He is well past the life expectancy for his breed but still in good nick.
He still usually manages to stumble into the garden before his bladder lets him down and demonstrably enjoys occasional wanders in the woods.
What I enjoy most about him is his unshakeable faith in us to cater for his need and mop up his frequent mistakes, and to point him in the direction of his water bowl when he forgets where it is.
I'm particularly keen that my son is patiently, thoroughly involved in the dog's care. Because he might be called on to do the same for me in long-distant old age.