David said to me yesterday that, “I am doing a lot in my old age”. This didn’t really help my general mood as I turn 59 this weekend. No longer full of the promise of youth, what is it that remains for the middle-aged who will, in normal circumstances, live for a couple more decades?
Looking back, I have not changed the world, nor did I really want to, never having been particularly idealistic without (hopefully) being too cynical. However, I still wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then! I quite like being in the present – my mother used to say to me, “then you’ll have to keep moving”! Maybe that’s what David meant and maybe that is what, he and I have in common.
No nostalgic musings for him, no futile attempt to plan every minute of the future. A sensible and moderate approach. Despite my penchant for the present, on my 59th birthday, it is really time to indulge in memories and particularly travel ones, fuelled by a meeting of the Circumnavigators Club (at the House of Lords, no less) planned for next week.
Travelling is one of the most fruitful ways to spend middle age. Not just grandiose travel to different continents but to go to the next town or village and look at it again with new eyes to discover its singularities and what people do there. That’s something I discovered when I lived in London years ago and walked around the various London ‘villages’. Un-changing landscapes perhaps, but inhabitants that re-invent the area incessantly and change their ‘feel’.
Same thing in Kent: the disappearance of old-style villages subjected to the unpredictable winds of history, and the shock of the new. Here, some of the thoughts I have are precisely because of travel: there is one effect, out of many, of the disappearance of the English village and that is that history is inscribed across the Kentish landscape.
A sort of flash effect of events, effects that belong to our recent memory: the odd bomb shelter, a story you hear from a 90-year old local, prayers in a medieval Church for the dead of yet another war. An era mainly characterized by loss now being dismantled by a hopeful, idealistic young government. Of course our path to perdition has been marked by the calamities and upheavals of our era. Perhaps in middle age, with more time to reflect, we could think of ourselves as witnesses, and, accordingly, as I move about these intense states of mind (an effect of turning 59) I think that our only legacy to the future is the history we are embroidering now, in the present moment. To reply to David’s comment and how much he thinks I do in middle age, the stark realization of time passing is the most motivating force of all!