For my sins – actually it was a privilege – yesterday I accompanied my 91 year old father to a ‘Fifty Years On’ reunion lunch at his old university college at which, having ‘gone up’ in 1943 at the age of eighteen under a WW2 scheme whereby chaps going into the services could do a year at university before joining up, he was the oldest attendee. As, unlike some, after the War (and his National Service period) he never went back to complete his degree but instead went straight into his career, yesterday he took delight in responding ‘I’m an imposter” whenever anyone came over to pay their respects.
Being someone who in my youth (and indeed probably all my life) regarded academic lessons and work rather as an unnatural interruption between games-playing, I felt suitably humble in the company of those who – fifty years on – had achieved high office and career success after their personal student periods living beneath England’s ‘dreaming spires’.
That said, afterwards I was struck in particular by one stark and sobering ‘fact of life’ that the expedition had driven home with metaphorical ten inch nails.
The youngest of those present, those who had ‘gone up’ in 1967 and therefore presumably would have been born somewhere between 1945 and 1947, were now seventy-plus and therefore the overall age range would have been broadly 70 to 90.
In life people can look ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for their age (whatever it is) and, of course, Time itself inevitably inflicts damage and retribution upon us all to one degree or another. However, as someone who at 65 was younger than most on hand, my people-watching skills yesterday provided me with a snapshot of what was potentially in store for me, along with everyone else, over the next quarter of a century should I be lucky enough to live that long.
To be blunt, I didn’t much like what I beheld.
My father is lucky in many respects. His body may be falling apart, his mobility is poor, he has his ‘senior moments’ and times when he forgets things or gets confused, but he has retained a healthy head of hair and a twinkle in his eye and (it wouldn’t be just family loyalty for me to say) facially he doesn’t look his age. Certainly not compared to many who were at yesterday’s lunch.
A feature of the proceedings was that, apart from one gentleman billed to appear who was even older (but then failed to turn up), my father had nobody of his own vintage with whom to reminisce.
In contrast most others had seemingly made a special point of returning in the company of their contemporaries and peers and were soon sharing tales of drunken debaucheries, the throwing of contents of chamber pots out of windows inadvertently onto the heads of fellow undergraduates wandering below and “Do you remember old So-and-So, he of the raging lothario tendencies, whose room off Staircase 11 was a constant revolving door of departing young ladies …?”
Ah, those halcyon days of punting on the river, jolly japes – and all the hairy nostalgic memories of roaring youth!
Yesterday, I’m sad to report, those self-same martyrs to hedonism and carefree life-as-it-should-be-lived were in a very different place.
Many of them were looking what they were – senior academics, research scientists, politicians, prosperous businessmen and diplomats, all to the manor born. All of them so comfortable in their grown-up skins that it was virtually impossible for any impartial observer/onlooker like myself (who has never grown up and therefore remains eternally twenty-six), and – I promise – try as I did, ever to imagine them as the young men they once were who rowed for their college, devised pranks for Rag Weeks and did all those irresponsible silly things so long ago.
There were about one hundred and twenty there yesterday. Half of them at least limped like it was going out of fashion and/or got about with the aid of either one stick or two. The degrees of decrepitude on display were many and various. Some who looked ninety were probably only eighty. Even some in their eighties looked about a hundred. Very few indeed could be said to have been carrying their years particularly well.
I found it all a bit chastening, to be honest.
There – presented in all its glory – was what must surely lie in store for me over the next two decades. The notable aspect was that none of those now sailing through their late seventies or eighties seemed particularly bothered by it. I suppose that’s what happens when (if) you ever grow up and finally get to appreciate that life is short and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I spent much of my time yesterday in conversations sharing experiences of living life with all manner of bodily aches and pains, receiving advice on the best pills and attitudes to take to when dealing with any of a vast array of diseases, conditions and sundry other failings of the flesh.
That double shot of Glenmorangie with ice sure tasted good when my father and I eventually made it back to his place after a three-hour drive through inexplicably bad traffic conditions …