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The conceit of living

You know how it is. In public and indeed on the pages of the Rust, you make jokes about being old, forgetful, hopeless with social media and smartphone technology – basically being totally ‘past it’ and yet, far from getting depressed, you don’t give a row of beans about these signals of time and the world leaving you behind – whilst inside, in a warped version of double-bluffing, you don’t actually believe a word of it.

I’ve posted before on the weird aspect of the human condition that, irrespective of our particular stage along the timeline of life, we live day by day quietly convinced that we are not only immortal but have been somehow magically ‘frozen’ somewhere between the ages of 23 and 26.

This state of mind somehow allows us to flick through the ‘birthdays’ section of the newspapers simultaneously amazed that some well-known actor, sporting star or musician mentioned therein has just reached an age (for example) somewhere between 50 and 80 and yet also horrified at their apparent but plainly ridiculous brass neck in imagining that anyone in the real world would be remotely interested in beholding them still ‘doing their thing’ at a time when the rest of us would have been put out to grass long ago.

I had a stark personal ‘cold shower’ in this regard earlier this week when being invited to a neighbour’s home on a collective business matter with five or six others.

It was the first time that I had entered my acquaintance’s abode (I do not know him well enough to describe him as a friend) and it was a fascinating opportunity to do an interior design version of ‘people-watching’.

To be honest, it wasn’t (the best kind) a secretive or furtive ‘looking under a stone’ snoop-around because mine host was only too proud to show off the extent of the refurbishment he had orchestrated when he had first moved in a year or so before – the ‘knock ‘em dead’, no expense spared, luxury features of his kitchen cupboards and appliances and so on.

I’m not quite sure whether to describe my reaction as jealousy or envy. Let me put it this way: the experience of walking into his place was the equivalent of stumbling into a scene from a multi-million pound movie set far into the 22nd Century – or even just a centre-page spread in Homes & Gardens magazine. Everything totally immaculate and in its rightful place, albeit (if you see what I mean) not in a sanitised museum sort of a way … just that of a perfect modern lifestyle.

Compared to the little studio flat in which I eke out my own little existence, it was like chalk and cheese – mine being the type of gaff in which I have to spend the best part of an hour and a half first thing every Tuesday morning desperately tidying up the mess so that it looks sufficiently shipshape not to embarrass me when my ‘woman wot does’ attends to do the weekly housework!

Midway through our business proceedings in this domestic wonder-palace the other night the issue of what everyone was doing over this coming weekend emerged as a topic.

When it was his turn, our affable host, whom hitherto I had regarded as both a contemporary and equal in every respect (despite his evident but understated considerable wealth) shyly – almost sheepishly – confessed that he and his spouse were having a few people over for a party on the occasion of him reaching “the Big Five-Oh”.

The Big Five-Oh?!?!

The news stopped me in my tracks.

The quiet reassurance I had taken all this time in the ‘knowledge’ that he and I had been born within a year or two of each other – he still looked pretty fit and dapper, retained most of his hair and most of it still naturally dark brown, perhaps with a few (very few) flecks of grey around the temples – was shattered.

Instead of my vainglorious perception that he didn’t look half bad for his age [fact: he doesn’t] but then again, for that matter, nor did I … was dashed on the razor-sharp rocks of cold reality.

An hour or so later I returned home and, on visiting the bathroom, examined the Ingolby dial in the groin-to-ceiling mirror and the oh-so-harsh (full-on) lighting.

Gadzooks! It was true. Forget my fond misconception that I might pass for an (okay, a touch world-weary) gent somewhere between say 48 and 52 in the right combination of soft light and shadows.

Staring back at me was an unmistakable imposter. The sort of podgy, dishevelled, white-haired seventy-ish cove that pregnant women would take pity upon and give up their seats for on your average District Line Tube train.

Welcome to 2017, folks!

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts