Age is a dreadful thing! It creeps up on you, making subtle changes, but giving you no warning of having changed the ground rules and leaving you offside when it matters most.
Take going to the pub, for instance. Time was, getting out to the pub on a Friday night was something one looked forward to, more or less incessantly, from the moment the sun cracked the early morning gloaming on the previous Monday.
Whatever happened during the week – the cascade of bills through the letterbox, minor skirmishes with line managers, parking tickets, speeding tickets, 18- hour days and a spectacular argument with a loved one – Friday night signalled an end to all hostilities and a truce in the inexorable battleground of life in which all parties were suddenly transformed into benign presences to be celebrated and caroused throughout the weekend.
When did it happen?
Several years on, something has changed. Now, I still look forward to Friday night but the process now begins around lunchtime on the same day and, instead of riding the white stallion of bucolic excess, I now like to sit, glass of Shiraz in hand, chatting to my wife about the things we haven’t quite got round to but still intend to do – ranging from painting the dining room to selling up and living near Avignon.
What has happened to me? When did it happen? Where was I at the time?
When the weekend was little more than a miasma of IPA fumes, conversation was loud and revolved around a healthy disregard for authority but it was never less than questioning, running randomly along the continuum of rebellion and the crusade for fairness and justice.
This is what made student life so exciting, together with a weird diurnal rhythm and a constant engagement with the wi-fi of my hormones. In the between years, a preference for a normal diurnal rhythm seems to have dulled the rebelliousness although the wi-fi bit still seems to operate on a trillion kbps.
As you may imagine, it came as something of a surprise to bump into insurrection and a refusal to play by the rules last Friday night. I simply wasn’t expecting it. There I was, at the bar, waiting in an orderly fashion to receive another Shiraz in exchange for what would have been a ransom demand in another period, when I caught the conversation of two bespectacled and mild-looking drinkers, perched on bar stools to my right.
“That’s what I wrote to Jacquie Smith,” said one of them, “ it simply isn’t an acceptable level of public standards and, when she wrote back, she more or less agreed with me.”
Intrigued, I dallied longer to hear more. It turned out that my newfound colleague was an ardent writer to all and sundry. He would write to politicians, managing directors, men of the cloth and even referees about his concerns and, when he did so, he would expect an answer. If the answer ever came and fell short of his expectations, he would continue the dialogue until he felt that nothing more could be gained.
His friend appeared to have the same tendencies but with less terrier-like conviction – but something intrigued me. We stood and talked for half an hour before management reminded me that I’d gone to the bar to get refills and, later that night, I lay there restlessly in search of Morpheus trying to work out what it was about them that had captured my imagination.
Was it their middle-aged insistence on being heard? Perhaps it was the unlikeliness of such rebellion behind such a beige exterior? Maybe it was because I’d never entered into such a discussion with them before.
It took me until the wee small hours, at a time when even the nocturnal foxes had knocked off for the night, before it dawned on me. The reason why I was wrestling with all this was because I finally realised that it was me who was strange, it was me who had given up fighting, and me who had acceded to the unspoken pressure to accept the status quo. When did that happen and what was I doing at the time?
Then, on Sunday morning, a passage in the paper hit me like a thunderbolt. In an article on seeking peace in the Middle East, the writer made the simple statement that it needed people to think as “we” and not to seek change to be effected by “them”.
It was at that point that I realised that I had allowed myself to sit as a commentator on the events going on around me and to give up thinking that I not only had a voice but that I was duty bound to exercise it. Whatever “it” is, why should I expect somebody else to do it every time?
We talk of life today being without a moral compass where people pursue the concept of “self ” regardless of the effects that may have on others and, without doubt, I had subsided into the feeling that democracy wasn’t working in any of the manifestations that affected me.
So, from this Monday, instead of whingeing about what I don’t like, what seems patently unfair or what is quite simply wrong, I have resolved to try to do something about it. Forty years ago, I would have seen these men in beige with their insistence on writing to people they’d never met as being slightly odd and just a tad eccentric. As I sit here, however, I have to accept that at least they are trying to make a difference while I had entered a period of terminal sloth with the net result of having achieved the square root of not very much. But no more!
I cannot wait for next Friday night because, by then, I will have done something to make a stand and to regain the self-respect that comes from speaking out.
As you know, Friday night signals an end to all hostilities and a truce in the inexorable battleground of life in which all parties are suddenly transformed into benign presences to be celebrated and caroused throughout the weekend.