I started realising I was getting old when I reached my 36th birthday and thought I was 37. When my wife corrected me, I didn't believe her. I thought it was some sort of joke or, worse, a sinister plot. I was looking for the tell-tale signs of conspiracy: a changed password, missed calls, withheld telephone numbers, sideways glances in public places, but there were none. I had simply forgotten.
But mostly my senior moments aren't of the "now, where on earth did I leave my keys?" variety (although I occasionally have those too). They tend to fall into the "I wish he'd pull his jeans up over his bum-crack and stop ending every sentence with an upwards inflection" category.
There are other worrying signs, too, the most perplexing of which seems to be the onset of permanent, chronic grumpiness. I never used to be this miserable but I find myself unable to raise a smile at anything these days. In particular my attitude to socialising has taken a very steep nose-dive, especially at parties. Whereas I used to be the proverbial life-and-bloody-soul, I'm now a grouchier, more maudlin version of the Grinch.
Navigating the minefield of social etiquette at parties has long been challenging at the best of times, but with my newfound glumness it has become murkier than ever. I find it odd, for example, that people always ask what you do. You know how it is: you are at dinner party or a drinks thing or, god forbid, a book launch (the dullest of all social gatherings) and you are making polite small talk about the weather or last night's telly. Then there is a lull in the conversation and the question is popped: "so, what do you do?"
It is a query that assumes many things, the worst being that we are somehow defined by what we do for a living. My answer, "I'm a restaurateur", usually gives way to a tumbleweed moment as I am stared at blankly. But sometimes people correct me. They will say "don't you mean restauraNteur?" I punish them for their ignorance with a lengthy explanation as to why there is no 'n' in 'restaurateur'.
I've gotten very good lately at finding excuses so that I don't have to attend these things in the first place. I don't make the schoolboy error of inventing an unwell family member; it can be so difficult to remember who was stricken, when and with what (I once employed a fellow whose grandmother died on three separate occasions). No, I usually concoct a plausible engagement that I have previously committed to, one that is far less glamorous than the one I'm turning down and serious-sounding enough not to be cancelled. Or, even better, I simply say that I'm going to be "out of town", an excuse that I like because it contains more than an element of truth: I fully intend to be on a bus heading home at the time.
I have noticed that some of my colleagues, contemporaries and contacts are getting wise to my tricks. They'll casually ask what I'm doing on such-and-such a date, tricking me into admitting I'm free, and then slam-dunking the details of the event that I must attend. Or there are other occasions when my guard is down or, in a weak moment, I have thought that it might be fun to go along to this gallery opening or that restaurant preview and I accept the invitation.
And then I suffer the inner throes of torment in the days leading up to the social event (I'm far too English to cancel at the last minute; I couldn't bear to be thought of as rude) and, on the day, heroically endure the niceties and talk about house prices and schools and explain what I do for a living...
I am fully aware that there will come a time, quite soon, I'm sure, when those patient friends and colleagues will stop asking me. They will realise that the grey cloud of despond I bring into every room I enter just isn't very pleasant anymore and the invitations will simply stop. And when that happens, I know I will be really, truly, deeply miserable.
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