Turning 40

As I write this post, I have just a few hours of my thirties remaining. Half a day until I hit the big four-oh and begin the gentle decline into arthritic senility and all the slings and arrows that accompany advancing age. (I haven’t yet decided whether that makes me Vladimir or Estragon, though.)

Is it a big deal to accept that I should start considering myself ‘middle-aged’? That I can no longer honestly tick the ’30-39′ box when asked my age on surveys? That I am fast approaching the point where I will be twice as old as students graduating from university? Clearly it is in some way, or I wouldn’t be sitting here bashing out 800 words on the subject, and I wouldn’t be steadfastly refusing to open the birthday cards which started to land on the doormat yesterday.

I think the problem is that turning 40 is one of those unavoidable milestones which really brings the gradual ageing process into sharp focus, particularly given that I have become increasingly susceptible to health-related issues – weight gain, gout, diabetes, occasional flirtations with high blood pressure – over the past few years.

Turning 30 wasn’t so bad. I had a minor wobble just before the event, brought upon as much by everyone else asking me whether it bothered me as it was actually being bothered by it. But it was easy to shrug that off because I was still in good health, marching forwards career-wise and generally clocking up new and exciting experiences all the time. Now, in terms of so many things – health, career, new horizons – it is hard to avoid the feeling that I have already reached the summit of my personal Everest, and that the journey down the other side isn’t going to be anywhere near as exciting.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to slash my wrists or launch into one of those “woe is me” rants. I’m just saying that departing my 30s gives me greater pause for thought than entering them did.

Anyway, it’s not like I’m alone. In the UK alone, every day around 2,000 people celebrate their 40th birthday. Many will, I imagine, have a bit of a wobble; I’m sure precious few will have a full-blown existential crisis; everyone goes on. And even reaching the age of 40 is no small achievement in itself; as I know from personal experience, not everyone is destined to make it that far.

That’s not to say I’m completely fulfilled, of course. If I were to drop dead next week, it would be like a batsman who scores a half-century and then immediately gets out without pushing on towards his hundred – an achievement, yes, but only a partial one.

I can’t – indeed, shouldn’t – complain; so I won’t. Health issues aside – and let’s face it, who doesn’t have them? – I can be pretty pleased with where I am today. I have a marriage which has lasted 13 years and borne me two boys who I would give the world for. I earn enough that it’s been a very long time since I had to worry about how to pay the bills, and have consequently been able to enjoy the good things in life (sometimes a little too much!) without worry. And, as you get older, the presents get bigger and more expensive. What’s not to like?

There’s no point dwelling on the past, on things that I have done or failed to do. But my impending 40th does help focus the mind. The easiest thing to do at the mid-point of a journey – when both the start and finish are distant specks on the horizon – is to allow yourself to meander aimlessly. It’s time to focus on the path ahead; to think about what I want to be celebrating when I (hopefully) reach my 50th birthday.

Subconsciously, that’s one of the reasons why I write. I hope to spend many more years watching Isaac and Toby grow up and follow their own paths, but even if I don’t there will be a little corner of the web where their father’s voice will forever be recorded for posterity, like footprints in drying concrete.

Anyhow, time marches on, there is hopefully still plenty of it remaining, and I march with it. To quote Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot:

Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!

In answer to my earlier question, I guess that makes me Vladimir.