Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A miserable bastard

I sit at a table in the corner of the room, striving to appear as if I’m having an enjoyable evening. It is a 50th birthday party in the function room of a local sports’ club. At 55, I’m one of the older ‘revellers’. Mrs Jones is standing on the dance-floor, engaged in animated conversation with the work colleague who is celebrating her half century. There is only a trickle of patrons at the bar; people of our age can no longer imbibe alcohol in the quantities of old.

I gaze into the flimsy froth of the pint of beer in front of me and ponder on the past parties I’ve attended. The house party at 15 years old, brimming with cheap cider and vomit; sexual experimentation and tears; fights and consequent police involvement; and culminating in the wrath of the host’s parents who return to find unconscious teenagers scattered amongst the debris and (on one memorable occasion) muddy foot-prints on the Artexed living-room ceiling.

A smirk encroaches onto my face as my mind drifts to the late 1970s and those 21st -birthday celebrations. Key of the door? At the time it seemed like I had the key to everything: an exciting career; the meaning of life; and, most importantly, the one that unlocked the sexual vaults of the stunning young ladies who always seemed to be in the vicinity – although, on reflection, the last one might have been more aspiration than reality.    
I dredge my mind for a 30th party recollection, but fail to find one; my contemporaries and I were all too occupied raising toddlers and trying to earn sufficient cash to feed our families and pay the nursery fees.  

I remember my 40th birthday party though, on the dance-floor with a few of my old school mates, jumping around to the thump of the Rolling Stones, trying in vain to recapture that spark from 20 years before; a gaggle of sad, middle-aged men.

And now I’m an older participant at a 50th. I raise my head from the beer froth and scan my fellow party-goers: men with grey, receding hair and beer-bellies, one of the more inebriated jiving with his wife on the dance-floor; heavy-busted women, trussed into under-sized dresses, with a swathe of overhanging flesh pushing against the zip at the back, seeking liberation; and a sprinkling of the younger generation, who have appeased their parents by making an appearance at the birthday celebration before moving on for some serious partying in the night clubs.

But not to worry, it is 11.00 pm and the convoy of taxis will be arriving in 30 minutes to return us all home before we fall asleep and risk dribbling over the furnishings.
My head droops again, and I mutter Leonard Cohen lyrics for consolation.
 The rain falls down on last year's man,
an hour has gone by
and he has not moved his hand.
But the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
and all the rain falls down amen
on the works of last year's man.

At this point Mrs Jones returns, sits next to me, squeezes my hand and smiles. Instantly, I recognise that I’m being a miserable bastard, and lousy company. What justification do I have for being morose? I’ve recently taken early retirement, leaving with a generous pension that means I will never again have any financial worries. I’ll no more have to endure restless nights worrying about work, nor the frustrations of the morning rush-hour. Mrs Jones and I are both in good health and will, from now on, be going on vacation three times each year; when not on foreign turf we will frequently be found hiking in the stunning Lancashire countryside.

And do I really want to be young again? On the basis of a 32 year partnership with Mrs Jones, I’m confident I will never again suffer the humiliation of being abandoned and betrayed by girlfriends. No more acne agonies. Nor will I worry about my sexual performance, for if the dough fails to rise on the next occasion it is not disastrous – we are involved in a marathon not a sprint.

Life is good.

I kiss my beautiful wife and, hand-in-hand, we head to the dance floor for a smooch (before the taxi arrives).      

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A job well done

My eyes stray from the re-run of Friends on the television and fix upon my 22-year-old son sitting opposite me. Ryan is oblivious of my attention as he smiles at Joey Tribbiani’s inane ramblings. Over six-feet tall with a face chiselled like a sculpture of a Roman gladiator, I recognise why my eldest’s company is regularly sought by the young women in the locality. Quick-witted and bright, Ryan can find humor in most situations and, as his middle-aged dad, I often find myself the target of his quips. I reflect on how stubborn and argumentative he can be, and his low threshold for anger that, when activated, propels him into a volcanic eruption, molten lava singeing anyone within a 50-metre radius. But despite these foibles, he is an honest lad with a strong work ethic. Since leaving school at 17 he has not had a day off work, nor has he brought the police to our door. “He’s my son,” I think to myself, “and I’m so proud of him”.

My eyes shift to Becca, my 19-year-old daughter, sitting to my right on the sofa. She too is unaware of my gaze as she escapes into the world of Rachel Green, smiling and pouting in unison with the sitcom star. I recall hearing how, on her recent holiday in Gran Canaria, Becca and her friend stumbled upon a 17-year-old boy lying unconscious on the pavement, surrounded by pools of his own vomit. It was early evening and the resort was busy, but people were avoiding him, acting as if he wasn’t there. But my girl stopped to help. After 20 minutes of striving to extract sense out of the drunken youth, she was able to ring the lad’s granddad to come and collect him. Knowing the youth’s guardian was en route, Becca and her friend made to leave until the disorientated young man pleaded, “Please don’t leave me”. So Becca stayed with him until granddad arrived; the old man offered her money for her kindness (which she declined) and his parting comment was, “I hope he eventually marries a nice girl like you”. I inhale and my chest expands like a peacock’s plumage. I think to myself, “That’s my girl; beautiful inside and out”.

I become aware of being watched, and turn to my left to see Mrs Jones smiling at me. It is rare these days for me and Mrs Jones to have both of our progeny with us in the same room. After 32 years together, telepathy between us is commonplace. At this instant in time she knows precisely what I’m thinking. While our children remain oblivious to our attentions, Mrs Jones lip-syncs the words, “A job well done”.