“By the time a man is 50 he has the face he deserves.” If you google that, it comes up that George Orwell wrote it; but nowhere does it say exactly where, chapter and verse. So was it him? Almost everything that anyone says online that purports to be wise gets attributed to either Einstein or the Dalai Lama – secular gurus of the recent past – and perhaps Orwell fulfils the same function for a more caustic and sceptical crowd. Anyway, whoever said it, it’s catchy…
So now I’m 50. I eased the transition by going out and spending $200 (way more than I usually do) on seven-and-a-half bottles: Muscadet, Chablis, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Veuve Cliquot, some Romanian bubbly, and the half a Late Harvest. We drank them over four days, interspersed with a Thai dinner at Al Bustan Rotana, a glittering brunch al fresco by the water at Sheraton Dubai Creek, and a visit to a mediocre tapas place. If it was the life rather than the face I deserve, I’d be doing pretty well. I have no public achievements to my name; and although the internet is full of articles like this by Gary Younge claiming that everything we do is now disturbingly open to public view online, nobody pays the slightest bit of attention to me, my blog, or the photos I put out there. I get on well enough with people, but I could scarcely say I have friends any more, in the old sense; I live mostly within the little circle of love we call our family. I never thought that a life like that would be fine with me, and yet it is. The bottle of Gewürz I bought bore the legend Finesse, Harmonie, Authenticité – if I were to aspire to anything it would be close to that. Well, finesse might be pushing it some…
Until the digits rolled over, all I could see was the mountain of 50 ahead. Over that crest, the vista seems clear all the way to 70. The face I deserve? Dear non-reader, you can judge for yourself, but just now I feel fortunate; I could have done worse, not just with mine, but with those that surround me…
Parenthood has been a real blessing to you Mark and it’s a moving piece that you write. In Sylvia Plath’s ‘Three Women’ there are lines…
“What did my fingers do before they held him?
What did my heart do with its love?”
…whose resonance you can probably relate to. I happened to reread it recently, so I looked it up.
Andrew Lloyd, a non non-reader, as’twere.
thanks Andrew. well i know what my fingers and heart did before – the former were as often as not up to no good, and i am happy for the steadiness i have with the latter these days. nice quote though – a woman of greater feeling than I…
thank you for being my only non non-reader! do you keep one?
Do I keep a blog? No I don’t. I have thought about it from time to time but never done it. I do like them and, like now, I’m happy to interact with them. I’ve kept a diary for years, since 1974 and I find that a) comfortable to do and b) as much as I can manage timewise.
The diaries make a curious, amusing and sometimes painful read, when you flick through them. The majority of it I no longer recall. The Japan ones seem to have quite a lot of “woke up with a hangover” in them. They do vary in style and focus quite a bit.
I used to think that Sachiko ought to try one, from the perspective of living in the UK but it’s not her style. She likes to write but has no desire to express herself that way.
I can be tempted into looking at right wing blogs like ConservativeHome. Never does any good, as all I get is wound up.Rory Stewart, whose book I mentioned elsewhere, writes quite a thoughtful blog: thoughtful, well travelled, well read. I’m not sure how he managed to become a Tory MP.
I meant to say too, did you know that Plath quote? I realise that I didn’t offer any context. It’s a women commenting on how she feels having given birth to a healthy baby. Maybe you looked it up.
Anyway, I’m glad you like it.
Andrew, no i didn’t know that was what Plath was writing about, though that’s true too. The older the kids get the more precious their childhood seems, partly because they are so much more fun now than when they were in nappies and pulling everything apart, partly because i look at this boy who is now nearly up to my shoulder and still jumps on my back and hugs me and loves me to bits, and i know within a few years he won’t be there any more. nor this little fairy angel in her pigtails who lights up the room without guile and will crumple at a cross word… oh, they will still be there, but after a certain interval, the more i have fallen totally in love with them, then they will be no longer mine…
yes a blog sometimes seems like walking around with no trousers on – but what the hell, if everybody’s doing it…mostly I intended it to be a means of communicating with the kids when i travel, but they are still too young for that really, so after a bit of an identity issue it has become whatever i feel like writing when i feel like writing it – but like i said, since nobody pays any attention to it (and why should they when they have Rory Stewart to read?) that doesn’t seem to matter much anyway…
I understand what you say about the transience of childhood and while it will indeed move on, you will always have had that, which is precious in itself and can always be appreciated. I imagine there is much to wonder about and enjoy as they travel through their teens and mature, and I don’t mean that flippantly.
On a completely separate note, I finished the Rory Stewart book. I liked it. I found him by turns, impressive, stubborn, funny (there is much humour in the book) arrogant, irritating, smug and touching: in a nutshell, human and never dull. Most Afghans thought him mad to try and cross the mountains in winter and when he’s crossing a pass at nearly 10,000 feet and not sure of his route and the snow is falling horizontally it’s hard not to agree.
Yes I’m sure there will be plenty to enjoy as they get older. I wonder if the inevitable economic decline of the coming years will mean they end up living close to us, or whether they will transcend that and traverse continents as we have done? It’s poignant for me, though, how Kyria, at seven, declares that she wants to stay with us for ever and ever.
I’ll have to look out for Rory Stewart. For the moment I’m stacking up some Czech and Polish books for my Central European trip this summer – five weeks to go…
Hope all is well over yonder, and you enjoyed your jubilee…
You can’t be far away from your trip. Are you visiting Poland and the Czech Republic only, or other places also? I went to the old Czechoslovakia back in 1985 and stayed in Prague. Countryside over towards the German border was beautiful and very green and wooded.
I have to confess my ignorance towards Czech and Polish authors although maybe you’re throwing in a few history books as well. I’ve changed gear a bit and have just finished Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. I’d never read it; the journey to London has given me an opportunity to read a number of books that have sat on my shelves for years: JP Satre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy being the oldest. On my shelves since 1979. They were a great read.
If you go to Poland, you’ll have missed Euro 2012. You must have followed England being dumped out. A lack of technical skills notwithstanding, the fact that only 30% of Premiership players are English (70% of La Liga are Spanish), you could say England do well enough with the people they have available.
Enjoy your trip.
Leipzig, Dresden, Prague, Plzen, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, Olomouc, Brno, Wroclaw, Krakow, Warsaw, Poznan, Berlin, Aachen, Leuven. The books I have been recommended are I Served The King of England by Bohumil Hrabal, Love and Garbage by Ivan Klíma, and Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński. I am also taking with me Dubliners, which I have never read, for the Irish stage of my trip (the later bit, with the family).
I loved Roads to Freedom – especially the middle one whose name escapes me, that nobody seems to rate, the one cross-cutting between Chamberlain and Daladier at Munich and the characters of the novel in sweltering summer France.