Monday 10 October 2011

Golden Age Thinking

Lily and I came up to London for her exeat weekend. She went back on the school coach yesterday, giving me a few days in which to recapture my pre-marital youth. I'm dining out in glittering style with friends from my old Chelsea circle, the soignee Vincent and Anais, and wild-haired professorial Charles, each of whom is, in their own way, a throwback to another era, living in their own Golden Age. We each deposit a glasses case on the table.

'The glasses case is the new mobile phone,' I say, looking at the line-up of matt oval cases. Ding  ding! 'Maybe that could be my new entrepreneurial enterprise!' I exclaim. 'A glasses case that doubles up as a mobile phone!'

'And you could open up it up and it would have a compartment for your keys!' offers Vincent.

'Brilliant,' says Charles, who is the only human being left in Britain without a mobile phone. 'I'd have one that you could open up and there'd be nothing inside. It would get everybody off my back who wants me to get a mobile phone.'

'And there could be an ear-piece hidden in the arm of the glasses,' says Vincent.

'That's already been invented,' I say. 'Hearing aids in glasses. I've seen them in Saga magazine. That'll be the next thing we all need.'

We exchange tut-tuts about the young nowadays ruining their hearing with these earphones blaring away on the Tube, and then Charles announces, 'Gout.'

'Gout?' we query.

'Gout,' he confirms. 'Another thing they don't tell you you're going to get after 50.'

It seems he's just got through his first bout of gout. It's something to do with not drinking enough water and a build-up of uric acid which ends up in your big toe and causes huge pain. 'I'm not the only one,' he adds. 'I keep meeting people who have it. I'm trying to look on it philosophically, a kind of badge of honour.'

'Like syphilis,' I say.

He looks a little taken aback, but throws himself into the spirit of the conversation. 'Yes, and then I'll go mad.'

'Oh, we'll all go mad,' I say, and tell them about Daphne.

'Passion and energy!' declares Vincent. This, he maintains, is what you need to not succumb to the perils of ageing. 'I am 57, but children don't perceive me as that. I confuse children by being passionate and having energy. The minute I lose those two things I'll be an old git.'

'But you're just as bad as the rest of us,' I am quick to point out, 'not being able to find the right words and umming and aahing - the only difference is you plough on and don't break off to complain about your terrible memory.'

'Exactly!' agrees Vincent. 'When you keep saying, "Oh how terrible, I can't remember what I was going to say," it's self-fulfilling.'

'It's definitely happening to me,' says Charles. 'I don't have the same mental recall.' There is a stunned silence. This is very worrying news, since Charles is a brilliant academic who keeps his mind active and stimulated, and if he's lost his mental recall then that scotches Vincent's theory and there's no hope for any of us.

'Maybe it's the male menopause,' I suggest. Again, Charles looks taken aback. 'I think it is a real thing,' I add. 'It's all the hormones doing funny things. But maybe once they've sorted themselves out, we'll all go back to having brilliant memories and be full of energy?' Except, to be fair, I never had a brilliant memory nor abundant energy.

We are just tucking into our main courses and second bottle of wine when Anais points out that the film is starting in three minutes. We're going to see Woody Allen's latest, Midnight in Paris. Vincent commandeers four cardboard coffee cups from the bar, we transfer our wine, I wrap up my remaining chips in a napkin, and off we dash.

During the credits and voiceover it becomes apparent that Owen Wilson - Gil in the movie - is playing Woody Allen. Hesitant, self-doubting, veering between boyish enthusiasm and sneery-sarkiness, he feels a pull to 1920s Paris, with its artistic and literary geniuses, and lo, along comes an old-fashioned car and transports him there.

Gil's father-in-law-to-be declares, 'Nostalgia is denial. It's Golden Age thinking,' and I think, That's me! I'm a Golden Age Thinker. But which Golden Age do I wish I were in? When I went to the Great Dorset Show and Mary Arden's Farm I wished I lived in an age of simple living and values, where the harvest is gathered and threshed and winnowed and milled locally and you get a bag of fresh wholewheat goodness at the end of it. Of course I wouldn't actually want to be part of the threshing and winnowing process, but in the Golden Age of the Great Dorset Show, that's men's work. Mind you, I'd be having to milk the cow and wash up in cold water outside. So, all things considered, a thumb's down to that Golden Age.

The Golden Age of  Pride and Prejudice? Not bad, particularly if one were Elizabeth Bennet. The Belle Epoque, the Golden Age of choice of Gil's 1920s paramour? The Golden Age of Downton Abbey? Not bad, not bad. But I think Gil's got it right. The Golden Age of the Mitfords, Waugh, PG Wodehouse and F Scott Fitzgerald, of glittering society parties and chivalry and attentive staff and gloves and hats and fur wraps and dining out and zipping down to the South of France or steaming over to New York and not being expected to work for a living. That is the age for me. The Golden Age of Style. And Standards. And Cocktails.

Hmmm, I suppose you'd have to live through (or die in) at least one World War, though. Oh God, and the misery of slipping standards after the 30s would be surely too much to bear.

Oh God. Am beyond stage of recapturing youth. Am Old Git in denial.

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