It is one of the sadnesses of the full-size Newtonian Universe that the heat lost by hot bodies is equal to the heat gained by cold bodies. This factoid I can remember from my 1960s O-level physics. At the time, it seemed to me inordinately pointless. Only now do I grasp its relevance to the life of the bon viveur: that is, as irritatingly as your food gets cold in a Beach Shack restaurant, your beer gets warm.
Being a bon viveur (once you retire on limited means) is tricky on two bases: health and munnneeee. Too much cold beer and good food is bad on both dimensions – and good wine to follow one and accompany the other takes it from bad to worse.
Just thought I’d get that off my chest before we get to the rest of tonight’s missive. It’s a pot pourri offering with a sort of loose logical thread to it…the join between the dots being in the region of ‘Wisdom comes too late to be of any discernible use’….especially in a rabidly ageist world like this one.
When I was a keen amateur footballer aged 17, I had energy, fast reflexes, ball skills and passing ability to get by on. What I didn’t have was the sort of helicopter strategic insight that makes the difference between being a pub team veteran and Lionel Messi. That didn’t arrive until I was 35 and playing for an ad agency team. What I no longer had by then was the energy, fast reflexes, ball skills and passing ability etc (see earlier in this paragraph). That had been lost as a result of too much cold beer, good food and good wine to follow one and accompany the other (see earlier two paras ago).
Clearly, there is a flaw in this arrangement. To further demonstrate the tragic inequality of Time, let me give you an anecdote. When I was a teenager, I had no subtlety whatsoever with the oposite sex. It took nothing more than the presence of a pretty girl to reduce what was in my head (“Thank God you came into my life”) to faux pas gobble-de-gook emerging from my mouth (“Thank God you’re not my wife”).
Two days ago here in Goa, I noticed a good-looking Russian woman – aged at a guess between 55 and 60 – three tables away from me. During the fifty years following pubertal tongue-tied immaturity, I have learned that those with dignity stay beautiful no matter what the ageing process does. I was struck by how much more there was to her than the bling-covered loudmouths at the same table. It was late, but I was laid back an’ cruisin’, man. So having paid the bill, I walked over to her. The conversation went like this;
Me: Do you speak English?
M: You’re not related to these people are you?
H: Norr….they juss frinds
M: I thought so.
H: Oooh. Whyee?
M: Because you have something they don’t.
H (looking bored): Oh. Vot’s dat?
M: An inner dignity that comes through as beauty.
H: Yo arrr dronk.
Now you see, that sort of sums the whole thing up: the words come out wrong when I’m 17, so I’m a dork. The words come out with stark honesty when I’m 70, so I’m a soak. From tongue-tied Acne Man to silver-tongued derelict in one lifetime, but never at the right time with the right effect. Mind you, there’s also the slightly pass-the-sick-bag-Alice nature of the chat-up line I used, but that was down to me. Mind you a bit more and on the other hand, that was down to the DNA my plastic Paddy father gave me, so it was his fault really: it was just Irish blarney, not me. Always blame the Irish, it never fails.
The sad reality is that Wisdom arrives lamentably late….on the same train as Grumpy old Git. Grumpy old Git also has a travelling companion called Porridge Brain. The prevailing belief in 2017 is thus that grey hair and wrinkles = truculent dotage-dummy. The problem is that some things are physically apparent, whereas wisdom is invisible.
On the second leg of my plane journey to Goa, I was lucky enough to sit next to two beautiful Spanish sisters. Their aggregate age made them easily young enough to be my children. We nodded politely and exchanged smiles at first, after which the elder sister took out a sketch pad and began to draw, with effortless skill, a seagull. I meanwhile took out my notebook and began scribbling notes about why babies scream on aeroplanes, and cabin seats recline with such clinical accuracy onto the forehead of the person behind, for example me.
It had been a tiring first leg, at the end of which was an airport that was empty on every level imaginable. So I’d abandoned the pony tail in favour of my Buffalo Bill look by now, and kept closing my eyes every few minutes in the hope of blotting out the awful reality of a TV screen perched on my nose, and a notebook table I could no longer see.
Eventually, dinner arrived, and I noticed that all three of us were going to have the same problem of how to get fork from food to mouth, or even work out which course the fork was in at any given moment. We all started giggling, and then eventually chatting. Elder sister was aready a successful artist. Younger sister asked what my profession was. I said “retired” but used to be in advertising. They both fell about laughing. I asked why.
“We decided earlier that you were a yoga teacher,” the elder beauty replied.
So there you are, then. Now I’ve had many self-image fantasies in my life, but never that of a caucasian yoga guru. Rather, I’ve often seen myself as someone in desperate need of an Eastern mystic to teach me how to be transcendental, as opposed to a writhing bunch of mental issues and familial neuroses.
But these two (I have to say, thoroughly delightful girls who obviously have very proud parents somewhere) made an assumption based on what they could see. This is perfectly natural: without clues as to the inner person, we all go on appearances. Thus we all end up in a uniform. That night, mine was obviously The Maharishi Slogi.
After a certain age, it seems even more important to wear the right uniform. Most men over sixty are trying to look cool. Some oldies feel so cool anyway, they no longer worry about being cool…..which gives them instant cool. However, for the rest of us at 70, the dividing line between cool and derelict is a very faint one. This is not so aged 17: the dividing line there is in Dayglo yellow, and being on the wrong side of it rendered you square, a rocker, unhip, uncool or like so last month depending on what decade you were in.
Once through that cattle-market stage, we all want to appear adult, because it’s a better look than having your ass-crack showing above jeans that are at least a foot longer than your legs. But by that time, as often as not you’re sure you’ve found The One, and if she feels the same way, then life becomes a whirl of estate agents, weddings, job interviews, decor, personal trainers, office politics, Sunday lunch and delivery rooms.
Later, there’s the matrimony > parsimony > acrimony > alimony experience. And then later still, dating sites.
You’re getting some wisdom along the way, but nowhere near enough to stop you behaving like a prick quite often. And to be real here for a minute, you needed it up front. Instead, it arrives, like your dotage train, far too late to serve any real purpose.
So if by some extraordinary quirk of a search engine somewhere, you are under 30 and reading this, just this once take the advice of an ancient porridge head: just be yourself. And if you don’t know who you are, look for someone with some constructive insights to offer about the search.