I TURN 41 tomorrow. It’s only 12 months since the Big Four-Oh-No but it feels quite different. Last year, my birthday was very special. I got lots and lots of presents. Lovely people joined my London celebration. I went out several times with different groups, acting like Queen Liz and my good wife the Duchess, with their extended birthday galas.
There’s little of that this time. My lovely family will spoil me, of course. Little Buddha seems keen to sing happy birthday to me, and anyone else in her orbit, every day of the week. Boy Wonder, meanwhile, has been itching to disclose my surprises but this year, for the first time, he understands the need for secrecy. I expect the Duchess threatened a cake ban if he’d scuppered her thoughtful plans.
So, I’m not moaning. Honest. It’s just different.
I guess my middle age started the moment my 40th celebrations faded. Only it’s taken another milestone for me to realise it.
Do I feel middle-aged? Well, having two kids aged under 5 can be very tiring. Some days I need to warm up before playing with them. I never thought crouching could be so painful.
My body is softer than I’d like. Last year, I took the fight to middle age, buoyed by my 40th celebrations. I changed my diet, cutting out bread, pasta, sucrose, midweek booze and other evils. I trained hard for two half marathons. I moisturised before bed. I flossed once.
When I crossed the finish line of the Great North Run in late September, I weighed nearly a stone less than at the start of the calendar year. Then winter set in, I stopped running due to an undetected case of seasonal asthma. Christmas loomed into view, I temporarily drank more than twice a week again and I enjoyed food. Chips. Curries. Chips and curry sauce.
I started 2013 at exactly the same weight as the year before.
There are other signals of a middle age. I’ve started to accumulate medicines (dear insurance underwriters, please look away…). As well as a steroid inhaler for the asthma, I twice daily use a nasal spray for sinus problems, I sometimes need eye drops, I also take gout tablets. Which is as embarrassing as it sounds. It doesn’t matter that a lot of clinicians think that gout could be hereditary or vitamin related. Instead, everyone agrees with the old man in the waiting area of the chemist who declined my offer of taking the only chair until I revealed the source of my foot pain. ‘Ah, too much rich living,’ he declared. ‘I’ll have that seat after all.’
Mentally, I’m more forgetful nowadays. My job involves juggling lots of tasks and deadlines. But it’s hard to take when I go to do something, like look up an email address or check a fact, and if I’m only distracted for a second I end up scratching my head trying to work out what I need to do next. Two minutes later I remember. Will it be five minutes in five years, is there a formula?
I sometimes feel awkward doing things that used to be totally natural. Last week, I went to a football match for the first time in ages. Maybe I should have sampled more than a solitary pint en route to the stadium but I found myself assessing the architecture of the John Smith Stadium rather than joining in the usual pre-match revelry. I’d definitely felt a little boyish excitement on the walk to the ground but a few minutes into the match I felt very self-conscious as I punched the cold air and joined the lyrical chorus of ‘Come on Boro, Come on Boro!’. I laughed out loud as I questioned whether we were indeed the ‘finest team in football the world has ever seen’. Barcelona, comrades? Cardiff, Hull, Watford…
I enjoyed spending the evening with my old friend but equally I was glad when I was back in the warmth of my little home. The Duchess sympathised with the Boro’s disastrous collapse in the last five minutes. I asked her about the kids. Smiled, frowned and laughed as she recounted the incidents, remarks, frustrations and successes of the day.
Tomorrow is another day, I said. We’ll all start again.
Like now. I’ll just need to take my inhaler in the morning if I’m going to blow out that extra candle.