Park Life: OK, so I'm a sheep. So what?

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The Independent Culture
THE CAR radio was tuned to Radio 3 as I hunted for a parking space outside the cinema, and a hard-boiled New York writer was reading an extract from her latest book. I quickly gathered that she was contemplating her future with some hip bloke in his early twenties. In fact, just the kind of guy I was myself in that New York year filed away among my memories, when I packed fruit and vegetables on a street stall in Harlem, cooked shepherd's pie (how late-Nineties ironic, and this was the early Eighties) in a live-jazz gay bar, and hung out at the legendary Mud Club.

"At 40," the writer read on (and I'm paraphrasing from memory), "you'll be a couch potato, falling asleep in your comfortable chair, too tired to rough-house any more..."

I congratulated myself smugly at having avoided this description, neatly side-stepping the fact that I have recently cultivated the habit of taking 40 winks in the early afternoon. Napping is naff, I agree, lady writer. But the Mediterranean-style siesta, now re-branded as the power snooze, is sophisticated, sexy even. And in the year of the euro, it's my contribution to practical European integration - part of my campaign to eat like an Italian, pay tax like a Frenchman, take holidays like a German, and siesta like a Sevillano.

As for my failure to "rough-house", I think I detect a transatlantic double entendre, but I'll settle for protesting that anyone with two sons has more than enough of that sort of behaviour to put up with, thank you very much.

"Or," she continued, "you'll become one of those middle-aged men who tries desperately to make up for the sports he missed out on in his youth, and frequently turns up in cycling shorts on inappropriate occasions."

Hold on, lady, do you know me from somewhere? Am I that transparent, 4,000 miles, five time zones and the Atlantic Ocean away? And anyway, I never go to the supermarket in cycling shorts, or arrive at dinner parties, or visit relatives in hospital. I wear them for cycling, for which they are eminently appropriate. As for catching up with the sports I missed out on... Well, in my youth I was far too busy getting down on the dance floor and hanging out at the bar to have time or energy for much else.

No one likes to be reduced to an advertiser's market share or a pop sociologist's acronym. When the Young Urban Professional was first identified and satirised in the Eighties, we frequently overheard yuppies complaining at the tops of their voices about "bloody yuppies". We like to see ourselves as individuals, with unique tastes and experiences, when all the evidence is that we are sheep following the flock. A good thing too, in many ways; if I were the only sedentary office worker in central London who wanted to play squash in my lunch break, there would be no squash club available for me within 10 minutes' walk of 500 potential opponents.

But no amount of rationale can expunge the shudder that passed through me when I heard that radio show. The thought that I can be slotted so neatly into a box with hundreds of Manhattan men nudging their middle years and probably tens of thousands more in towns and cities all over the world, only to be skewered in the acid prose of some female Tom Woolf, will haunt my hours of exercise for weeks to come.

So next time I go to New York, on some family package ticket, will I proudly pull on my cycling shorts and march into the Mud Club? Will I rough-house on the lounge-bar floor with my two sons, shouting "Get lost, yuppie scum" at anyone who dares to glance my way, just in case there's a hard-boiled woman writer in there somewhere, taking mental notes? I'm afraid not. I'll be the bloke in the battered leather jacket rescued from a suitcase in the attic, sipping a solitary Dos Equis beer for one more trip down memory lane. I wonder how many of us will be there too.

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