Comment: Congratulations - that envelope contains your passport to old age

One of the disadvantages of no longer being in full-time parenting - not that I ever really did much full-time parenting in the first place, and not that I can call to mind any of the other disadvantages of no longer being in it - but a disadvantage, anyway, is that you lose track of what anybody under the age of 25 looks like.

I exaggerate slightly. Babies I can of course pick out, and small boys wearing Arsenal and Manchester United football shirts (though even then you have to be careful you're not confusing them with senior management in BBC television), but otherwise I am at a loss. If somebody were to tell me that there are no such people as under-25s, that a very precise age-sensitive epidemic wiped them all out while I was chair-dancing with the over-50s in Eastbourne, I can't see how it would make any significant difference to my visual universe. I never noticed them when they were there. To the elderly the world looks elderly, and if the prospect of that doesn't make you wish you were old already then you lack imagination.

When I do, as in my profession I occasionally must, keep company with fellow writers in their thirties - mere beginners if you want to know the truth of it - I am startled by the gap not only in our culinary and tailoring aesthetic, but in our appreciation of what makes for beauty in the other sex.

They gasp and nudge me when a squidgy weanling who is all bulge and baby- fat above and all grey bone and angularity below trips by on built-up Reeboks, and I gasp and nudge them when a panting grandmother experientially lined at the corners of her eyes, exquisitely wonky round the jaw, pauses at a lamp-post to catch her breath, repair her lipstick and take the weight off her toeless two-toned Charles Jourdan stilettos.

"Now tell me," I whisper, when I get my own breath back, "that any woman not past the age of child-bearing will ever look beautiful to you again!" And they stare at me as though my brain's gone soft. But I mean every word I say. To the elderly the world is elderly, and only the elderly can steal your heart.

Is there a democracy in this? Did we feel similarly when we were young, that the only world that mattered was not a day older than we were and that the rest of it could go hang? Not me. What I remember most about my youth was that I wore it like a chain around my neck. Being the age I was - I'm talking roughly seven to seventeen now - embarrassed me acutely, as though it were a guilty secret, a moral rather than a physical condition which I would have hidden had I known where to hide it.

Immaturity plagued me; it felt like a permanent finger of shame pointed at my intelligence. I routinely fell spiritually in love with older men in whom I saw the self I couldn't wait to be, but in whom I also saw supreme contempt for my inexperience. It came as a nasty shock to me, years later, to discover that older men themselves fall in love with younger, loving them precisely for that quality of unusedness which I despised in myself. It won't come as a nasty shock to you, then, to learn that I find such a passion inexplicable, except as a morbid perversion, and of course I don't have any objections to those.

It's exam results week which has turned my mind to this. All those letters flying from post office to post office, all that hope hanging on the whim of a postman. What if he happens not to like you and decides to feed your four A-pluses to the dog? What if he chooses to swap envelopes just for the hell of it? Sure, you can pop round to your school, if that's what they still call it, to check your results on the noticeboard, and no doubt you can ring someone up and complain if you don't like what you see. But those are hurdles two and three, and you won't be in any condition to clear them if the postman has already brought you down at hurdle one.

I am, of course, remembering my own fears. Good exam results were the quickest exit from the ignominies of youth. Get 20 O-levels, each a more spectacular A than the last, and no one would ever mistake you for a young person again. More to the point, get 20 O-levels and the road to blessed adulthood stretched beckoningly before you - sixth-form, university, and then LIFE! Fail and you'd be a child for ever.

So you couldn't afford for there to be any mistakes on the morning the postman was meant to call. And yet you only had to think about it for a second to imagine the thousands of mishaps that still stood between you and maturity.

Postmen get tired, postmen have heart attacks, postmen suffer sudden and irrecoverable memory loss when it comes to streets and house numbers. All it needed was for the postman to lose his footing over a grate at the very moment he was separating your letter from the bundle and that was your future down the drain.

I wouldn't wish such a fate on any young person, whether I know what one looks like or not. Get that letter, get those passes, and get out of juvenescence. Trust me, it's much better where I am.

Howard Jacobson's new novel, `The Might Walzer', is reviewed on page 9

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game