Wednesday 4 June 2014

Can you have a second childhood when you've never grown out of the first one?

People keep telling me that 60 is the new 40, but I simply don’t believe them.

Any more than the traffic policeman with the speed gun was persuaded when my wife tried a similar line on him in our village. Luckily she did not add that she always likes to put her foot down once she has passed the speed restriction signs, because the road there is wider and better lit.

No, 60 is surely a landmark like few others. It is the age I reached yesterday and, if the life of man is three score years and ten, and one thinks of that as a week, then today is Saturday. And that is from the traditionalist viewpoint that the week begins on Sunday.

This is the age at which I long looked forward to putting my feet up, reflecting on my decades of failure in academic and business life, and focusing my hopes on a reasonably painless death.

While possibly also renewing my acquaintance with organised religion by way of insurance, on the off chance that there turns out to be something in it.

All in all it was a low-key celebration as I restrained myself from going wild with my shiny new Senior Railcard and thought about how to spend my £728 occupational pension from a former employer. Unfortunately that is £728 per annum, not per month or week.

The other disappointment is the impossibility of actually retiring owing to my acquisition in the last few years of (a) a wife, (b) two small children and (c) a house, which we bought exactly a week ago and looks like proving an even bigger money-pit than the first two.

I have already had to grit my teeth and accept an outrageous estimate to equip it with a new roof. Which just leaves four walls and all the interior fixtures and fittings to go.

My mortgage application scraped through only a day or two before the new and tougher rules came in, which would have required my bank to enquire into how much money I waste on opera tickets, pub lunches and champagne. That would have done it nicely.

To be fair, I could pay off the loan in full if I won the lottery or sold the house I already own. At present the lottery looks much the likelier bet. Last Wednesday I turned down an utterly derisory offer from a man who had just made a killing in the London property market and clearly hoped to make another at my expense.

Still, I cannot deny that the last month has afforded some compensations. As well as buying a house and a Senior Railcard I have learned to drive a steam locomotive on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, and been to dinner at Buckingham Palace.

My colleague David Banks tells me that columnists should never drop names so I won’t reveal the identity of the person we chatted with over our meal, but I guess it will be all right to mention that it was an event organised by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

As a certain nonagenarian prince was working the room during pre-dinner drinks, I casually asked Mrs Hann what conversational gem she had up her sleeve if he approached us.

“So what exactly is your role in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award?” she replied brightly, leading me to feel an urgent desire to show her a very fine Canaletto in the furthest corner of the Picture Gallery.

Yes, it has not been a life without incident, if precious little excitement. And the absolute high points have occurred in the last few years with the birth of my two sons.

The elder of whom has just spent a delightful half term at an outdoor events centre, from which he proudly came home bearing a peashooter and catapult he had made himself.

I just read about that sort of thing in the Beano. I never actually experienced it. I wonder whether it is too late to start?

Being 60 might be a lot more exciting if it was not so much the new 40 as a bigger and better version of the old six. Second childhood? Bring it on!

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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