An old boy's age-old bout of self-pity
It was my birthday the other week; which isn’t usually an occasion that bothers me much. A dutiful smile or two at the humorous cards from the family and, upon receipt of the presents, a “thanks very much, but you shouldn’t have bothered”, is normally the height of it.
But this time it was different. God was it different. The only previous birthday that rattled me a bit was my 30th, but it had me in raptures compared to the depths this latest one has taken me to. In all honesty, I should have been better prepared for the terrible event.
About nine months ago, looking at a group photograph, I was shocked by the change in my appearance. I thought, “My goodness, surely that ugly aul fella isn’t me” (or words to that effect). My face looked as if it had begun to melt; either that or most of its support structure had been stolen. And the rheumy eyes had bags so big they wouldn’t have looked out of place on an airport carousel.
Perhaps I was just tired on the day the picture was taken. The following weekend, in search of some comfort, I casually mentioned the shock of the photo to my family. “Yes, I’d noticed that myself, Dad” said the daughter, who has inherited my diplomatic skills.
The younger son, another serious loss to the diplomatic corps, made this thoughtful contribution: “Well, Dad, you can hardly expect anything else at your age.” The wife said nothing, which said everything.
Believe it or not, I used to be quite a good-looking wee dude, or at least I’d always been able to kid myself that such was the case. Not anymore. Now I’m in no doubt how I look: old. This collapsing of my face must, of course, have been going on for a while, but I hadn’t noticed a thing. That terrible liar of a mirror had kept delivering the image I’d come to expect.
Photographs are at least honest, if brutally so (consider the one at the top of this page – if you must). Anyway, this painful collision with reality was conveniently shovelled to the back of my mind, when I should really have been preparing myself for the fast-approaching day when appearance and age would align.
Talk about a complete reversal of fortune in that regard. Until recently, I’d always looked younger than my years (admittedly my height, or lack of it, might have been a factor). At 21, I was still travelling to and from work every day for half-fare on the bus, until one evening a particularly alert conductor looked long and hard at my ticket, then studied my lunchbox, overalls and oil-smeared face, and enquired whether I was indeed only 15.