When I was young (and I mean young, say around 10 years), ages were simple. Everyone up to about 13 was a child, between 13 and 18 were teenagers, over 18 were adult. Club 18-30 was for grown-ups, 30-60 were middle-aged, and 60+ were old. Anyone over 75 was very old indeed. How simple it was.
I will confess, straight off, that I am now 57 years old. Around five years ago, I had a debate with someone over the above categories. I insisted that, although I was over 50, I didn't feel even the slightest bit middle-aged, and thought of myself as 'young'. After all, I still ride a motorbike, I wear jeans and a t-shirt rather than a cardigan and slippers, and I still have an irreverent attitude to authority.
The facade started to crumble, though, when I was 52. At that time, I was a senior manager in a call centre, and one of the girls (OK, she was 32, but the kind of girl I could easily imagine having a relationship with if I were not already married) was talking to a customer in my hearing. The customer was having a bit of a flirt with the lady, and was trying to set her up with a friend of his. "How old is he?" she said. Pause. "Forty-two?!?! That's ancient, that is!!! Gerrof!!" and made a puking gesture. It was at that moment that I realised that the people around me, male and female, didn't regard me as one of them any longer. I was 'older', with all that implies. It was a bit of a blow, to be honest.
I had a think about this the other day. I can say truthfully that, at last, I feel middle-aged. Not in a boring, pipe-and-slippers way, but in a simple face-the-facts way. 57 isn't old, but it certainly ain't young, and that's what middle-age is, isn't it? I suspect my generation, brought up in the 1960s, think of themselves as perpetual teenagers and always will. I was 17 when the 60s ended, so I never benefited from all the free-love stuff, but I did absorb the zeitgeist, the Your old road is rapidly agein', the Hope I d-d-d-d-die before I get old stuff. But a gradual deterioration in the body is telling me that it is time to stop pretending and face up to the knowledge that, in only 13 years' time I will be 70. Nothing works quite as well as it used to; it takes far longer to recover from an evening's excess than it did even 10 years ago - so much so that I rarely bother getting pissed any more. The voice from Under Milk Wood that says "You'll be sorry for this in the morning", which I never heard in my 20s and 30s, speaks to me loud and clear these days. I have several symptoms which, while not alarming in themselves, all contribute to a general feeling that the old carcass has started the downward track towards terminal malfunction. And I keep thinking about death, which is something I never used to do.
When you are under 30, horizons are limitless and possibilities are boundless. There's always tomorrow. The most depressed day I can remember was my 35th birthday, when I realised that I was half-way through my allotted span, and that things like climbing Everest and winning the senior TT, which at one time had been faint, but genuine possibilities, were now improbable, tending towards impossible, and as I was now officially on the back straight I needed to get used to the fact. I spent the entire day in a miserable and fatalistic gloom. Intimations of Mortality. The skull beneath the skin.
That was the first big adjustment - from 'anything is possible' to 'most things are unlikely'. I suspect that I am entering a second period of adjustment right now - from 'there will always be time to do that' to 'how many more years do I have?' The answer, if I am realistic, is probably more than my fingers, but less than my fingers and toes. X number of birthdays. X number of Christmases. X number of trips to Europe. X number of years with Anna.