Hope I'll grow up before I get old

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THIRTY-FOUR years ago today Eddie Cochran was killed in a car crash on the A4; eight years ago today John McCarthy was kidnapped (and I hope he, of all people, has a good day today); 23 years ago today a late Charlie George goal sent Arsenal to the top of the First Division for the first time that season; 19 years ago today I got drunk and sick on celebratory rainbow cocktails; 29 years ago today I was taken to see a double bill of Born Free and Jason and the Argonauts; and 37 years ago today I was born.

I'm so old it's unbelievable, to misquote an old football chant. Thirty-seven] Thirty-seven years before I was born, the First World War had only been over for 17 months] Thirty-seven years was the time between the release of The Jazz Singer and the release of A Hard Day's Night] Charles Dickens wrote every single one of his novels in 37 years of his life] They were the last, rather than the first, 37, which makes me feel better, but even so I should have written my equivalents of Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol and Dombey and Son by now. It is not only modesty that prevents me from claiming I have done so.

The gap betwen me and younger generations is more noticeable than it has ever been before; mysteriously, and worryingly, the gap between me and older generations seems to be disappearing altogether. I am nine years older than the England soccer captain, more than a decade older than the England cricket captain, and more or less the same age as Prince Charles, and the Queen, and the Queen Mother, and the oldest man in the world who lives up in a mountain in Tibet. I used to be a good 10 years younger than Lee Brilleaux, the Dr Feelgood singer who sadly died this month. I now find that he had narrowed the gap to four years. I am old, old, old, as old as the hills, as old as Methuselah, as old as time, as old as 'Rock Around The Clock'.

The thing is (and I'm so old I'm about to paraphrase the expression 'you're only as old as you feel' - watch), while a great deal has changed on the outside, nothing much seems to have changed on the inside. When I was younger, I used to think that at some unidentifiable point in the future I would become adult overnight, and that various urges - the urge to buy quarters of toffee bonbons, the urge to buy pop records every time I passed a shop, the urge to skive off, the urge to eat chips for my tea every day - would leave me, but this hasn't happened. Some of these urges I ignore (I haven't had chips all week, for example), but most of them receive as much attention and sympathy as they got a quarter of a century ago.

'You're obviously very good with children,' someone remarked at a family celebration a couple of years back, after I had participated vigorously in a back-garden kick-about with various young relatives; I stared at her blankly. What on earth was she on about? All I'd been doing was playing football. And then I remembered that I was a grown-up, and that the grass stains on my trousers now indicated selflessness rather than self-indulgence.

'You'll be going to classical concerts by the time you're 25, I guarantee you,' my dad used to say, but it never happened, even though I was looking forward to them, in a peculiar sort of way, just as I was looking forward to knowing something about wine. (Is there some course that the whole world goes on which nobody will tell me about?) It now looks as though I'm doomed to listen to pop music forever, although I think I'll have to join one of those record clubs soon, just to spare myself the humiliation of mispronouncing something in Our Price.

Where are all the rites of passage we're always reading about in novels and seeing in films? I can't find any. It was easy for Prince Hal in Henry IV Part II: he knew that unless he ditched Falstaff there would be trouble. What will happen to me if I refuse to let go of my Smashing Pumpkins compact disc, or my 1970 World Cup coin collection? Nothing, as far as I can tell. There's just no incentive to act my age.

This is not, however, an era that encourages us to grow old gracefully. Too many people are out running marathons when they should be at home watching Play Your Cards Right, and too many people are wearing Levis when they should be listening to the Jimmy Young show.

Everyone knows that kids grow up much too fast these days, but we should be just as concerned that adults don't grow up fast enough. At this rate, it will not be long before the entire population of the Western world looks and acts exactly the same age, give or take a bald head here and a few wrinkles there. We will see entire families wearing their baseball caps the wrong way round, and parents attending Snoop Doggy Dog concerts with their children.

It is difficult to see much good coming from this. In fact, if youth culture goes on being appropriated by those who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, youths, then genuine young people will be forced to adopt ever more extreme positions. Eighteen years ago (18 years] Half my life]) punk rock was born, partly out of a distaste for middle-aged rock stars. People put rings through their noses and wore dog collars, and it didn't do any good: the middle-aged rock stars stayed put, and the punk rock stars eventually caught up with them.

So what are young people supposed to do now? Even if they decided to cut off their ears or attach their tongues to the middle of their foreheads, it is not hard to imagine a few middle-aged record company executives following suit.

Maybe now is the time for somebody to start a campaign aimed at restoring the traditional ageing process, to lobby for laws forbidding the sale of 501s to anyone over a certain age: 38 seems about right to me. I'd like to smoke a dog, and take the pipe out for a walk, and so on, but . . . maybe not just yet.-