Editor-At-Large: Bowie says he's tried everything. Perhaps he should now try being 57

Click to follow
The Independent Online

So the Space Oddity returns to earth, with that most unglamorous of ailments, heart disease, brought on, most probably, by smoking. David Bowie's exactly the same age as me, 57, but has always seemed so absurdly untouched by time. Now he's recovering in a hospital bed from the very same affliction that struck down my dad -

a blocked artery. How unfashionable is that? Suddenly the Thin White Duke is in the same category as a chap who liked Max Wall and George Formby and thought wearing a golf jacket the height of chic. Like all middle-aged pop stars, Bowie has to perpetuate the myth of eternal youthfulness, brought about by marrying the right woman (note that perfect wives are usually a generation younger), giving up drugs and espousing a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and early nights. Fact is, we can all keep age at bay, with collagen injections, discreet amounts of Botox, cheek implants and neck-lifts - it just depends how much cash you want to lavish on defying gravity.

One laser expert I know spends hours each week removing the brown spots off the backs of men's and women's hands, at a cost of several hundred pounds per twenty minutes. Dermatologists can peel away the top layer of your skin, excise your moles and get rid of scars. If your face is the brand that sells your music, all this is money well spent, and whatever the cosmetic surgeons can't handle, computer-aided airbrushing can add, putting the finishing touches to album covers and publicity stills.

As I mentioned the other week, Bowie ditched his characterful gnashers long ago and obviously discreet facial maintenance has taken place, too - you don't get a jaw line that taut simply by singing "Heroes" three times a week in a stadium. Recently a magazine caught my eye entitled Dr Miriam Stoppard's Defying Age. I was mesmerised by the bare-faced cheek that makes a woman roughly the same age as me stick her name over the title of a product as if she alone holds the key to fighting Father Time. Stoppard has defied age by being photographed in black and white for the cover, and a huge amount of airbrushing has rendered her face wrinkle-free, complementing her perky Meg Ryan-style tousled hair. You or I could get the same result if we stood in a wind tunnel. It's hilarious that so many people of my generation moan on about the crippling cult of youth and the use of teenage models in glossy magazines, when they will go to any lengths to look a well-preserved 35. God forbid your hair, neck or eyes reveal any of the unbelievably dissolute life you led in your teens and twenties.

Bowie has gone on record as saying he's tried everything, from drink to drugs to bisexuality. Perhaps he should now try being 57. It could be a whole new experience.

Gymslip snobbery

Labour hasn't seen the supreme irony in offering "choice for all" in education and then proposing to bring back compulsory school uniforms. With an astonishing lack of embarrassment at stating the obvious, Charles Clarke's education manifesto declares that "school uniforms define the ethos of a school and the standards expected ... they help give pupils pride in their school and make them ambassadors for their community". But uniforms are also badges of failure. When I had a chance to go to grammar school, my parents selected one purely on the basis of the uniform - a nasty red and black striped blazer, a pink and white gingham frock and a loathsome panama hat. To my working-class mum and dad it marked me out as a success story. I was a highly visible reminder of elitism in our community. They wanted everyone to know I was going to a "posh" school. And I freely admit we use to sneer at the kids who had to wear the plain black blazers of the local secondary modern. So uniforms can reinforce prejudices and remind children that some are lucky enough to go to better schools than others. The best solution in future would be for all secondary schools to adopt the same compulsory clothing.

For students, uniforms are a great idea because they straightaway give you something to carp about, something to doctor and personalise. Uniforms can be subverted in all manner of ways, from skirt shortening to cropping tops. And the best of all is that they leave more money to spend on clothes to wear out of school.

Even more retrogressive are Labour's plans to reintroduce the house system, something grammar schools used to cling to. I could never summon up any enthusiasm whatsoever for my house, named after a long-dead founder. Recreating the house system is fine in principle, but it implies that enough sports activities are going to happen for one house to take on another - and the promised two hours of PE a week (some outside lesson time) hardly sounds like the fertile ground on which to cultivate a new generation of sporting superstars.

¿ Gwyneth Paltrow proudly bears the scars of a session of "cupping", a traditional Chinese method that is intended to increase the circulation and stimulate energy. Heated glass bowls are applied to various median points on the body and when they are removed circular bruising results. I remembered the night I went out looking exactly the same as Gwyneth, and discovered that some friends thought I'd secretly signed up for a spot of S and M.

Cupping is one of the dozens of alternative therapies I have tried and discarded long ago. There can't be many experts I haven't consulted, from homeopaths to nutritionists, to shiatsu teachers, to reiki practitioners. I've had my hair analysed, my irises inspected, my back covered with acupuncture pins and my cranium minutely manipulated by an osteopath. I've tried Pilates, yoga, ballet, aerobics and boxing. All in the name of personal enlightenment. True, I've never given up meat, alcohol or moaning, and this week participated in a Radio 4 programme on anger with a resident psychotherapist. But, if Gwyneth wants to relieve tension and get rid of headaches, she'd do better having a good scream and shout. My stress level has dramatically dropped since I wrote and staged a show entitled All the Rage. I suspect that Ms Paltrow is too nice, too uptight and too sensible, to down a couple of drinks and have a full-on rant. The trouble with many alternative therapies is that they require the victim to be "passive" while treatment is administered. Self-help and direct action are what ultimately empower stressed-out mums, no matter how rich they are.