Age and Maturity

The theme for All The Rage this month is Age and Maturity. Here is more or less what I wrote:

My hair is going grey. Mainly around the temples, but generally all over, strand by strand. I quite like this. Maybe I’m turning into David Byrne, whose hair seemed to change coloura more or less overnight at some point in the late Nineties. My father started balding around his fortieth birthday, and as I am preparing to celebrate mine later this year, my visits to the barber now involve careful scrutiny of the scissorwork and in-chair conversation for any signs of hesitancy around the crown. I read that men are supposed to inherit their hair pattern from their grandfathers, especially on the maternal side, but as both of my grandfathers were complete slapheads by the time they were thirty, it looks like it’s all pretty much up for grabs.

I’m watching a male and female pair of blackbirds in my garden. They have of late been observed standing about with a beak crammed with worms or whatever, looking around none-too-nonchalantly for a few seconds, and then disappearing into the hedge, where they have set up home. They have a nest full of baby blackbirds, in other words. But for the last few days I have seen them pecking about on the lawn and, just now, the male chomped down a whole worm all to himself. The other day I saw them perched in branches of adjacent trees, apparently gazing at each other contentedly. Is this in fact a natural, literal, example of “empty nest syndrome”, putting me in mind again of my own parents in their blissful state of three-quarter retirement, all plans-for-the-day and dinner-with-Jean-and-David, almost free of the cares they brought upon themselves by having us.

Mortality, Knowledge, Numbers
Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, for me it’s sneezes. I’ve been counting them since the twelfthb of July last year, and as I write am into the high 500s. I have also been documenting the time, place, and strength of each sneeze, and including a comment about what I was up to at the time. Naturally this process throws up all sorts of philosophical chaff, of which the following is more or less the nub:

Think of each sneeze as a single frame in the time-lapse animation of your life. The film might depict a disproportionate amount of time spent suffering from colds, or scrambling about at the back of dusty cupboards, but the pseudo-random unpredictability of the sneeze makes it a curiously representative filter on a life. So whilst it would not show the three-year-old me in my grandparents’ garden, wearing lederhosen and performing a mock golf swing with a shoehorn in the shape of a golf club, it would show me in my bedroom thirty-six years later staring at the photograph of the event.c

Childish Things
Around my eighth or ninth birthday I got seriously into Action Man. This was the golden era of the fighting doll, with realistic hair and gripping hands and, just introduced, “eagle eyes”. Like a junior version of the grammar-obsessed sneezecounting fool that I would become, I built up an army of soldiers, helicopter pilots and vehicles, putting together a finely calculated procurement strategy at least two birthdays and Christmases into the future, taking into account what could reasonably be requested of parents, grandparents and aunties, and factoring in the bonus free men and equipment I could claim with the Palitoy Green-Shield-stamp starsd that came with each purchase. But unlike so many childhood fads, I actually thought about and played with these toys for hours, indeed for years, still secretly strategizing well into my teens. And one day, mercifully, my mother gave the whole collection to the young boy next door. Within minutes the hitherto meticulously deployed action figures began appearing and disappearing above the hedge as they were hurled into the air by the clueless seven-year-old, the playthings of a First World War General sending infantry over the top. I moved on. But recently, I have again spent hours on ebay, searching and bidding for firstly a late Seventies/early Eighties Action Man, and subsequently just the right outfit. I’m no longer putting together a secret army, but rather, of course, a little art project. In his sturdy boots, sensible jeans and comfy sweater, Action Man is now to be seen displaying esoteric or ironic placards, fashioned out of cardboard boxes, in a series of photographs clearly inspired by the performance group Forced Entertainment, but with a little bit of a wink to Adam and Joee.

a My copy of Word has underlined this adjective in squiggly red, no doubt in the belief that I have inserted a superfluous “u”. It also objected to my spelling of greying. Furthermore, the other day I noticed myself feeling actual physical pleasure as I correctly spelt the word “visible”. An attention to detail in language, or an irritation at others’ inattention, is a behavioural – as opposed to a physiological – manifestation of age. In adults at any rate: linguistic pedanticism in the young is a sign of something less edifying.
b Surely one of the all time most oddly spelt words, wearing its medievalism on its sleeve like no other ordinal.
c Reflections on the Counting of Sneezes
d From memory, an “unclothed” Action Man could be claimed for 21 stars – the equivalent of two tanks and a machine gun.
e I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about this curious “Song Wars” cultural artifact that Adam and Joe have created on their Saturday morning 6Music show. The best I’ve come up with so far is that it’s a homemade X-Factor/Eurovision, mixed with Ready Steady Cook, and a hint of Delia’s How to Cheat at Cooking (the latter being a bizarre experiment, more unusual and cruel than anything so far broadcast on BBC Three or the more digital outreaches* of Channel 4, in which we witness the famous TV ladychef unravel as she is forced to set aside her OCD-level count-out-the-individual-sesame-seeds fastidiousness and pretend that she might under any circumstances, even after a particularly busy afternoon in the Norwich City FC hospitality suite, consider serving own-brand tinned meat to anyone, even the cat). In any case the radio duo’s weekly-now-fortnightly just-for-fun certainly has something of the making do with cobbled-together leftovers and free stuff that these cooking shows bring to the table. While many of their theme-based compositions rely on tried-and-trusted devices (putting me in mind of the number of times dinner guests at Meson Joyfeed have been served “Chicken Surprise”), and occasionally the time pressure results in some unintentionally al dente sections or the hint of burnt saucepan, they are never less than tasty morsels of sound, and a few of them are genuinely ace. They’re putting a collection together as some sort of new-fangled digital long player, and I can’t wait.
* I caught a bit of the Cornish/Buxton-fronted Shock Video this week, repeated on Bravo and held in my Virgin Catch-it-up-TV: I say.