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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Thursday, 30 July 2015

And then you'll be a man, my son

Received wisdom - often a synonym for bullshit - says we become adult when (a) we assume a mortgage, or (b) when the final living parent dies.

If so, my adulthood came pretty late: 1972 (at age 37) and 1985 (age 50). My most adamantine enemies maintain it hasn't yet happened and I can't disagree with them. I still get attacks of seeing myself in short trousers, railing against an authoritarian world and incapable of making even basic decisions.

I distrust these prescriptions and look elsewhere. Freedom to wander came quite early, age 13. I was allowed to go on a cycling holiday for several days in the Lake District, staying at youth hostels, accompanied by a single school friend.

I read my first adult book at 10 or 11. By which I mean a book from the adult part of the library. It was very bad and concerned a test pilot and his wife who lost her sight, regained it briefly, then lost it for good. Certainly that was the year I became a critic.

Frying a sausage proves I saw the advantages of cooking as opposed to food based on bread and butter. The date is obscure, say 12.

National service in the RAF reversed my development. Military life encourages childishness.

I left home for good in 1959 (age 24), my mother weeping. But life in London was hardly adult; more as if I'd joined secular angels in a secular paradise.

Marriage at 25 (Note cause and effect by re-reading the previous para) may be the single most important step, or should be. But it's a long process, learning to think in stereo rather than mono. Fatherhood is unequivocally adult but not in a nice way at first.


  1. I started my first management job when I was 32. I had a lot of learning to do. There came a point when I was in my late forties when I began to notice that my customers were listening to me and seeking advice because I was perceived as older and wiser, but not too old to be written off under the heading of dotage. That period lasted until I took early retirement at the age of 54, and I reckon that by then I may have been on the verge of qualifying for dotage perception by some. So, recognise when it is happening and make the most of it. After that you can get away with many things by ACTUALLY PLAYING the dotage card.

  2. Sir Hugh: In playing the dotage card it is a good idea to develop a heightened sensitivity as to what constitutes boredom and even revulsion on the faces of those you're practicing on. Seen from inside old age may seem like a remarkable achievement; seen from outside it tends to look like nothing more than decay. Decay that is detectable by three out of the five senses, and especially smell. (Forgetting touch and taste of course).

    Minor reflection: One aspect of playing the dotage card is to wear a hat. The assumption is that the hat protects the aged head from seasonal extremes. In fact hats appear to act as signallers: look I'm old and I can wear any silly thing on my head to prove it.

    Although I don't wear hats I - in my old age - am not immune from the hat tendency, but in another form. As the years pass by I am less and less inclined to have my hair cut. Laziness is part of it but there's also the sense of exploration. Watching my hair pass through various stages: untidy, definitely long, sickening when rained upon, ungovernable and finally Lear-like madness. Walking through the centre of Hereford as I did yesterday I noticed oncoming people averting their eyes, saying to one another: I bet he's got a daughter called Cordelia.

    I'd score that at least a Jack, possibly a Queen, in the dotage card game.

  3. "You are a man if you have learned to accept forgetting the unimportant things in life", I say today. Tomorrow is another day.

  4. Ellena: The heading is based on the last line of Kipling's "If", a poem which many mistake for a worked-out form of philosophy:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself... etc

    When actually it's well-disguised sentimentality.

    Deciding what's important and unimportant is pretty risky and, in any case, works on a sliding scale with time. You're evidently citing the case of big (ie, usually bad) becoming smaller. But small (ie, often good) may become big. Typically, tiny gestures of affection may in time grow into expressions of something much deeper. Memory is not a one-way street.

  5. Your Lear analogy is unlikely to come to full fruition. I can't see you dividing your estate between your progeny any time soon, or seeing you wandering across Dartmoor in inclement weather searching for God knows what.

  6. Robbie: Nothing wrong with a bit of sentimentality, well disguised or not!
    Ellena: RR is wrong about Kipling, it is a most excellent philosophy.
    Sir Hugh: As it happens, I have just returned from wandering across Dartmoor in inclement weather!

    Both - you may be able to help me - does there come a time when one stops saying, "I feel like a grown-up." when one has accomplished something 'sensible'? I say this a lot, and am wandering/wondering whether or not it is time to stop!

  7. Sir Hugh: He was searching for his lost faculties. Happily mine are close to hand.

    Blonde Two: I am hard on sentimentalists, really hard.

    So you're really into "If." I predict you'll live to regret that broad-brush opinion. Prepare to reap where you have sown with regard to:

    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

    I'm a great twister.

    Your final nugatory question. That time never arrives for obvious reasons. Otherwise all personal development would cease once you successfully negotated your 11-plus. That's assuming you did.