I’m loving being middle aged – James Delingpole

March 9, 2012

A new study claiming that we’re at the peak of our powers in mid-life confirms what many already feel.

Peak condition: James Delingpole says he is wiser and happier than his younger self - I’m loving being middle-aged

Peak condition: James Delingpole says he is wiser and happier than his younger self

When does middle age officially begin? Being just a few months away from my 47th birthday, I am ideally placed to give you the definitive answer: it starts when you’re about 10 years older than I am now. Or possibly 15 years.

What I can say for certain is that whatever “middle-aged” is, I’m definitely not it yet. Why, just look at my Adidas Gazelles! Look at my not-grey hair! Look how much I’m liking (as they say) the Lana Del Rey album! I’m still young, I tell you. Young! Young young young young young!

That said, I’ve a suspicion I’m not the only middle-aged man who suffers delusions in this direction. In the old days, maturity was something young men aspired to acquire as quickly as possible. (Think of how prematurely old and fogeyish teenagers strove to look in Oxford and Cambridge group portraits – or even school photographs – taken in the Twenties and Thirties). Today, it’s a curse to be warded off indefinitely with yoga classes, skin-care regimes, even Botox or surgery. Plus jeans, of course. And T-shirts. And the new Lana Del Rey album: did I mention how much we’re all liking that?

Perhaps, though, we’re wasting our energies in trying to stave off the inevitable. At least, if we’re to believe the rather pleasing thesis advanced in a new book, Middle Age: A Natural History, by Cambridge lecturer David Bainbridge. According to Bainbridge, far from being has-beens on the slow downhill trundle to oblivion, we middle-aged farts in fact represent the human species at the very peak of its powers.

We represent, argues Bainbridge – he’s talking about men here, though much of what he says applies to women too – “the most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection”. No, better than that, we are “an elite caste of ‘super-providers’”; we’re “the main route by which culture is transferred”. We also “tend to be better at developing long-term plans, selecting relevant material from a mass of information, planning [our] time and co-ordinating the efforts of others – a constellation of skills that we might call wisdom”.

Bainbridge himself is 42, so perhaps he would say this. But he does have lots of evidence to support it: the fact that though our eyesight may decline markedly with middle age, our cognitive faculties don’t; the fact that, as a species, we’re unusually slow to acquire the full panoply of survival skills (meaning that the middle-aged play a vital role as the repository and transmitter of knowledge); the fact that – in common with killer whales, oddly enough – we follow the unusual practice of “self-sterilising” by sticking with our post-menopausal female partners, rather than continuing to try to mate with all and sundry (so much for the mid-life crisis, which Bainbridge claims is a myth).

And now I think about it – drawing, of course, on that vast repository of knowledge I have acquired in my nearly five decades of existence – I realise that Bainbridge is dead right. Sure, there are things I regret about my middle-aged status – nose hair would be one; ear hair would be another; the wiry tendrils extending from my Denis Healey eyebrows would be a third. But for all its drawbacks (did I mention the fact that all pretty girls under 35 – all ugly girls too, for that matter – look straight through you, as if you’re completely invisible?), mid middle-age does strike me as a pretty superior place to be.

You notice this – and I believe I speak for all my age group here – in the way we look at younger men. It’s not quite contemptuously, that’s too strong, but it’s definitely not enviously. What we feel, I think, is something more akin to pity. We look at all that energy they’re expending, all that time and money they’re squandering, all that physical damage they’re self-inflicting in their frenetic efforts either to impress or get wasted, and we shake our heads in wearied amusement and say to ourselves: “Well, thank God we’ve put most of that nonsense behind us.”

I say “most of that nonsense” because, of course, there are exceptions. For example, I’ve heard of several 50th birthday parties where, once the “grown-ups” have all toddled home, out come the bags of illicit powders and pills to go with the top-class dance DJ who has been recruited for the evening, pumping out tunes on the kind of state-of-the-art, über-bassy sound system you could never hope to afford to hire in your twenties. That’s one of the great advantages of middle age: we may indulge ourselves more rarely, but when we do, we do it properly.

David Cameron is a fairly classic representative of the rave generation middle-ager. Though obviously he doesn’t dabble with proscribed chemicals, he has taken care – in defiance of his 45 reverend years – to keep himself fit (viz those slightly unflattering puffed-out photos with personal trainer Matt Roberts) and healthy (giving up, or trying to give up, cigarettes) and down with the kids (well, he professes to like the Smiths: does that count?).

This marks him as clearly distinct from prime ministers of earlier generations. Can you imagine Winston Churchill entertaining even for the briefest of moments the idea of giving up his cigars or taking up jogging in order to prolong his aura of youth?

Some things, however, haven’t changed at all about being middle-aged. One of them is the understanding you acquire that, to quote PJ O’Rourke, “age and guile beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut”. Sure, it’s a survival strategy born of necessity: past 35 you can’t run as fast, see as far, or track down and kill nearly so many woolly mammoths. But it also happens to be a survival strategy that wins. As Bainbridge notes: “In offices, on construction sites and on sports pitches around the world we see middle-aged people advising and guiding younger adults and sometimes even ordering them about.”

And there’s a good reason for this: it’s because we’re better equipped to deal with the real world. Call it wisdom, call it experience, but we have a finer understanding of which methods work (and which ones are a waste of space), and a clearer appreciation of the end goals and the bigger picture.

We’re the ones with sufficient perspective to appreciate, say, that if everyone were to pull a sickie just because they’ve got a hangover, the company would cease to function and everyone would lose their job. It’s not that we want to go home any less. (In all likelihood we want to go home more, because another thing you appreciate when you hit middle age is that your family is the greatest of all life’s pleasures.) It’s just that we’ve come to understand – as, oddly, so few of us do when we’re younger – that businesses aren’t magic money trees whose purpose it is to pay us all because we’re special and we deserve it. Without our maturity and sense of responsibility, in other words, everything would fall apart and we’d all be stuffed.

I remember, when I was a child, calculating how old I’d be in the year 2000, realising that I would be 35, and thinking that in that case I might just as well be dead. God knows what I would have thought of 47. But now I am (almost) that age, I don’t feel that way at all. I still have more than enough energy and adventurousness to do manly, exciting things like swimming in freezing Welsh rivers – but now I not only have a wife and children to enjoy it with me, but the sense of mortality which enables me to appreciate, more than I ever did when I was young, exactly what makes this life so magical and precious.

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16 thoughts on “I’m loving being middle aged”

  1. Ian Hills says:10th March 2012 at 1:37 amFor myself (54), I am in “late youth”. This appellation so impresses eighteen-year-old girls that they stare at me open-mouthed. But their fathers don’t.
    1. Eworrall says:13th March 2012 at 8:28 amCome on, its an extra challenge to seduce someone who thinks they are a Lesbian. OK, some people are committed Lesbians, but as Boy George once said, sexuality is rarely black or white, there are many shades of grey.

      I once seduced a stripper, while she was at work. That was a lot of fun, sadly in the days before viagra.

  2. Nige Cook says:10th March 2012 at 9:36 ampersonally i want to be old old old old old. hot girls treated me like a kid when i was a teenager and in my twenties, even when i was wearing a false beard to look mature.
    1. Eworrall says:13th March 2012 at 8:25 amThats because you weren’t wearing a Rolex and driving a hot sports car.
  3. rippon says:11th March 2012 at 1:05 am“We’re the ones with sufficient perspective to appreciate, say, that if everyone were to pull a sickie just because they’ve got a hangover, the company would cease to function and everyone would lose their job.”

    This is exactly the perspective that you’re actually missing, though.

    Despite the wisdom you profess to acquire with advancing years, you display toddler-tantrum in rejecting unpleasant truths.

    “Sufficient perspective” enables people to “appreciate” that “if everyone were to” consume fossil fuels without restraint, the planet “would cease to function” to properly support our species and “everyone would lose [far more than] their job.”

    1. Nige Cook says:12th March 2012 at 5:29 pmYou have this back to front: it is precisely everyone else that is the problem, while we’re the ones killing ourselves to reach targets that others are not, even though our hitting the targets means damn all since we’re not polluting significantly (as compared to China, USA, Russia, etc.). Two problems:

      (1) Pollution is exaggerated. This is Delingpole’s whole point, you idiot. The earth has had far higher rates of natural climate change after each ice age ended in the past, without problem. Species naturally go extinct, it’s part of evolution. Why should we interfere? Yes, we should decode the DNA of polar bears and mosquitoes so Noah can one day resurrect them, along with dinosaurs and dodos, to help find a new treatment for cancer, but you’re an inhuman fascist if you put them above human life.

      (2) Your “head in the sand” argument is like the disarmers like Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s: if Britain sets a lead, then everyone else will follow. Didn’t work. It was obvious to Churchill it wouldn’t. Nobody will copy “our example” unless it pays them to do so, which will happen automatically when fossil fuels become relatively uneconomic as compared to nuclear and other clean options, which has nothing to do with Al Gore or AGW propaganda liars.

      Hope this helps to straighten out your mean delusional rubbish.

      1. rippon says:12th March 2012 at 9:00 pmYou’re engaging in a completely separate debate, Nige Cook.

        You’re talking about the ‘futility’ of Britain trying to set a lead.

        That may or may not be futile, but I’m simply talking about whether a pollution problem *exists*, never mind who’s in a position to set a lead in solving it.

        It seems the strength of your feelings (“idiot”, “liars”, “fascist”, “delusional”) has somewhat swamped your ability to think clearly. The hyperbolic language of yours that I quote weakens, doesn’t strengthen, your ‘argument’ – inverted commas because, like Delingpole, it’s more like a toddler tantrum than rational argument.

        In your haste to berate rather than think things through properly, you’ve also enunciated a glaring contradiction: in your first para you suggest that China and America are “the problem”, because their carbon omissions dwarf ours (UK); but then in your second para you suggest that those massive emissions are not a problem anyway.

        It’s necessary to decode your gibberish to glean your actual position on this issue, which is: contrary to the vast majority of scientists (climate and other), you don’t believe human carbon emissions pose a problem for human survival; but even if they do, we (UK) shouldn’t bother amending our behaviour because we hardly emit any carbon anyway compared to others (e.g. China, America).

        This position (of Delingpole and yourself) is a toddler tantrum because it’s like a parent trying to take sweets away from her child, saying, “That’s enough. You can’t keep consuming like that because you’ll harm yourself.”

        The toddler reacts with a tantrum because consumption feels good, life is great like this, and he doesn’t want to change.

        Moreover, when the parent reprimands the toddler for polluting the environment by simply dropping sweet wrappers on the pavement, then, lacking the maturity to recognise that that is indeed wrong *in principle*, he screams “But what about him over there!” – someone who has merrily dropped much bigger litter (chicken take-away box, say).

        And this is the irony of this piece by Delingpole: he talks about ageing and wisdom, but his (and your) whole mentality is that of a toddler – too infantile to accept unpleasant truths that would require restraint in their consumerist behaviour.

        1. Eworrall says:12th March 2012 at 9:33 pmWhy do we have to restrain our consumerist behaviour?

          Surely, if CO2 is the problem, we should be building nuclear reactors. That way, we get the gain without the pain – all the energy we want, without the CO2.

          Even Monbiot says nuclear is safe. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima

          But reducing CO2 was never your real goal, was it? You want to impose constraints on our lifestyle. CO2 is just a handy excuse.

          1. rippon says:12th March 2012 at 10:24 pm“You want to impose constraints on our lifestyle.”

            Yep, that’s absolutely correct – because I (and all rational people) would prefer a constraint on my lifestyle to a collapse in my lifestyle. For example, I would prefer to drive my car 10% less than to give up driving completely.

            Consider fish consumption. There is no scientist who disagrees that the ocean’s fish stock is collapsing due to over-consumption (there aren’t even any scientists disputing this through their prostitution to the fishing industry, as happens with the whores paid by the fossil and nuclear industries). I would prefer to eat more anchovy and less tuna rather than forgo tuna completely.

            Monbiot is completely wrong about nuclear power. It seems he’s adopting that position merely to give himself a more saleable ‘agent provocateur’ image in the media – helps boost one’s audience.

            But let’s suppose he’s right. Even then there is a consumption problem because it will take at least a decade for any new nuclear stations to make any significant contribution to the grid. In the meantime we would have to reduce consumption to avoid a gulf between supply and demand.

            Seems you’re another toddler who throws a tantrum at hearing the word ‘no’.

          2. Eworrall says:13th March 2012 at 8:22 am“all rational people would prefer a constraint rather than a collapse”.

            Of course this would be true, if there was any need for constraint.

            Scarcity of fish – you would impose a constraint on consumption, to protect supply. I would encourage the creation of new fish farms.

            We moved from being hunter gatherers to farmers for a good reason – most of us want to solve problems, rather than simply accept them, or use them as a handy excuse for self flagellation.

            As for the nuclear issue, you say Monbiot is wrong? So far, not one single person has died because of Fukishima (except maybe the guy who had a heart attack). An unimaginable Earthquake, an enormous Tsunami, and ageing, out of date plant, and the thing still doesn’t melt down. Isn’t it time you guys gave up on your unjustified “nuclear is dangerous” cant?

            As for nuclear taking a decade to come onstream, how can an extra decade of British CO2 consumption possibly matter? We produce 1.5% of the world’s CO2, and any rational plan to reduce it would at most cut 10% or so off our consumption, so we would produce 1.35% of the world’s CO2, at horrible cost, and terrible consequences for old people, and others who cannot afford high priced heating.

            Given that at most the world CO2 levels are rising by 5ppm / decade, the sacrifice you propose would save 0.15% of 5ppm, or 0.0075ppm, over a decade.

            A decade of full, unrestricted British CO2 production would make no measurable difference to global CO2 levels, even if you are right.

            Meanwhile, China is opening two new coal powered stations every week. The dictators in China, unlike the Eurocrats, appreciate that if you mistreat the peasants too long, they rise up and destroy you.

          3. rippon says:13th March 2012 at 12:53 pmIn a way, there is not really any debate here – between greens and capitalists.

            It’s really just about the perspective one adopts.

            Your perspective is that humanity always has, and therefore always will, manage to employ new technology to solve any new supply problem that arises. You argue that: with respect to fish, the technology of fish-farming will work; and with respect to energy, nuclear power can solve the supply problem.

            The green perspective is to concede that science/technology has indeed empowered us in the past, but now we are at an unprecedented moment in human history where we have reached the limits of the biosphere’s capacity to absorb our environmental impacts.

            The merit of the Green perspective is that it is consistently based on science.

            The demerit of Delingpole’s position (which I’m not quite sure whether you, Eworrall, share) is that he is inconsistent in his attitude to science: he accepts science when it says pleasant things (e.g. more powerful gadgets, plentiful energy, more food production), but rejects it when it says unpleasant things (e.g. AGW, consumption must be reduced).

            You have started debating along scientific lines by talking about CO2 concentrations. I personally don’t wish to go there because I prefer to leave the science and conclusions (e.g. we must cut CO2 emissions) to the scientific consensus.

            That’s what all rational people do in all areas of their lives. For example: before I drive anywhere, I don’t debate the integrity of the engineering behind the engine, roads and bridges that I will be using; I put my faith in the competence of the experts who have created that stuff; when I leave the doctor’s surgery, the most I might do is seek a second opinion *from another doctor* – I don’t seek to acquire medical expertise myself so that I can attempt to dispute the doctor’s judgements.

          4. Bryan Murphy says:15th March 2012 at 7:23 pmAll you need to know about Delingpole and science is his post earlier this year claiming that America was a net exporter of petroleum (!), and prating about peak oil, which he completely misunderstood. He engaged with the first one or two commentators, then was ripped to shreds by the rest and went very, very quiet. His post is still on the Spectator, for some reason.
        2. Nige Cook says:13th March 2012 at 4:04 pmNo I don’t have the time to reply to your lies, except to say that there is no contradiction between pointing out that the fact that Britain’s pollution is trivial compared to China, and the fact that there isn’t a big problem when you look at the unexaggerated facts of the temperature record, and the positive feedback H2O lie in IPCC models.

          Disentangling your polemic, your case is that Stalin (or is it Hitler?) should have exterminated everyone to make the world “clean” and “peaceful”. Your case is that humanity should be murdered to save the world from getting a bit warmer.

          What gets me angry is that you people communicate by lies, exaggerations, and scare-mongering, because you know damn well that you won’t be popular if you tell the truth. You’re pure evil.

          1. rippon says:13th March 2012 at 4:48 pmNige Cook said: “Your case is that humanity should be murdered to save the world from getting a bit warmer.”

            You may disagree with the Green case, but your argument is not helped by misrepresenting that case.

            The Green argument can be made by simple analogy:

            In the wake of a disaster (e.g. earthquake), there will be far less food and water to go round due to the collapse in infrastructure. More people will be saved if everyone’s consumption is reduced and consumption is spread evenly, rather than everyone scrambling for as much as they can grab.

            The Green case, then, is about saving, not ‘murdering’, people.

            You should restrict your argument to your contention (fantasy) that there is no problem with supply (water, food, energy) and habitation (environmental degradation), and that the Greens are simply scaremongering.

            Even the Greens’ most ardent critics don’t grab wildly at crazy arguments that Greens desire genocide of humans.

            It seems you do concede that the world is “getting a bit warmer.” That’s what the Greens and many others (e.g. IPCC) say. The ‘scaremongering’, then, is about the *consequences* of that. It is a well-established principle of science, and indeed life generally, that small changes can have big effects.

            As I said to Eworrall, there isn’t really any debate here; it’s simply a matter of perspective, and what you choose to accept. The grown-up perspective is to take bad news on board and do something about it, e.g. reduce consumption a bit because that’s far less painful than a collapse in living-standards. The toddler perspective is to scream ‘No!’ at any suggestion that they should do without some luxury.

            I choose to accept the scientific consensus. You choose to accept the comforting denials (e.g. from Delingpole) that there are any problems that urgently need addressing.

            Moreover, Delingpole basically said on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s LBC radio show that he was indeed effectively subscribing to a massive conspiracy theory that encompassed the overwhelming majority of scientists and governments around the world.

            Thus, he displays similar delusion to you: grabbing wildly at crazy theories in a desperate attempt to give his position some coherence.

  4. brothersmartmouth says:15th March 2012 at 8:45 amHairless ape!
    1. brothersmartmouth says:17th March 2012 at 2:59 amor, Who shaved the Orangutan?
      I just turned 46. Thank You!

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