Never too old

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The Independent Online
There is an urban myth - well, more of an urban saying, that on average, men think about sex every three minutes. In my experience men, and women, and journalists think about age much more often than that. If somebody's cat is rescued from a tree, the local paper will miss out all the interesting facts, but assiduously list the ages of owner, fireman, cat and probably (space permitting) tree.

This week, Julie Christie, Mick Jagger and William Hague were all visited by the age police. Article after news item told us that Julie is older than she used to be, Mick is just old, and the new Secretary of State for Wales is young. This is notjust the stuff of lazy journalism; it reflects the fact that the real obsession of our times is age. The business of growing old, of what is appropriate to which stage of life, dominates the small-talk of our era in a way that mere sex never has.

Consider the disturbing Mr Hague. In 1973, at the age of 12, he was attracted by the prospect of becoming a Conservative politician. Remember, this was when Edward Heath was in power, there was a three-day week, the withdrawal of free school milk and the Vietnam war. What on earth in this unappealing mix persuaded young Willie to break through the bounds of his generation and interrupt his friends' games of conkers to urge support for those memorable politicians Robert Carr and Tony Barber?

Four years later, we find him addressing the Conservative Party Conference. The platform is clearly amazed to find itself listening to someone with all his own teeth. But out of the mouth of the sweet choirboy comes this unnervingly old voice, an eerie reminder of the scene from The Exorcist when Satan inhabits the larynx of an adolescent girl. Was Mr Hague's head about to rotate through 360 (180 being the usual in politics), followed by a generous coating of projectile vomit for the delegates from Bishop's Stortford in Row Z?

They loved him and patronised him, and I loathed him. At a time when any respectable teenager was tangled up in bondage trousers, covered in spit and pogo-ing to "No more heroes", there he was being applauded by Sir Keith Joseph, first cousin to the Mekon. Mr Hague was a violator of the norm. Now he's got his comeuppance - Wales.

To the surprise of ageists, those other norm-violators, The Stones, had a week to die for. What, critics whined, could be more pathetic, more embarrassing, than a group of 50-year-olds prancing around in crotchocentric trousers to "Let's spend the night together"? Mental images of your well- meaning but clueless parents dancing or singing in front of your friends can still evoke what some psychiatrists call "visceral clutch". No, rock is about sex, about rebellion, about youth - or it is nothing.

So Mr Hague is too young and the Stones are too old. Life would be better arranged if William were to get out his old Strat, pull on the tight leathers, fix his audience with a lascivious sneer and give them a few bars of "Time Is On My Side". Keith Richard (who at least has the name for the job) could enthral the House with an account of his drugs policy for the principality ("value for money, that's the main thing, man").

This is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Mr Hague is an affable and competent career politician. And the Stones are a big, sexy act. They helped invent rock and just happen to be its most successful exponents. In the same way, blues artists and crooners grew up with their music. Today any blues singer under the age of ninety is considered callow. When a nonegenarian tells you that his woman done left him, the tragedy is somehow that bit more poignant. "Where is she buried?", you want to ask.

Recent scientific studies confirm the redundancy of ageism. Contrary to most assumptions senility is not an inevitable consequence of age. Most OAPs are every bit as mentally agile and capable as the average 30- year-old. Furthermore, I am told that many old people lead extremely fulfilling and active sex lives. Good. I am looking forward to it.