Magazine article The Spectator

Old Friends and New

Magazine article The Spectator

Old Friends and New

Article excerpt

A few years ago, I got the shock of my life when a girl I was sitting next to at a 21st birthday party asked me if I was a dad.

'Are you asking if I have children?'

I said.

'No, I 'm asking if you're the father of one of the guests.'

I almost fell off my chair. Until that moment, I had no idea that young people see me as middle-aged.

I was 45 at the time so it shouldn't have come as a shock, but I like to think I 've inherited my father's youthful appearance.

I ndeed, until that moment I was still pitching travel editors with the 'amusing' idea of going on an 18-30 holiday and trying to pass as 29.

I 'm now approaching my 50th birthday and it won't be long before I 'll be flattered if people still think of me as middle-aged. My nine-year-old daughter has already pointed out that life expectancy for British males is 78, which means I reached the mid-point when I was 39. At 49, I 'm more than halfway through the third quartile.

The mid-century milestone is a tough one to ignore because you start getting invitations to your friends' 50th birthday parties. These tend to be particularly depressing affairs, because it's only those friends who are much more successful than you who bother to celebrate - and it's less of a celebration and more like an opportunity to show off.

I 'm not just talking about country houses, circus tents and sit-down dinners for 300.

I t's the bells and whistles that get you. Merchant bankers holding 50ths must keep the fireworks industry in business.

Catching up with your old friends is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, you feel a spontaneous wellspring of affection when you set eyes on them and can usually take up where you left off, as though the intervening 25 years haven't happened. They've often become a bit nicer, too, particularly if their lives haven't turned out the way they hoped. At best, they've developed a rueful humanity informed by the ups and downs they've experienced.

But it can also be quite melancholic, because you realise you've got along perfectly well without them for a quarter of a century.

I n your twenties and thirties, you think your friends are all incredibly special and you can't imagine going on life's journey without them. …

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