I am sitting in a Goa cafe, having breakfast, this place does a great scrambled egg & smoked salmon, imported of course, a pleasant change escaping Indian spicy food from time to time. The cafe itself is a rather chic affair with add-ons, you can get a massage, or do a yoga class, or as the plethora of flyers on the walls demonstrate you can learn to dance ecstatically, tantrasize yourself, or simply shop for over priced Indian products aimed squarely at foreigners with too much cash ( I had already sucumbed, spending six times as much on a cork yoga mat as on a normal everyday foamy plastic number – but how smug, how special do I now feel in a Yoga Shala, with my nature mat? Very, of course.
But I diverge from the story, anyway there I am having my breakfast, then two western ladies, of a certain age, well, about my age carry in large musical instruments, speakers are connected, mats and stools arranged. As they do sound checks I hear the Englishness of their voices, though they sound like ladies from Chiswick, pale skinned, but they are dressed in Indian clothes, decorated with bindis & henna, their instruments are likewise Indian, Chiswick ladies being Indian, the rather ridiculous incongruity of the scene fades when a Raga is struck up, my convictions fade with the music. As I look around the cafe I realise that it is now full to overflowing, and every person there except for the owner and the two waiters appears to be British. At a table next to me I over-hear one man talking to another, I know you from Notting Hill he says, what a small world. I begin to think that I am not in a small world, but instead one that is all a Chiswicky-Notting Hill kind of world, maybe it’s time to go,I look to the opposite table, then I fix my eyes on a woman, I begin to stare, I just can’t take my eyes off her. I keep staring until I realise she is looking back at me likewise rather intently, I look away, attempting to hide my embarrassment at being caught in the act. Then the raga stops abruptly, it was a sound check-warm up session. The duo burst into song, the pleasant Indian music is ditched and for some reason they decide to murder a Joni Mitchell song. It’s my cue to leave and I beat a hasty retreat before my idea of Woodstock is destroyed for ever by cosy Chiswickness.
I spend the day up north along the coast, esearching for hidden beaches. I head back south as the sun begins to set and on the way coming in the opposite direction on her scooter I see her, the woman from the cafe, though travelling towards each other at a decent speed the time seems to slow, I am staring at her and she back at me. Oh my God, I realise that she thinks I am interested, the fact is I am transfixed by her lips, they remind me of a Dolphin, or a Platypus, great swollen strips of rubbery flesh there beneath her nose. Botox, tons of the stuff there in the middle of her face, OMG I can’t help myself, its a little like witnessing the scene of an accident, morbid fascination overtakes, all I can do is stare. Botulinum is the most acutely lethal toxin known to man, why anyone should wish to paralyse muscles in a quest for wrinkle free skin with a sanitised version escapes me entirely, as I a tap away at the keyboard now, cigarette in hand I draw smoke into my lungs and ruminate on the absurdity. Why indeed.
In a way I like the idea of middle-age, it is neither a beginning, a troublesome getting started, or fingers crossed an imminent ending, but the fact is that however young one might feel at heart – ( and I am at times as I have been told perfectly puerile) there is no getting away from the inalienable facts that time does not stand still, gravity grows ever stronger and wrinkles like desert sand dunes will encroach on once fertile plains. I think it more difficult for those that have in their younger days thought of themselves as attractive, or been told that they are pretty or good looking. I never considered it a blessing back then but I never had to suffer the curse of good looks, in fact for a very long time I considered myself pug-ugly, but now then but in middle age when I look in the mirror I don’t dislike what I see anything like as much as I once did. Though this may be yet another illusion it’s one that I am happy to accept as by and large beneficial.
Women more than men appear to have a tougher time staving off the ravages of time. Men simple beasts that we are tend to go for diversion, or fantasy rather than hard work. Here in India some men of my age tend to discover a desire to ride motorbikes, like the Enfield, noisy and guttural, look out here I come old-school classic me. Or they take up sky-diving or non-prescription drugs, or there can be the simple little madnesses of the older man, who believe that certain articles of clothing can look good on them, I myself had to be rescued by a well meaning friend, she refused to be seen with me in my speedos on the beach. Men your age should never, ever wear speedos I was told. It took me a while to understand, but I got there, in the end. Sometimes we choose to chase younger women, all be it at a much slower & steady pace than once we may have believed ourselves capable, perhaps its just the idea of being found attractive by a younger woman, its a recognition of sorts that we can fall for. Though more often than not the whole thing looks rather ridiculous. Thankfully this particular aspect of middle age has passed me by, with but one exception, a leggy beauty from Serbia, with a tiny tattoo on her thigh, but there I go again, wandering off, like middle aged people do………………….
Women, more practical, tend to invest time in personal grooming and care, I’ve heard the word maintenance spoken often, usually followed by a look into the far off distance, accompanied by a sigh and an air of resignation.
Brassieres initially worn in youth before being necessary to make a girl feel grown up become scientific feats of engineering, to defy gravity, hair dyes de riguer, body hair pulled and razored and electrocuted. A pantheon of techniques to stave off the inevitaible march of time, Yoga, Pilates and just occassionally the amorous attentions of a younger man. But even then I’ve heard a woman say, it’s all well and good, but I can’t talk to him, we’ve nothing in common, but then talking is overrated says another, who needs talk when your heart is racing?
Youth as aged people are convinced is wasted on the young, and it passed us by so quickly, why did it do that? We may like to think that in later years we have gained something, become wiser & more centred, more clear on the world and our place in it, but I dont think that this is always the case, we become more aware of time and how it moves, the finite, and in that place many of us become children again.
We may find ways to postpone, or to ignore or even try to forget that we are not masters of our time, but there are some battles that can never be won, perhaps its just about being the best that can, to keep working at yourself, to accept those things that are beyond your ability to control with as much good grace as you can muster and to strive for happiness.
Perhaps most important of all is to be youthful in spirit at least, and to keep smiling it’s important to smile.
– For this to be possible I am quite certain that it’s absolutely necessary to lay off the Botox.
I would like to add an old favourite of mine, wear sunscreen, the tune is good, the text great, and like youth I’m not sure the relevance of the words really hit home until you’ve grown a little older, but I love it. The scene is an High School graduation, the speaker gives a talk to the graduates, a kind of life advice talk, it goes thus:-
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.