Middle-age crisis, what crisis?

Posted by in August's Magazine

I don’t believe in middle age, the unsatisfactory sandwich filling of life, preferring to invest my faith in other myths – like monsters, Mozart and Mornington Crescent; which is not to deny the process by which we atrophy, nor kid myself that I can regain my young Ottoman status.

Trust a poet though, to address that poser of how to traverse the bit in the middle of your existence with a wisp of dignity. Roger McGough, it was, who quipped: “I have outlived my youthfulness/so a quiet life for me/Where once I used to scintillate/now I sin till ten past three.”


The pristine logic of adding a year to the tally on the same day every 12 months appeals to my risk-averse side and I’ve stuck with it, save for the age of 26, which I appear to have repeated – out of stupidity rather than any short-lease deal with Beelzebub.

Curvy show girls
I wanted to be a music journo by the age of 26, you see, but by the time my by-line appeared in the NME I was 27 and my youth had run away to join the Jim Rose Circus. It was last seen pony-tailed, sporting a leather waist coat-no shirt combo (hardly a combo then – Fashion Ed), and whip-cracking cigars from the cleavages and other curvy aspects of show girls.

My midlife angst, the drama of the second act, the egg mayo ’n’ cress of my discontentment – if, at risk of sounding sick-bag smug or making eyes at fate, I have scant cause to dis my contentment – has chosen to manifest itself in words rather than cars or career or carnality.

And just as Tony Hancock’s city gent in The Rebel was smitten by the potential of paint brush and chisel, so I find myself in hock to the demands of the poem, short story and, say it softly in italics and perhaps even a smaller font, novel.

Of course, the joke in that film was that Hancock was rubbish, a poseur, deluded, half ingénue-half cynic, feted then undone. There could be a point here but likely it sits atop my head.

They’re only words – thank you, FR David – but only words can break your heart or mend mortal wounds, start a war or banish poverty, shake down your soul or swap your dreams for Blakean visions of heaven and hell.

According to Tina Weymouth, Tom Tom Club singer and my midlife crush, in Wordy Rappinghood: “Words of nuance, words of skill/And words of romance are a thrill/Words are stupid, words are fun/Words can put you on the run.”

They can also shape-shift to become monsters of hypnotic beauty and pockmarked angels who desire to trill and scream and vanquish the world or at least seduce half of it. They don’t return calls or respond to an RSVP either.

Sometimes I wake in the night to scribble down these sweet nothings, jokes, confessions, lies, threats etc. Sometimes through the letterbox of the mind drop postcards from places where, as Kinky Friedman puts it, the trams don’t run. Sometimes words come bundled together along with self-assembly instructions but the artisan is naturally tempted to rush the job.

Ah, I spy a compound verb left over. Do you suppose it’s a spare or…

The product can be genuine as an American smile, more paranoid than Lenny Bruce, crazy like a 20th Century Fox, and with the longevity of a yogurt. Other times and the humid night blue fruit fall from the stars, to mangle James Joyce, and using the harvest to feed the monkey who hammers the typewriter in search of the perfect sentence is as close to Godliness as one dares tilt.

Such is the splendour and fragility and absurdity of the process that it can seem akin to re-fashioning all the artefacts from The Hermitage out of Lego but with only those pieces left at the bottom of the box. And, however ill advised, that’s a gig I can’t decline – cutting my time for fire-walking, visiting tattoo parlours, and wooing Vanessa Paradis.

For, like Seamus Heaney’s bird, I want to “sing the music of what happens”, to “reel and writhe” with Lewis Carroll, to get up the ghostly nose of Auberon Waugh (rhymes, scans and makes sense – pah!), to discover what I believe in (Flaubert’s philosophy of writing), and, back to Joyce, to gaze into the nullity and discover “a lovely nothing”.

So, as 45 years young-or-old-or-neither calls, my pen and I shall be seeking nothing less lovely than that next lovely nothing. Rodger Evans

Twitter: @RodgerEvans

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