Friday, 26 March 2010
Stepping off lightly
I tell myself I am sixty-one but I don't believe it. Everything inside me insists I am somewhere between forty and forty-five, and I recall reading how sixty was the new forty, forty the new twenty, and twenty the new embryo. I think everyone my age does in fact look younger than I thought they'd look.
And then I think this is a lot of vain nonsense, isn't it? And I begin to suspect that it is something to do with being of my generation. I suppose I am, generationally speaking, a baby-boomer, but I doubt whether Budapest 1948 quite qualifies as baby-boomtown. Having emerged from one darkness the country was about to enter a new one.
Growing up in the sixties in England, all the images I had of middle age, let alone old age, were deeply negative. Who wanted to be middle-aged, middle-class, mid-station? There could be nothing less cool, and my generation - and all succeeding generations - have been obsessed with cool, cool as the one value you don't argue with. Cool meant you shrugged. You didn't care. You were beyond and above and through with that. You'd leave a beautiful corpse.
Being middle-aged was as far from cool as you could get. As for old age, that was so far off the radar, you might as well have been another species.
No wonder then that my g-g-g-generation shrink from time. Our younger brothers and sisters are of the Me generation. They dread time all the more. Larkin's marvellous line about young mothers with prams, about something 'pushing them to the side of their own lives' doesn't just apply to mothers. It is the theme song of the generations following Larkin, who never once seemed young himself
Just this morning I was talking to an old friend on the phone, an old dying friend. After the first five minutes of chat he found his breath and he was away, talking and thinking, erudite, opinionated, generous, sharp. He was like that photograph yesterday of the lightning on the side of the truck. He was rumbling on, full of electricity.
One absorbs all this, watches it flash and thunder, then pass by. One of my recommendations for poems is that they should 'enter firmly: step off lightly'. When my friend steps off I think it will be lightly, neither old nor young, not leaving a beautiful corpse, just a corpse.
The lightning in the truck continues flashing, and then one day the truck simply stops, and there he is, and there you are, stepping off lightly, like a fortunate man, living in fortunate times.