CRAIG BROWN: OMG! Today I’m turning into an OAP… I have always been good at turning a blind eye to bad news, so I have found it easy to ignore the passing of the years
Today is my birthday. It only seems a day or two ago that I was opening a birthday card with a badge attached saying ‘6’.
If I get a badge today, it will say ’66’. Overnight, I have become a senior citizen, or what used to be called, in less tactful times, an old-age pensioner.
I have always been good at turning a blind eye to bad news, so I have found it easy to ignore the passing of the years.
The only time I ever really feel my age is when I am filling in a form online and I have to move the cursor down to the year of my birth. Down and down it goes, past the 2000s, into the 1990s, down through the 1980s.
By this time my right index finger is getting cramp, but there’s still the 1970s to go, followed by the 1960s and then — at last! — I come to land on 1957, which by now seems so distant that it might as well be 1857, or even 1066.
CRAIG BROWN (pictured): Today is my birthday. It only seems a day or two ago that I was opening a birthday card with a badge attached saying ‘6’
CRAIG BROWN: The only thing that keeps me optimistic is looking through the lists of ‘Today’s Birthdays’ and checking that, whatever happens, Joan Collins (pictured), whose birthday is also on May 23, is still 24 years older than I am
The only thing that keeps me optimistic is looking through the lists of ‘Today’s Birthdays’ and checking that, whatever happens, Joan Collins, whose birthday is also on May 23, is still 24 years older than I am. Happy 90th birthday, Joanie! It’s nice having her around to offer me this melancholy comfort.
How have my predecessors coped with this progression into senior citizenship? Handily, some have kept diaries, so their thoughts on the subject are preserved for ever. On May 23, 1997, Joan Collins writes in her diary: ‘My birthday! Can’t believe I’ve made it this long. It’s all gone in a flash, quite terrifying really but one must not dwell on it.’
Yet she was still only 64! As you might expect, her pain is softened by gifts galore. ‘Spent the day answering the door to dozens of bouquets of flowers. So many people sent me flowers and faxes and cards . . .Telephone and front door going constantly.’
On her birthday evening, she enjoys a ‘wonderful’ dinner party with ‘some of my closest friends’. ‘Ordered £400 worth of caviar . . . and we had it to start with in a baked potato.’
Others are notably less gluttonous. The great 17th-century diarist John Evelyn celebrated his 66th birthday in 1686 by fasting, in preparation for Holy Communion the following day.
‘Sixty-six years ago today I was propelled from the womb,’ writes the ever-ebullient Noel Coward in his diary entry for December 16, 1965. Then he looks back on the year of his birth, 1899, when ‘there was not even the thought of an aeroplane in the winter skies and horse-buses clopped through the London streets’.
Sixty-six years later, the world had changed completely. ‘Men are whizzing about in outer space and taking photographs of the remote stars.’
Today, we 66-year-olds can remember days before the internet and mobile phones, but the changes that occurred in Coward’s first 66 years were infinitely more wide-ranging. He witnessed a world transformed by the telephone, radio and television, as well as the car and aeroplane.
On his 66th birthday, he learns that the grand old man of letters, W. Somerset Maugham, has just died, at the age of 90. His response is typically acerbic. ‘Poor miserable old man. Not very sadly mourned, I fear.’
My favourite diarist, the playwright Simon Gray, greeted his 66th birthday in 2002 with characteristic black humour. ‘The truth is I’m nastier than I used to be back when — back when I was 64, for instance, when I was nastier than I was at 62, and so forth, back and back, always the less nasty further back, until I get to the age when I was pre-nasty.’
Later that same year, he catches sight of his naked body in the mirror. ‘Great stomach drooping, like a kangaroo’s pouch, though without the opening at the top, thank God . . . Old. Old’s the word.’
On a bus, he shows his new Freedom Pass, and is upset when the conductor doesn’t even bother to glance at it, ‘my face and baggy figure being enough to tell the story of my age, my right to a free journey’.
He then offers a fine suggestion for ticket inspectors in this situation. ‘It would be nice if they were taught to study the card, and check out the photograph with a slight air of suspicion, just to humour us.’
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