Monday, 26 February 2018

All Aboard the Forty Train...

Last Saturday marked one month until I turn forty. That's right, folks. I now have a remaining twenty-six days of living it up in my thirties before old-age strikes. This very blog's bio (to the right on the desktop - no idea where for mobile users, soz) states that 'I am a thirty-something writer...' This has been true for nine years and eleven months - thirty-something begins at thirty-one, yeah? - and soon it will be a lie.

Rather than weeping at my disappearing youth or surgically lifting a variety of body parts, I am quite prosaic about the ageing process. It is going to happen regardless of what I think, so I might as well get onboard and enjoy the benefits. I'm sure there are some. But in these final days of my favourite decade so far, I have amused myself with googling those lists. You know? The ones that tell you what you should have done by each landmark birthday. I wanted to see if I was on track or exceeding all expectation. What should I have experienced by now?

Boy, it was an eye-opening experience. First of all, a casual 'What to do before you're 40' search brings up 103,000,000 results. It seems everyone's got something to say about this. At the bottom of the first page were more specific searches - so many permutations on a theme. I got the sense I was already underachieving because I couldn't be arsed reading anything beyond page one of the search results.

When I did click on some of the articles*, they threw up interesting thoughts. Clearly, there's a wealth of people out there that have all the time and money in the world for 'experiences'. Not many mundane events such as 'buy a new kettle' or 'go to work' made the grade. Likewise, 'watch TV' or 'drive to the supermarket for a big shop' didn't crop up either. It was all 'travel to every continent' or 'visit a place of worship for all the world's religions,' Or 'run a marathon'. (Like, yeah, right.) There were, however, some generic events that made it on to more than one list. All worded slightly differently, there were some things that were repeated time and time again. You would think these must be the universal indicators of life. The rites of passage that we all go though, regardless of race, gender or sexuality. The defining facets of humanity. 

So, the most recurring things to do before you're forty, in my non-scientific study are...

  • Sleep outside 
  • Skinny-dip
  • Write a letter to yourself

Yeah, no shit. According to the Internet, that's what reaching forty is all about. So let me explain why I'm not going to be filling the next month with these 'must-do' experiences, just so you know.

I'm really happy to leave my
camping days behind me
1. I have no problem with camping. I've done it lots, but that was before I got to the stage of prioritising an actual bed for my holidays. It's OK though. People can get to forty and beyond without experiencing this aspect of life. It won't break anyone. It'll be fine. (I also threw up in a tent once, after bad pint. It wasn't pretty. I'm best near an en-suite.)

2. I did not grow up in sunny Cornwall. Maybe if I had, I'd have been skinny-dipping left right and centre, all the day is long. Instead, I grew up off a motorway junction, eleven miles away from a tidal river. I felt no inclination to get the 10A into town, take my kit off and jump into the Mersey, just so I could say I'd experienced life. Not for me. Soz la. 

3. I have too many other things to do than to write a letter to myself. If I did, I'd give profundity a swerve and say...

I think that is where my underlying cynicism about these landmark lists, comes from. We just have to get on with it. Living life to the full is an admirable aim. And some people have the good fortune to be healthy, wealthy and free to make life choices based on their own desires and needs. But equally, a lack of resources and time, alongside responsibilities that take priority, are also at play. And then there's old fashioned misfortune and bad luck. We have to make the best of what we have and what we can manage. It's OK not to have witnessed sunrise in Tokyo by an arbitrary point in life. The world still turns. As well as that, following someone else's idea of what you should have done by now, isn't the healthiest way to live. We can only march to our own beat, or something. (I think I got that from a film.) With this realisation in mind, I thought I should make my own list. What do I think I should have achieved by now? It makes sense to create my own if I'm going to dismiss others' ideas of what I should have been getting up to in my first forty years. But the thing is, I really can't be arsed. I've had lots of marvellous times so far, and I plan to have lots more. I have done some of the things that those lists have told me I should have done by now, and not done many more. But whether it's tattoos, exotic holiday destinations or classic books to read, I've done them because I wanted to at the time, not because I thought I should. In fact, if I thought I had to do them, the appeal would have truly been lost.

Just chillaxing, aged eight. 
Planning not to care about any
'What to Do Before Forty' lists in 
thirty-two years.
And so in the last month of my thirties, if I'm not going to be climbing Machu Piccu or learning to windsurf, then what will I be doing? What can I possibly fill these final days with? Firstly, as the letter to myself implores me to do, I'll be cracking on. The editing of the latest book continues, the food shopping will get done, and the weekend wine, will of course, be consumed. More excitingly however, I have some parties to attend. I know! I have two other fortieths before mine to celebrate - both long time friends who I've known for years. It's just like the year we all turned eighteen. Bashes or get-togethers every few weeks over the course of the school year, as the same faces catch-up and party together. Except it's way better now. That's because I have moved from Thunderbird to more classy and elegant booze choices (usually), I've worked out that if it's cold I'll want a coat and if I have to walk anywhere I'll need shoes I can walk in. But mainly it's better because I'm not eighteen. Nowhere near. And that is worth celebrating.

Have a lovely week, folks.

* If you want to check your own life's achievements against the many lists that are out there, here is a small selection.

1.  Forty Experiences Everyone Should Have Before They Turn 40
2.  My Before 40 Bucket List
3.  30 Things You Must Do Before Turning 40
4.  11 Things You Must Do Before Turning 40
5.  Forty Things to do Before You're Forty
6.  40 Things Every Woman Should Do Before She's 40**

**This one made me wince a little. Is it just me, or is there a focus on demure and ladylike pursuits here? I came over all Lady Catherine de Bourgh just reading it. It almost made me want to start cage fighting. Almost. 


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