The Optimist's Guide to....Ageing

Posted on February 27, 2013 by Adam Fletcher

The glass is neither half full, nor half empty, it just contains exactly as much liquid as is left. And did you pay for the glass? No, that was a freebie.  You’re already winning. The Optimist's Guide to Everything offers you short, uplifting life advice. Today, the topic of aging...

"I don't want to go to school and learn. No one is going to catch me, lady, and make me a man. I want to always be a little boy and have fun" - Peter Pan. 

I understand now why people don't like getting older. When I was younger, I didn't quite get it. At family birthdays, people would do that kind of happy but maudlin slumping complaining thing about how another year had gone by and they're getting old and I'd look at them and think that makes no sense, you're not getting old, you just are old

While getting to wear this silly hat is most enjoyable, I feel it doesn't fully compensate me for my increased proximity to death. Image Source: Egan Snow

This was mostly because I was a kid, and, therefore, stupid. In the same way that popcorn comes in two flavours, caramel and salt, as far as I was concerned, people were either young, like me, or old like adults and trees and rocks and stuff. It was a binary decision made by some higher power I hoped to please with handstands (I could do the more exotic one handed kind!) and the drawings of me and mummy and daddy standing next to our house, which I drew regularly and with great fastidiousness, particularly with regard to windows which were something of a specialism of mine. Noting my artistic talent and flair from gymnastics I was confident this higher power would reward me with eternal youth. 

That plan worked just fine until it didn't. But luckily, by then, as the first people were telling me my hair was thinning on top, I was kind of done with that being young thing anyway, I had been for many years actually. Screw you, life. I remember exactly where that happened. Where I flipped from wanting to stay young and carefree, to actively wanting to become an adult. It was in 1990, during Ipswich Cinema’s matinee showing of Peter Pan. It was the birthday of a school friend who was young like me, but neither capable of one handed handstands, nor showing the artistic flair evident in my early crayon work. Middle management material, at best, whilst there was a distinct aura of Death or Glory about me. 

Peter Pan is supposed to be a kids movie. It has all the trappings. Songs. Plot holes. A certain joyous peppiness. Crocodiles. Pirates. Fairies. I can see how other children were hoodwinked. With all that swashbuckling, plundering and general mischievousness. But I could also see the deeper allegories. What with my superior intellect, even young, 7 year old me saw the real message. It's okay to get old. There is no reason to fear it. People who try to stay young become tragic embarrassments like Peter Pan. 


Peter returning home after another bender, to Wendy's disapproval. 

You see, Peter is a drug addict. This is glossed over in the film with the characters referring to the narcotic as "magic fairy dust". Peter gets literally high on this drug and is able to float around talking to the imaginary fairy in his mind, Tinkerbell, whilst he hangs around with his orphan posse who are all boys. He's always with them, not out of a sense of camaraderie and friendship which the film tried to imply, but because obviously they're a gang, the other boys are his muscle. He's a hoodlum. Leave the window of your car down one summer night in Neverland and without resorting to racial profiling, I'm pretty sure who'll be there jacking your stereo. The next morning, he'll be down the secondhand shop pawning it for more cash for another hit of "magic fairy dust". 

Peter does have a girlfriend, Wendy, but she's just not that into him, mostly because he's so childish and she's bored of that shit already. You see, he's exactly the sort of guy who would leave his pants on the bathroom floor, never put the lid back on the toothpaste and on market day, swap the last of their savings for magic beans.

Anyway, in the end she leaves him and moves away and finds someone with better career prospects and a car. He doesn't even get to second base with her. He'll die a drug addicted, truant virgin. It’s really just a tragic case all round. 

Many years later, once I was older and already enjoying all the benefits of that, like access to the bodies of women, alcohol and movies containing scenes of a violent nature, I switched on the TV to a documentary about Michael Jackson, entitled Neverland. In it, he basically hung around in his big mansion riding amusement park rides on his own and bugging the parents of the neighbourhood to loan him their children. In the previous months I’d been debating shaving my head, since I’d been steadily balding for many years, but not felt quite ready to let my hair go, however little I had left. It would mean I was truly an adult, old and bald, which I'm remain until I died. Then Michael climbed a big tree in his garden and turning to the camera talked of how he wished he could be young forever, then he sung "heal the world, make it a better place". I’d seen enough. I turned the TV off, walked into the bathroom and shaved my head. 

No thanks, Peter. No thanks, Michael. Getting old is perfectly fine and natural and I'll do it with a quiet, slightly reluctant dignity and increasingly frequent naps. 

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