The time of their lives: Seven alpha-males name their favourite decade

It's official: the male mid-life crisis starts at 38 and ends at 43 - or so said a nationwide survey published this week. But what is the best age to be alive? Seven alpha-males name their favourite decade, and look back (or forward) to one they'd rather forget
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Teens: Darcus Howe

There can be no generalisations about what is the best age to be a man, in this mix and muddle of classes, races and nations thrown hither and thither in one melting pot, no particular time or moment produces similar thrills and spills to be categorized for us males as the best or the worst.

My best years have long been left behind on a tiny Caribbean island of Trinidad, between the ages of 13 and 18. I was a boy in the few years before then, bright and curious immersed in the certainty that announced after the Second World War.

Then, suddenly, all that was fixed, fast and frozen dissolved into uncertainty and a creative passage of time. That strict hierarchical solidity dissolved at first slowly increasing in intensity and speed by the day.

God was no longer the Almighty who had to be feared. My parents were the first to sound the alarm to raise the challenge even. God appeared less in the scheme of things. My mother ceased attending church and my father did only to do a job.

Brickbats were hurled at the colonial governor and King George's death mattered little.

Old colonial relations had broken down irretrievably and nothing new had yet taken its place. Victorian formality could no longer restrain. Every act seemed to be creative, every thought original. I came out thinking, twisting and shouting, rebelling, some say without a cause. (How wrong they were!).

Elvis, Sam Cooke, Brooke Benton emerged from another continent via the juke box with the stars and stripes emblazoned across the sky.

Young girls were, at times, less restrained than their male counterparts. The crinoline eased off the hips giving to us young men a free and uninhibited access. Molliere, Chateaubriand and Shakespeare which appeared to us so boring assumed a new meaning.

The last batch of white colonials was by instinct liberals giving way to the inventiveness of eager natives in a nationalist time of change.

I bowled a fine outswinger which contributed to our victory in the cricket Colts championship, and the West Indies were in the ascendant.

and the worst age...

The worse years are yet to come, the physical restraints placed on an old and tired frame. I can reel off a list of ailments which beckons, a time which my late father described as follows: "judgment has come: and mercy has gone", he intoned as he dragged himself out of bed on a tired Caribbean morning. Soon, it will be my turn.

Twenties: Oliver Duff

Twenty-somethings: we're licensed brats caught between the bits of our lives ruined by our parents and the bits to be ruined by our children; overgrown infants with disposable incomes and the energy to fritter them away.

We can't afford first homes, pensions look set to be a waste of money, and we are already mired in so much debt - student loans, credit cards, once-favourable overdrafts - that the numbers have become abstract and (we pretend) meaningless. No mortgage, no kids. Mostly just ourselves to think about.

We can drink and not fear a hangover, eat without worrying about a belly, run up the stairs without losing consciousness, and throw ourselves out of a plane tied to a bedsheet if we so choose without being treated as if we're having an identity crisis and need to be institutionalised. "Oh yes, you young people and your japes! That's what you do! Live while you can." We are still, just about, in touch with technology and so don't require the services of a small child to show us how to watch a film. Our careers hold promise and we are supposedly at our physical peak.

Back in the day, you were supposed (apparently) to have a job at 16 or 18, a wife by 20, and two kids and a foaming inner rage by 25. Since the infantilisation of Britain's young professionals, caused by the expansion of university life and the crippling live-with-your-mum property market, a man can drink, smoke and shag with impunity well into his 30s.

The downsides? Not having accrued the wisdom of your mistakes. Not benefiting from the legendary "biological clock factor", which is reputed to aid 30-year-old men on the pull. Knowing that it will all catch up with you in the end. But the best thing is that we don't yet know enough about the world to have given up on it.

and the worst age...

The comfortable answer would be to hark back to awkward adolescence but I suspect that the worst awaits us when our health fails. If, like my great grandfather who lived to be 97, I can sit in front of the telly watching cricket and only really be irritated when I can't find my spectacles (perched atop my head all along), then being 90, wise and a little prejudiced could be satisfying. More likely, though, that one becomes a confused, spoon-fed monument to some dusty bygone era.

Thirties: John Walsh

It has to be your thirties, doesn't it? First, because you've passed that first watershed - that striving to hit the big-time, make the first million and write the first novel before you're 30 - and can pursue what you really want to do.

Second, because you're less callow and frantic than in your 20s, your relationships towards friends and enemies are more honest, and your feelings towards the opposite sex less inspired by what Beckett called "the cloaca of colonic gratification".

Third, because you will never again be forced by peer-group pressure to eat Garfunkels cheeseburgers, play air-guitar or dance to dreadful techno music in expensive clubs at 2am.

Fourth, because you slow your life down enough to savour it properly for the first time: the bliss of penetrating the foil over a coffee jar; the revelation that wine really can smell of leather, pencil shavings, liquorice and horseshit; the sunlight on the garden; Bach's cello suites; Ely Cathedral; all things you wouldn't have given a flying toss about in your 20s.

Fifth, because it's the time when you finally own a house and the aforementioned garden - a paradigm of bourgeois complacency perhaps, but also a large dwelling in which your life will expand.

Sixth, because it's when you first have children and, after only six months of screaming and colic and puke and insomnia, a hitherto unused, indeed unknown, muscle in your heart goes "BOING!" and a new world of feeling opens up inside you, and suddenly the life you lived before they were around seems hopeless dim, indistinct and incomplete.

Seventh, because girls are less likely to sleep with you out of sympathy (and more out of curiosity.)

Eighth, it's when you learn to cook properly.

Ninth, your parents are still alive and neither too dictatorial nor too doddery.

Tenth, it still hasn't quite sunk in that you're gonna die, sooner rather than later.

and the worst age...

The worst age is 15. Your face is a fright, your hair is rubbish, your voice is a parroty croak, you're legally barred from pubs and adult movies, girls mutter "Jeez..." at the sight of you, your friends have cooler clothes than you and your mother ticks you off for "blowing your nose on the sheets." You're neither kid nor adult, just an awkward homunculus, wishing you were dead.

Forties: D J Taylor

"Grow old with me/the best is yet to be" runs the Browning poem - a proposal I had grave doubts about when young and now, enmired in the mid-forty-something rut, view with even greater suspicion. On the other hand, the novelist Anthony Powell maintained that youth was over-rated: one's sixties, he reckoned, were, an excellent decade. Sixth-form years at school were good, and the tremendous sense that one was (rightly or wrongly) actually being taken seriously for the first time, and so were early twenty-something years in London (first job/licence/minor responsibility/future stretching out to greet you like an endless conveyor belt). In his late-twenties Gordon Comstock, the down-at-heel poet in Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying, supposes that the years to come are no longer a rosy blur but something "actual and menacing". I liked being 30 - early hurdles cleared, still confident (an illusion, but never mind) that one had the chance to do anything one fancied. The mid-thirties, alas, were a tumult of child care and drudging in dreadful offices.

Most human beings would claim that the ideal age was the one at which you had achieved - or better still were achieving - career goals, had contracted a successful relationship with another human being or beings while remaining reasonably prosperous and in good health. It is perfectly possible to tick all these boxes at 20. On the other hand, the great advantage of growing old, or turning middle-aged, is that it enables you to comprehend that other people have gone the way you went. I think 46 is quite the best age at which to achieve this equipoise. As from Wednesday, I've no doubt that it will be 47. The problem is that this pattern is not indefinitely sustainable. At 50, again to quote Orwell, every man has the face he deserves. And own-up time is nigh.

and the worst age...

No doubt about it, early teens. Salad days of infant precocity behind you, school hours spent studying subjects you can't wait to leave in favour of the stuff that really matters, hormonal disturbance kicking in, home life a semi-adult limbo. Too young to do much of real interest and too old for the innocent recreations of childhood.

Fifties: Adrian Hamilton

When I was young, I thought the fifties really old. When I got there, I thought, "what fun". The sixties are when you not only know that your future is limited, but you sense how limited was your past. The forties are when you start to become aware of those limitations. But the fifties are when you know what you are - or rather what you're never going to be - so you can slough off the shackles of unfulfilled ambitions, unrequited desire and the worries about what others think, and go out and enjoy yourself. Your children have left home. You know what you like and with a little bit of luck have a some extra to spend on yourself. You can go to all those places you've always wanted but never had time, read all those books you've meant to, safely flirt (no one is going to take you seriously), frolic without self-consciousness.

The face that you see in the mirror is your own, too late to be changed but still firm enough not to need repair work. The friends that you've made are secure. The times of tortured family holidays and tempestuous teenagers are over. There's still the call from the hospital and even the police station lurking. But then, if you're lucky, there's the first grandchild and the weddings and functions in which you're old enough to be given space but young enough to enjoy to be treated as interesting by the young around you.

This is the age when you can be at ease with yourself, feel "good in your own skin", learn again to know your partner and share some dreams. If Keats and Mozart were already dead, Yeats had still to write his greatest poetry and Shakespeare King Lear and Macbeth. And if you're not up to that, what matter. You weren't meant to.

and the worst age...

If only we could be spared our teenage years, or rather the memory of them. They were bad enough then as, potty faced and over-eager, you fell over your own feet on the first date and boasted of prowess all knew was false. But it is the memory of them that causes shame, sudden flashes that have you squirming at the recollection, however old you grow.

Sixties: Peregrine Worsthorne

My best years were in my sixties as editor of The Sunday Telegraph - a job which I had long coveted. For the first time in my professional life I was in a position to follow my own hunches as to what should be printed without having to persuade a superior. It is difficult to describe the relief. Previously, as deputy editor, if I had a marvellous idea in the bath, the thought of having to sell it to colleagues, soon dimmed my enthusiasm. As editor, however, one could jump out of bed, get on the telephone, quite certain that the chap on the other end would say what a marvellous idea it was. Many colleagues who in the past had been the greatest obstructionists suddenly became the most compliant of collaborators. That is the great joy of power. What was previously a struggle, became an easy ride. Ambition is a constant irritant. You want something you can't quite reach. As far as I was concerned, becoming editor was my professional summit.

and the worst age ...

There were the early ones at my public school. It was there I learnt what it is like to suffer permanent fear and hunger; savage injustice without any chance of restitution; what it is like to be dependent on the arbitrary whims, fancies and prejudices of the powerful; what it is like to be subjected to humiliation and persecution by the forces of law and order, or at least with their connivance. Such knowledge as I have of life in the raw, I owe entirely to my early terms at public school. Having come from a privileged background these were necessary lessons, although none the less painful for that.

Seventies: Alex James

I think your seventies are the best years of your life. It's time to slow down and to enjoy life. It's the cocktail hour of life. I was talking to my dad last night and he seems to have time to do everything that I'd like to do - he spent yesterday up a ladder, fiddling with something, then he did a bit of painting - just having a good old potter. He's just so cheerful and full of beans. He and my mum have downsized and are settled in a nice house by the sea and I'm looking forward to that. They seem to permanently be on holiday and if they're not staying with me and playing with my kids, they're with my sister helping out there. Everything is buttoned up and beautiful for them. They have the time to enjoy all the things they like to do.

If ever I need to know how to tie two pieces of rope together, I ask my dad. He's always got the right knot. It's the wisdom of ages.

I think as long as you're healthy, your seventies are an amazing age. Ill health is horrible whatever age it comes at but if you're in your seventies and healthy and you've got a good companion, there's so much to share. Being old is like being young again in many ways - you have fewer responsibilities and you're freer. People look after you, too. I don't think there's anything scary about getting old.

As a grandparent you get all the good bits of being a parent and none of the horrors. You can take it or leave it. Historically it was hip to be old, and I suppose it still is if you belong to a tribe somewhere remote. The elders are respected. In fact, where I live in the Cotswolds, things are run by old ladies. They have an iron grip on everything round here and they're formidable.

and the worst age...

Your thirties are definitely a bad time to still be in a rock band, but there are things I hate about all the ages I've been. I'm 38 now and I have started to grasp that life is a leasehold deal, not a freehold one. When you're young, it feels like you have an eternity, but now I'm realising that life is finite. It's only just started to occur to me.

Comments