Thursday, August 18, 2011

Coming of age.

The picture above was taken on my eighteenth birthday. It isn’t the best likeness (not sure that smile was quite mine) but it’s the only one I have. It was taken by my girlfriend: before we went to university, before our first jobs, before we were married and later divorced. It was taken before I learned to climb, before I cycled in the Pyrenees, before breaking my leg and buggering my back. It was taken before coming to Wales, before meeting Jane, before the promotions and house moves, before my children... I could so easily fill this page.

I have a vivid memory as a teenager of deciding that life didn’t properly start until you were eighteen. I’d lie in bed and count the months I had to endure - calculating what percentage that was of the ‘sub-life’ I was living. Reaching eighteen was about as far ahead as I could imagine (though back then the idea of being twenty one still held some illogical significance). I doubt if I ever calculated the months to reaching thirty; that was as good as infinity. My ‘proper life’ would stretch on for ever... if only, that is, it would hurry up in getting started.

And yet somehow tomorrow it is my fiftieth birthday - and that picture seems at once a day and an age away.

Shorty after it was taken I left home. I spent three years as a student and have long regarded that as the period I truly grew up. But thinking now, what about my first job, my first house - all the things I listed above - aren’t those times just as significant? I hope never to stop learning, to facing the new or seeing the world differently - and in that sense, never to stop coming of age

I was given a birthday card this week - it proclaimed fifty was the new forty, some wag even suggested ‘thirty’. I hope it’s not. Because for one thing, the older I get the more comfortable I’ve become, not so much materially or even physically (though my waistline’s certainly more relaxed these days), but in my own skin; in my sense of being me and being confident with what that means. Youth has it’s delights but it also has its uncertainties and pressures - in my case it was dominated by anxiety and a sense of being deeply alone. It took me another eighteen years to admit that to anyone.

And so being fifty doesn’t seem that bad. It feels to me (and allowing for a few ups and downs) that life’s getting better, not worse. Despite what we read in the news, I’d argue that’s true for most of us - there's more freedom in the world, better health, information, nutrition, education.. just about everything bar pensions and wind-farms (sorry, couldn’t resist and don’t want to get too serious). 

When I said this to a friend the other day they replied, 'but wouldn’t you like to be eighteen again, except with all you have now’.

Leaving aside the impossibility of the wish, I’m not sure I would, for it devalues the journey. Sure, I’d like to live longer; I’d love to be fitter and wish I still had my hair - but I wouldn’t gamble what I’ve had for another chance at life. I look at my children, at Jane, at where I live... and I feel extraordinarily privileged.

And with a little luck and grace, there'll be more to come. 


  1. The older I get
    the happier I get
    thank f*ck its not the other way around!

  2. I agree totally. I miss my smooth skin and narrow waist sometimes but if the only way I could have them back was by being 18 or even 25 again I would have to decline. Here is where I want to be and learning how to be me was and is fascinating stuff but not something I want to repeat. Right here right now will do. I look at eighteen year olds now with tenderness and hope but without envy. Love john's comment!

  3. Happy Birthday Mark, and many many more!

    When you wrote "Youth has it’s delights but it also has its uncertainties and pressures - in my case it was dominated by anxiety and a sense of being deeply alone"

    Wish we understood back then, in our youth, life could, would and if blessed, does mature..ripen and grow more delicious.

    Great always.

  4. I hope you and Jane and the boys all enjoy your 50th year, Mark. You are right, it does feel better at 50 than it did at younger ages. Here's to a smashing second half!

  5. Happy birthday. I've heard it said that the older we get the more like ourselves we become. But I think it is more a case of the more we like ourselves. And that is a wonderful gift to grow into.

  6. Happy Birthday Mark, and may your day be just as you wish.
    I wouldn't go back to being 18 again, even with the added bonus of having all I have now, presumably wisdom as well hindsight and a few material objects. I never looked ahead to what it would be like to be 18 when I was, say 16. Nor to when I would be 21 (more significant back then than now when 18 seems to be the new 21!) at aged 18. I never looked ahead in that way, it seemed like wishing my life away and life was then, and now, for living.
    And yes it does get better, even with all the physical restraints I have due to health issues, I feel more comfortable in the skin I am in, even though there is more room!
    Maggie -

  7. A very Happy Birthday Mark!

    Here's to the next 50. Like you, I'm much happier now than I was at 18 and I can vouch for it continuing to get better after 50 ;)

    Your post reminds me of the thoughts that are stirred in me when reading Robert Frost's The Road Less Travelled. We can never go back to 18 armed with today's knowledge, because to do so would mean some of the paths we'd choose would be different and we'd end up being completely different people to what we are today.

    And I wonder if you'd be here with your blog if you'd had that opportunity? We'd all be the poorer if you weren't.

    I think you've made some damn fine choices along the way and learnt well from those which weren't so good :)

    Hope to catch up with you soon?

  8. Oops I meant The Road Not Taken

    WV says trial, which seems appropriate in view of the above Senior Moment!

  9. My Dad said youth was wasted on the young LOL
    I wouldnt mind the energy I had then, but that's about all. Like John said, the older I get the more contented I am, probably because I have, at last,worked out what's important.

  10. Happy birthday. Here's to the other half...

    I'm quite at ease in my skin....and now I can accept that I can fail, which I couldn't do when young, when I couldn't grasp that the world wasn't just.

  11. I somehow missed this post, Happy (belated) Birthday!
    I can relate to that 'waiting for life to start' feeling completely. This post echoes a lot of the thoughts I blogged about on my birthday in July. I'm keen to let go of the fear of myself, but I always want to be a bit indecisive and that person who sees both sides of the argument (which goes down like a lead balloon with family and friends).
    Anyway, this post isn't about me! Congratulations on your attitude, being grateful for what you HAVE will ensure you have continued
    joy in your life. Cheers to you.

  12. Cripes and Crikey Mark…and a great big bloggy ”HAPPY BLUDDY BIRTHDAY TO YOU BLOKE!!!”

    Sorry Mark, I’ve completely missed your post here somehow, and so now I’ve managed to successfully extract my head all the way out of my derriere, I feel like a right shmuck right now! I thought you passed this marker back in the early 70’s!?? Huh Huh Huh. It never occurred to me that you might still be a mere whipper snapper like moi. Mein got! We could have had a great big joint she-blogger-bang too, chewing the fat and conjugating our verbs all the way to dawns early choruses.

    Well I hope you had a memorable one, that’s all I can say Mark. Tis a special milestone to have accomplished, especially as the saying nowadays is that 50 is the new 40! Which means that your new and wonderful life has only just started – excellent!!

    I had mine a couple of years back in a wonderful small ‘off piste’ basement restaurant in Barcelona, surrounded by the most warm and friendly crowd of Catalan co-diners you’re ever likely to meet. There was so much joy in that place, let alone the stunning food, that I didn’t want to leave – and not a single tourist within 100 metres. It took about twenty minutes just to hug my way through everybody on the pavement outside at half past stupid o’clock in the morning. Hugely special, and will never be forgotten!

    Very many happy returns to you Mark, and may the next fifty ans remain even healthier and happier than the last fifty ans! Xx

  13. Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday dear Mark
    Happy 50th Birthday to you!

    I have three children past fifty and one just under and the last surprise is 38.

    When I was 18...
    I was thinking of joining the Army to fight in Korea. I really thought it would be the thing to do.

    I suspect a chest full of medals was tinkering with my mind and girls.

  14. Okay Okay, this is a ridiculously late comment, but I did want to wish you a very happy 50th too. Yet another superb post as well.

  15. Hey Mark, I have been away from my blogging world and missed your birthday post. Being only a few years away from fifty myself, I can relate to your feeling relaxed being you and confident with what that means. I love old photographs and this line exquisitely captures the curious nature of time: "that picture seems at once a day and an age away". Lovely to read you again.