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Columnists

Be a sport

Jude Simpson

SimpsonWhat do Natasha Kaplinsky, Gwynneth Paltrow, Liam Gallagher and I have in common? Apart from the obvious, of course.  Answer:  we all turn 40 this year.    

I say 'we' because I'm sure there must be some fellow feeling among my 1972 vintage. Meeting each other on the street, I imagine we'd share a rueful yet grateful smile at the distance life has brought us.  

Behind that smile, we'd probably be looking each other up and down, trying to determine who has accumulated the fewest wrinkles / won the most Oscars / ever done a parachute jump, and therefore least suits their cumbersome middle age milestone. But hopefully we would also share a group hug over the inability - despite so many accomplishments - to slow down our journey along the conveyer belt of Time.  

Forty is too old to be a coming-of-age, but too young to be an achievement. Yet it has not assailed me as horribly as it might have. Once you have found some contentment in life, significant birthdays are less an accusation of missed opportunity and more a series of viewpoints from which to appraise, even appreciate your journey.  

Whether it's personal appearance, physical fitness or fervent idealism, I am less likely to think, 'I wish I still had it' than, 'Why couldn't I appreciate it when I did?' Confidence and self-assurance generally increase with maturity, while youth lacks the wisdom and experience to value what it has.  

Of course it's normal to dislike ageing.  Decay was not in God's original plan.  Denying death is one of humanity's most enduring habits, and is harder when our progress towards it is plotted out in hefty, un-ignorable decimal chunks like so many newly-chiselled tombstones.  

Even worse is its cheerful reinforcement by tactless greetings cards sent by supposedly well-meaning friends (the ones who haven't reached 40 themselves yet - the others gracefully forget our birthday this year).  It doesn't help that people much younger than us gasp when we reveal our age. It's not because we look so young, it's because 40 to them seems so old that they can't believe they have been able to relate to us normally.  

Society is working hard to find better ways of pretending to enjoy ageing than producing bad jokes about hills and expanding waistlines. We cannot bring ourselves Proverbs-like, to refer to our grey hairs as our 'splendour', but we embrace ageing by claiming it is a youthful activity.  Rather than saying, it's OK to be 40, we claim that 40  is the new 30.  

Presumably, we can update this throughout life. In another 40 years we'll be gambolling octogenarians claiming to be the new teenagers.  Teenagers themselves, I imagine, will tut, pretending not to notice our embarrassing behaviour as they draw fake wrinkles on their cheeks and dye their hair silver to try to look a little older than they actually are.  

Jude Simpson