I was once told by my ex-girlfriend's Dad on my twentieth birthday that it's all downhill from there. That's quite a message of goodwill and optimism on the anniversary of my entrance to this bitch, I retorted. What gives, man? From here, my boy, your physical condition declines, you've reached your peak, you've stood proudly at your Everest; now you must descend and walk the slow and painful walk back home.
Lo and behold, he was bloody right. When I was a miniature, I could run about all day, pronking like a springbok, no stretching, no rehydrating, no warm downs or ice baths. It was jumpers for goalposts and off you went. I've since spent the past four years nursing a series of groin, hamstring, calf and back injuries putting my promising football career on the backburner. These days, I gotta stretch before I stretch and when I do a get a stitch. And I'm only 24. What's it gonna be like when I'm 44? Or 84?
Imagine being 84? That's probably why old people are so rubbish. They've spent most of their years in terminal pain and after a while, I suppose it takes its toll. I've always had a bit of a hate-hate relationship with old people. For a start, they're a bit racist, but it's apparently not their fault. They're set in their ways. They're from a different time. They were brought up that way. You're also brought up to shit your pants but you soon grow out of that when you realize that you get a lot of reading done on the toilet.
I understand when you get old, the world becomes a scary place and you worry about your personal safety, but after a while, it becomes quite disheartening having old people cross the road when you approach or change carriages on the Tube when you're left alone with them. They could try and be surreptitious about it, but they're proper bait. My chagrin had been stroked too far and I invented a game called Scare The Racist Old People, the main objective being to scare racist old people. Often, I would find myself walking down the street behind an old person. Hearing the foreboding clippety-clop of the Black Man's winkle pickers would oft elicit a few worried revolutions of the head to scout my proximity. The old person would then stop and look in their bag for stuff and shit, wait for me to go ahead and then carry on walking.
Around that time, my shoelaces would magically come undone and I'd have to stop, bend and re-tie. That would take about the same amount of time it took for the old person to overtake me and we were back to square one, with the clippety-clop of the Black Man's winkle pickers behind them, unreasonably apprehending a mugging. The irony is that for all my buff and intimidating henchness, I'm the whitest black man alive and a bit of a pussy, let's face it; the point is, I'm not going to mug you and don't assume I will 'cos I'm dark as the night. That said, it is a mean game and I've since retired.
My other beef with Old People is that they're also a bit rank. I was sat on the Tube the other day and there was one man playing with his dentures, letting them hang out then sucking them back in again like a set of those joke chattering teeth, phlegm dripping from his mouth like the St. Bernard that plays Beethoven in the eponymous 1990s film. On the same train, I saw a lady rubbing E45 on to her eczema neck. Eczema's one of my bug bears as it is without her soothing her crust-neck in my face. Get a bloody room, says my mind, I'm trying to listen to Yeasayer in peace.
The other thing about Old People is they go a bit mad. The last time I went to Nigeria, I was greeted by my nan and her swinging disco tits as she staggered about the compound topless. Oh nana, I said, do cover up, your nipples are tickling your belly button, and she just stood there. Smiling. Vacantly. With a yam in her hand. That's the last and most enduring memory I have of my paternal nana. The mad bush bitch is dead now, God rest her soul.
Even Shakespeare reckons they're a bit shit. One of my favourite Shakey soliloquies is the one from As You Like It, where Jaques goes on about the Seven Ages of Man. All the world's a stage, he mopes, and we're all actors in it, playing seven acts or ages, if you will. The last age of man is "...second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Now bear in mind Jaques describes the first childishness man experiences as "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms", so I think we can deduce from that that he meant that you're born shitting into your nappy and you'll leave as you came in.
Now, the other day, I'm on the platform waiting to go home. Yeasayer was on the iPod as I had to cheer myself from the ignominy of having to sign on again (I've got a law degree for Christ's sake, what am I doing on the dole? Oh, I know, I'm lazy) and before I know it, there's an old chap dressed in an ill-fitting mismatched blazer-tie-trousers combo remonstrating with me (why do old men always dress in suits? Where are you going dressed so smart?). What's your beef, Old Man, I asked him as I pulled out the headphones from my tiny tiny ears. Where's the bloody train? he says, over and over again. I'm sure it'll come soon, I reassured him. Some time elapsed. Well, where is it? he kept barking. And he had a point. The train was taking longer than usual to get here. And it was quite cold. And it was starting to rain.
Before you know it, Old Man was busy marching up and down the platform looking for someone to complain to, and remonstrating with the other would-be passengers about the whereabouts of the train. There's quite the immigrant population in Barking and all these Bosnians were kinda looking at him like he was bonkers. And he was bonkers, don't get me wrong. But I'll tell you something, he had the Glint in his eyes.
The fact that that train was late was a complete and utter irrelevance to everybody but Old Man. We'd all accepted our fate, but he, and he alone, railed against the machine. I always say of old people that they've got nowhere to go and all day to get there, but this man, he was a rebel with a cause. He was going somewhere, and he had to be there. He demanded the answers to questions that no-one else dare ask. Or could be bothered to ask. He spent about ten minutes trying to mobilize people to give a shit, but we all sort of stood there and looked at him.
And that's us, isn't it? That's our generation. We just kinda stand there, looking on, accepting our fate. So many people just settle for whatever's going. We're blunted on reality. We can mobilize ourselves enough to go out and get lashed on a Saturday night, but we can't go out and vote. It's odd to think that only eighty years ago, people struggled for suffrage, threw themselves under horses and shit and we repay them by sitting on our asses come polling time.
Old Man, there and then, spat in Shakey's face, he wasn't just going to slip into oblivion. He was like the geezer you see getting booted out by an unnecessary amount of bouncers, kicking and screaming because he'd been caught sniffing some sniff in the toilets at The Tuesday Club. If you're gonna go, go out with a bang. Old Man proved Shakey and I wrong. Maybe old people ain't that bad. The train came and I was chuffed for Old Man. He was going to get to wherever it is that he desperately needed to get to.
I got to my stop and I was about to bid adieu to Old Man for he had taught me a lesson and shamed me out of my own apathy, and there he was, shouting racist abuse at a Kosovan.