Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Soon Is Now?

Anyone of a certain age knows the song of this title. Just as most of the men will have, at some stage, had a monstrous crush on Kate Bush (or still have one in some cases). There comes a time in your life when you recall 25 years ago a lot more powerfully than five years ago. For it is these times, between our sixteenth and our twenty-sixth birthday that fix us in aspic.

And I am not just talking music here. There's people too. Many of my key friendships are now about 20-30 years old. I make new ones, sure, but it gets harder as you get older. Knowing someone for 20 years ties you to them harder than a shared hobby, work or a liking for Jonathan Franzen.

For me, time counts. Every year longer builds the heritage, even if the friendship becomes more challenging, as indeed one of two have done recently, as certain male friend have crash-burned rather than smooth-landed into middle-life.

You know when you're in safe company. I met two old uni friends recently, just for a couple of hours, after work for snatched pizza in London and I felt 'home' in a way I realised I hadn't done for quite some time. I confess too that I felt myself taking the genuine interest in their lives that I often struggle to muster on a daily basis. Quite what that says about my 'quality' I am not sure, but I am being frank.

It's books too. My reading recently has taken me deep into the 80s, the time I feel I come from: David Peace's 'GB84', Martin Amis' 'Money', Umberto Eco's 'Name of the the Rose'. I fight the urge to re-read. What's new to find out, I ask?

My political antennae reflect the tuning of the period. I am still politically moderate, my young identity wrought against both Militant, on one side, and Monetarism on the other. And still feel angry by the divisive legacy of Thatcherism while also feeling, on some level, liberated by the energy-kick which her new settlement gave to the country . Twenty five years on I am still anchored in a mental seabed of left and right, good and bad, north and south - even though my boat has somehow accommodated elements of all.

Being able to remember 25 years worth of adult life can either be depressing or liberating. At times, I feel there is nothing really new, that most of what I am ever likely to feel, think or say has already been said. That my life will spool predictably forward, each year like a new Van Morrison album - slightly different to the last one but, basically, the same songs. All that feels new on these days is the high-fear that comes with responsibility and others' expectations.

On other, better days, the super-stable nature of life in one's 40s feels comfortable and assuring. I have a life, a family, a structure, a place in the world. Yes, it's held together by the gossamer-strings of health and fortune, but, save for freak events, my life is probably as steady as life has been for anyone in any place at any time.

The challenge, at such times, is summoning the sense of possibility. Trying to believe that the next Van Morrison album will be different. That something you read might actually make you think afresh about life. That the next person you meet might change your life in some really quite unexpected way.

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