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.
It’s been years since I was on a bus, but that will soon be my frequent mode of transport. At least according to the daughter, who keeps telling me that I should be delighted I’m now eligible for free travel on public transport (unfortunately, she has inherited my sense of humour too).
Even the wife couldn’t resist a snigger at that one, the first time she heard it. A day or two after the birthday from hell, I decided to seek some Limerick solace, in a manner of speaking. One of my best friends and confidantes, Anne, is a twenty-something from Limerick.
To digress just a little, I can sometimes be as inclined as anyone else to subconsciously characterise an entire community on no other evidence than the adverse publicity generated by a tiny few of its members. Anne, from Feenagh, is the perfect antidote to any negative perceptions one might entertain about Limerick.
Possessed of a formidable intellect, and with a heart as big as her brain, she is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I have ever met. Funnily enough, she also has a sense of humour not unlike my lovely daughter’s.
I emailed Anne to say that I wanted to speak to her about something personal. Not wanting to scare the life out of her, I included a line (complete with Smiley face) telling her not to worry, I hadn’t lost the run of myself. “What’s the matter, Davy?” she asked, as we strolled along, no doubt braced for news of some serious illness.
“It was my birthday, last week,” I replied, “My 60th birthday. And I don’t want to be 60 – it’s too old.” Anne didn’t bother trying to tell me that I don’t look my age (aware that my sight has remained intact), but, in a conversation that must remain mostly private, she did put a few things into perspective for me.
Limerick’s Finest also listed reasons for me to be thankful (a bus pass wasn’t mentioned), chief among these being my family. Thanks to my family, who knew better than to indulge my little bout of self-pity, and to Anne, I’m beginning to come to terms with my age, and my face. Although I suspect if Santa really did exist, I’d still be asking him to make me 40 again.