One and a Half Score Years and Five

"Thirty-five years and what do I get? Another year older and deeper in debt…"

Apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford for massacring his song 'Sixteen Tons', but as it was my birthday yesterday, I wanted to mark the occasion by being both curmudgeonly and over-dramatic. Thus achieved, I can get on with life with the minimum of fuss. To those of you that wished me many happy returns, thanks very much. To those that didn’t, why are you reading my blog? The internet is full of nudes, for God’s sake.

Ostensibly, at age thirty-five, I am officially middle aged. Medicine being what it is, I can expect to target a number far beyond three score and ten, so I don’t think it’s all cardigans and tartan booties for me yet. When a colleague asked me today if I felt old now, I replied, ‘I have a thirty-five year old body, a seventy-five year old’s knees, an undergraduate’s urgency and an eighteen year old’s sense.’ I didn’t really, I thought of most of it later, when I was pretending a spreadsheet was more complicated than it was.
Like most people, I don’t feel any different at all for having marked the ageing process. I think by this time I hoped I’d have figured a lot of stuff out, because I’ve grown up with that particular fiction. We mark 18, 21, 30 and so on, but at each of those markers I felt each of them receding just as I was about to touch them. So I still can’t drive, which most of my contemporaries managed to get out of the way almost two decades ago. I’ve seen more Citizen Khan than I have Citizen Kane. I have to concede that I will never play Shea Stadium in the world’s biggest rock band; I’ll probably never even do karaoke in the Swan with Two Nicks, Worcester. In 12,775 days, pretty much the only thing I know for certain is that when asked by a dentist how many times a day they brush their teeth, a hundred percent of people will lie about it.

One scary part of turning thirty-five is that I’m rapidly catching up with my characters in my work in progress. The novel is based in 2015, and the characters left school in 1991. Partly this was so there would be an appropriate distance from the past, and partly it was because my eldest sister left that year and it made it easy to keep track of their ages. However, when you consider The Sad Club had its genesis around 2007, the characters I’ve created would have been younger than I am now when they had to make a decision whether or not to kill someone to fulfil a childhood vow to each other. The real me struggles with the morality of it, so what chance have fictional characters got?
 
 
Only a man like Adrian can truly know the pain of being from Leicester
 
This is what I mean when I talk about wanting answers. To me, lots of my schoolfriends have it sussed out. They have families, mortgages, careers. I feel sometimes like I missed the assembly they discovered it all from. When I was younger, adults seemed to know what they were doing, but now I’ve been one for nearly half my life, I realise how many were just winging it, and continue to do so. This doesn’t absolve a person of responsibility, but it’s encouraging to know that I’m not in a state of arrested development.
And so that’s the experience I will bring to my characters: normal confusion with the whole kit and caboodle. It’s an abnormal situation they’re in, and none of them know how far they’re capable of going, because I don’t myself. I have a fairly clear mental picture of my life goals, but if I had been aware of the circuitous path that led me from age eighteen, where the majority of my characters start The Sad Club, to what I am and what I’ll be in the few years which match me to them, I wouldn’t believe you. And that's not an admission I'm some kind of avenging angel; I can barely peel a vegetable without nearly severing a major artery.
 
I think it does a novelist good to never be sure of the right thing to do in a plot. I sometimes don’t know if I fancy a cup of tea before bedtime (often not, now; God knows how old my bladder thinks I am but I’m not raving about it), so to know for sure whether an innately good man like Elliott would kill for his absent friends, or if Alex falls back into his Class A habits, might be too omnipotent for my comfort. But like my life, I have a clear idea of where I want them to end up, and so I push them there, sometimes kicking and screaming and holding a balloon like the little toddler I still am on some occasions.
And now I’m going to lighten up. I’m only thirty-five. They don’t even make a badge for an age as nondescript as that.

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