So it finally happened.
To me, I mean.
Being the youngest of the graduating class of 1988, all my classmates (many of whom I am still in touch with) had already ‘crossed over’ to the uncharted territory of the fifth decade with apparent ease and willing acceptance.
This, of course, gave me almost an entire year to remind them that I was still in my ‘late forties’ while they were in their ‘early fifties’ in that slightly irritating way you can only do to people you’ve known and loved for a long period of time.
And it has been a long time.
We celebrated our 18th birthdays together, followed by our 21st’s, 30th’s and 40th’s, as well as those all in-between. Girlfriends, boyfriends and wives and husbands appeared on the scene, while some others disappeared, and the core group ebbed and flowed with the life events that we all face, probably in much the same way as everyone else’s does.
And, whilst I can’t help but be a little disappointed that the slew of fiftieth birthday parties that had been planned through the year — my own included — had to be cancelled as Coronavirus ploughed through the population, I’m thankful to have made it. After all, if you had known me in my twenties, you wouldn’t have taken the bet that I’d have made it. Not by a long shot.
So while I originally felt I might have to be dragged, almost literally kicking, screaming and protesting into the next chapter of my life, the event passed smoothly and with total acceptance. In fact, it felt oddly familiar.
And then I remembered why.
As I alluded to above I was a tad, well, wild in my twenties. Sure, I worked hard and was lucky enough to land a fairly senior role at a global software company with all the perks and stock options, but there are huge chunks of the 1990’s that I simply have no recollection of for one reason of over-indulgence or another.
Then thirty came along and, in my case, happened to coincide with leaving the company — almost to the day coincidentally — and starting my own business. It felt like I was growing up for the first time in my life. I had employees to look after, property leases to read and accounts to do. It felt ‘right’.
But this was also to do with a number of other factors. In my thirtieth year, my long term relationship ended and the century ticked over to a new prefix. It seemed everything was telling me it was a new beginning, consigning my previous way of life to my personal history books.
But it wasn’t a particularly good new beginning. Whilst I had managed to buy my own house in the previous years, I now found myself living alone in it with a cat who insisted on throwing up on the carpet after every meal, and running a company that had turned into a stress nightmare.
To be honest, for a while I struggled to take care of myself. The cat seemed to be fine though, leaving me endless presents of half chewed animals on the sick stained carpets to show his appreciation.
In retrospect, although I had been fearing turning thirty more than I had crossing over to any other decade since, I was actually far too preoccupied with what was happening to notice in the end.
And anyway, thirty isn’t so bad. It would be a whole decade before I would need to worry about moving into another decade. And forty? Well, forty is REALLY old isn’t it?
I remembered attending a seminar back in 1994 at the age of 23 where the American presenter announced it was his 40th birthday that day to applause from the crowd. Whilst lighting yet another cigarette as I sat in the auditorium, something that was still allowed and even considered normal at that time, I remember thinking “Wow, that is OLD.”
I also remember thinking how odd it was that he was still working “at his age.” At 23, I had already decided that there was no way this was going to happen to me. Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, but not for want of trying.
During that decade, the internet had embedded itself in our lives and new concepts such as Facebook and smartphones had evolved. My business had grown in size, but not in profitability and the stress had remained. I had met my partner, and created two wonderful children, who were 2 and 3 the day my thirties ended. The permanently sick cat was still making little piles on the carpet, much to the annoyance of my partner who hated both cats and piles of sick.
But my fortieth birthday was one that was truly unforgettable, surrounded by friends who had traveled from far and wide in some cases to celebrate well into the night, despite heavy rain and thunderstorm doing it’s best to gatecrash and a lightening strike knocking out the local power station early on.
Yet somehow, it didn’t seem as scary as moving from 20’s to 30s. Perhaps my horizons had broadened, but more likely being a dad had changed my view on life.
And anyway, forty isn’t so bad. It would be a whole decade before I would need to worry about moving into another decade. And fifty? Well, fifty is REALLY old isn’t it?
Fifty seems to be a psychological number that we all remember.
I remember my mum’s fiftieth birthday when I was 25, also remembering it would be impossible for me to even contemplate that age. There’s something sobering about reaching an age you have a clear recollection of your parents reaching.
I’d been quite the DJ back in the 1990’s, doing everything from private events, to large corporate do’s and even large club events towards the end and was often asked to ‘spin the decks’ at special events. One of these, in the late 1990’s, was for the MD of Microsoft, a chap called David Svendson who I was quite pally with at the time.
He was turning 50 and held an enormous £100,000 party at his mansion in Henley. I was to be both guest and DJ for the night, and David even sent his driver to pick my then girlfriend and myself up in his new Mercedes S class limousine.
The party was as spectacular as you could imagine for the setting and the money spent, with a huge firework display, live bands and opulent seated meal. As I sat and took in the sights, probably dragging on yet another cigarette, I remember thinking “This is how I imagine my 50th will be.”
It wasn’t, of course. It was far less spectacular in many ways, partly due to Coronavirus, but mainly because I hadn’t managed to secure the many millions of dollars David had through Microsoft stock. It was, however, every bit as loving, celebratory and memorable, just in a different way.
While my 28 year old self may have been disappointed with the party had he seen it, the much wiser fifty year old, who now understood what was actually important in life, definitely wasn’t.
In the decade that had passed since my forties, the stressy company had been successfully sold at a profit, the children had developed into incredibly kind hearted, respectful children who made an impact everywhere they went, my partner and I were going stronger than ever and the defective cat was presumably still making little sick piles, just now on a heavenly cloud somewhere. Oh, and the carpet itself had long been replaced by wooden flooring.
The truth was, I was fearing the big 5–0 less than any previous decade. I had long since discovered I loved being a dad and that life was way better without cigarettes. I’d discovered that having money was nice, but having health, friends and family was better. My focus had switched, almost without me noticing, from material to immaterial objectives.
Not only that, I find myself more excited about the future and more content than ever, despite the obscene mistakes and ridiculous decisions that you’ll notice I mostly edited out of the preceding 30 year summary to save us BOTH embarrassment.
Yet those decisions somehow got me here in a chain of events so unlikely it’s impossible to contemplate … y’know, just like everyone else’s life.
I guess what I’m saying is that fifty isn’t so bad. In fact, I’d go as far to say as it’s pretty good. And anyway, it’s a whole decade before I need to worry about moving into another decade.
Because sixty? Well, sixty is REALLY old isn’t it?
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