Tag Archives: mortality

Being 50

I’m not actually 50 but I’m practising. Doris Lessing reckons that “For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.” Henry Rollins contemplates the tree line, always getting further away. Leonard Cohen just looks it in the eye and laughs from the bottom of the well, covered in the “filth of the butcher”.

At 50, my father was contemplating retirement. I now wonder whether he admitted a kind of defeat – certainly one might argue that his life ended a year later and he simply drifted pointlessly on for the following 30 years. I think that would be wrong in many ways but his, well, settling for nothing in particular still baffles me. Retirement is never likely to be an option for me. Supermum’s father worked up to almost the day of the his death and it seems like a better option. I’d written ‘noble’ but that seems unfair to my own father, for all the difficulties between us.

He might have pointed out that there are many different kinds of work.

There are days when I tell myself that I’m tired but I remember tired days at the age of 10, 15, 20, 25…days when I wanted to lie down and stop. At fifty (or approaching fifty) one is grateful for the chance to get up again and start.

I’m lucky. Getting up and starting is still a blessing for me. I look forward across hopefully many years and copy down the words of an old Chinese poet, again thinking of supermum’s father and a last afternoon surrounded by his wife, daughters, grandchildren. I suppose what I’m saying is that I hope for the same and to not be ready for “the long journey” until a few days beforehand but to then be as ready as any man can be.

In yesterday’s winds I was happy to begin my long journey,
But today in all this sunlit warmth of spring I feel better.

And now that I’m packed and ready for that distant voyage,
What does it matter if I linger here a few days longer?

(Po Chû-i (CE772-846), translated by David Hinton)

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The unexpected half-life of a Neil Young T-shirt seen at Hyde Park

I bought a Neil Young tour t-shirt at the Birmingham National Exibition Centre gig in September 1982, nearly twenty seven years ago.  It must have been good quality – it (and the the other one I later acquired from the woman I was seeing at the time) have seen service at gigs, as pyjamas, stuffing for make-shift pillows and countless hot washes that would have devastated lesser garments.

Yesterday, I saw Neil at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park.  He was, of course, fabulous (and he even brought out a Beatle – the recently divorced one – for the encore of ‘A Day In The Life’ which I really didn’t think could be credibly played live).  There were also tour t-shirts and I particularly liked the rusted out look of the one with the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ slogan.  I nearly bought one but something held me back.  It wasn’t the price (though they were pretty steep) – it was the plangent symptom of mortality they unexpectedly represented.  At the age of 46, if I buy a new Neil Young tee now, there’s a serious chance it’ll outlive me.

I thought about this a fair bit on the way home and changed my mind.  Today, we’re off to see Bruce Springsteen at the same location and, as the merchandise stands cover the whole weekend, I’m probably going to buy one – call it a Yeatsian an act of defiance.  I explained all this to supermum.

“Yes,” she said patiently.  “You know, my grandmother started talking about dying on a regular basis at some point too.”

“Just before she died?”

“No, ages before that. She was 102 when she died, anyway.”

I’m definitely getting the t-shirt.