I have spent the last couple of days reading 'A Shed Of One's Own' by Marcus Berkmann, a personal meditation on mid-life which, even at 43, I found worryingly resonant. Chapters such as 'Crumbling', 'Scythe', 'Pedant' and 'Money', in which looming decline is wittily detailed brought to the fore my suppressed awareness that the Only Way is Down.
But is middle-age all bad? Yes, it is the End of Ambition, in the sense of that rather narcissistic youthful will-to-power which, if you're a normal person, kind of melts away around this time. You do become a bit more able to deal with curve-balls, set-backs and bollocks from other people. This is because you know, in your heart, that most of what you do, what anybody does really, doesn't matter all that much.
Well not everybody. Yesterday I went, with my pal J to Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge to see a friend of ours , D, who got hit by a car last week. He smacked his head and spent three days in an induced coma and has been smashed up a bit. For a few days things looked very dark for D. Then he woke up and was OK. Just after our visit, the consultant who was going to pin his arm back together popped in to give us a two minute warning. I guess he matters. I went off to finish my report, following a nice cappucino in the new Costa they have put in down there.
Big hospitals are amazing. Addenbrookes, my companion J pointed out, is now like a city. It has shopping malls, car parks, uniformed people regulating the place. He's right, it's impressive and one bit of the NHS that challenges my belief that nationalised health care should follow cars, steel, gas and telephones into the open market. There's a feeling of competence, seriousness and, yes, helpfulness. we was smilingly helped three times to find my way out by medical staff with far better things to do than tell two besuited charity consultants how to get out of a building..
Myself and J have known each other since late 20s and, having left D to his op, we have a good old chat about our early-middle-aged lives, which mirror each other's in so many ways - bar his relative financial success to mine. I reflect that I am no longer remain the ambition-driven twit as I was, disguised in my likeable carapace. You kind of realise, by now that nobody really cares if you're a success of not. It won't be what people remember you for - if they do at all.
However the bit of middle-age I cannot yet accept is physical decline. In the way that certain senior leaders we all hear a lot about strut the public stage like alpha-peacocks, I am still hanging on for dear life to my 25 year old physical self: thin, fast, quite sporty, not bad to look at. I see the potential middle-age me, bursting to get out, but use prodigious amounts of gym, swim and run to keep him in his box. Botox awaits come 45. Perhaps some work on my chicken-neck before 50.
If, of course, I get there. As the late Philip Gould said, 'assume nothing' about the future. It could all end tomorrow.