A Smidgen More Cool

I have just stepped out of the shower, looked in the mirror, and received a solid reminder that I am not getting any younger. I won’t elaborate on the specific vision that told me this, but it is an inescapable fact that I am getting older, and I am afraid that goes for you too!

As sure as you can’t stop the passing of time, you can’t stop ageing either. I’ve been told many times by those older and wiser that as I get older time will fly, nay accelerate, bits will stop working, and some could drop off – and that as a result we need to do everything we can to look after ourselves, and seize the day. I am aligned, though before you begin to worry, nothing has dropped off yet. As a self-confessed MAMIL, and given my opening Gabble, it seems a good time to explore my MA – Middle Age. (The MIL is easy… I am a man, who finds Lycra incredibly comfortable… why would any amateur sportsman move from Rowing to Ski Racing and then Cycling? It’s nothing to do with leg power (I have never had any) and it is all to do with the Lycra)

For something that is an absolute fundamental of life itself, it is fascinating how despised the concept of ageing can be, and how varied peoples opinion and responses to it can be. Many accept it as a fact of life, some see it as an inconvenience, while a few see it as a challenge that must be addressed through fashion, cream, potions, lotions, knives or even flat denial. I believe that in general, as a society we are ‘younger’ than a generation ago. By that I mean that todays average 43 year old is far ‘younger’ in many ways (for example physical appearance, social behaviour and general approach to life), than someone who was 43 thirty, or even just twenty years ago. Perhaps my fairest reference, though he’s sadly not here to protest, would be my father. At 43 he would never dream of popping out on a Saturday morning for a 60 mile bike ride for no other purpose than having a natter with a mate, scoffing a bacon buttie and drinking a rather fantastic triple shot Americano. He’d be too busy smoking his pipe (that, by the way, I loved the smell of), planning the next Rotary fundraising event (good on him), or at work making the most of the quiet while everyone else enjoying their weekend. However, I am absolutely sure that the delta between my father and I at 43 years old is not unusual.

I sincerely doubt that this dramatic shift in just over a generation is due to Darwinian evolution. I suspect that it is more likely to be the result of ‘information’ and how we are collectively more aware of ourselves, our capabilities, how we show up in the world, and what opportunities and possibilities are out there. ‘Information’ in it’s broadest context can mean many things, and it’s important to recognise the difference between fact, conjecture and lies. You have my word that The Gabbling MAMIL is a lot of conjecture with a smattering of fact, though will never knowingly include a lie.

One of the biggest differences in how ‘information’ is delivered in the last generation has to be Social Media. As I am sure I have said before, and will certainly say again, there are many things I don’t like about Social Media. With the news I’ve read of the abuse received by Sir Captain Tom, the racial abuse footballers seem to routinely face, and other high profile mental health issues initiated by ‘the trolls’, I can’t help but wonder what contribution Social Media actually makes to society, at all. ‘Trolling’ (nay abusing) is one-way, and in this context leverages the worst of Social Media providing a faceless megaphone for people to broadcast to their inner thoughts that would be best to remain ‘inner’ and not detract and distract from our broader community that is on the whole a welcoming, diverse place, where such bigotry is not tolerated. The saddest thing for me; if the majority of these morons ever met the individuals they are abusing, they would be in awe of them, starstruck perhaps, and would certainly never have the guts to say face to face what they feel is appropriate to deliver through safety of their phone, router and firewall. Such nasty, cowardly behaviour and the individuals are not really worth the 10 minutes invested in this paragraph… but the lives they are ruining are worth far more than anyone can give in an attempt to stop this barbaric behaviour.

One other aspect that makes me slightly uncomfortable is the way this window to the world is filtered by the author, meaning that it portrays only what the author wants you to believe their world looks like. The ‘Influencers’ (who knew we need such a thing) make an incredible lifestyle / career by posting Jim Bowen, Bullseye style posts to show you ‘Here’s what you could have won…’ had you not made the life choices you’ve made to date, or perhaps ‘could win’ if you do something different. And that’s fine, perhaps inspirational to some, and I must congratulate the ‘Influencers’ for having found their niche. If that’s how you want to live and what you want to tell the world about (who is The Gabbling MAMIL to judge?), or as a consumer of such information, what you want to read, then feel free… but please, keep it all in perspective.

I remember several years ago, on a very relaxing Sunday afternoon, watching the Chelsea Flower Show on TV, where there was a truly magnificent garden creation, that demonstrated this particular phenomena beautifully. The creator had developed a garden of 2 halves, separated by an enormous white frame in the shape of a ‘fruit-titled’ mobile phone. One half of the garden was a pristine haven that you would absolutely see as fitting of Chelsea Flower Show or a roof garden in Cannes. The other half was a random mix of poorly kept, overgrown plants and grasses, with kids toys and other items you would find in 99% of ‘normal’ gardens. This simple yet fabulous exhibit illustrated Social Media in its simplest terms. The majority of peoples lives are poorly kept, overgrown and chaotic, yet they have a tendency to be portrayed through Social Media as tranquil haven of relaxation, creativity, success or whatever else it is the author is wants you to believe, be that conscious or subconscious. With that, I removed myself from Faceache, Tw@ter and Instaboast, though I am aware that if the Gabbling MAMIL is to progress, it’s going to have to embrace the toxic world of Social Media… I’ll have to think of it as a necessary evil, like the Dentist (though incidentally my Dentist and Hygienist are both fantastic!).

I could pretend, or perhaps give you a Social Media inspired view of myself, growing older gracefully as a MAMIL showing the world that cycling is the secret to eternal youth… and that I am ageing as well as David Ginola, George Clooney or Tom Sellick. These are, surely even in most men’s opinions, fine specimens of men, growing old very gracefully indeed. But I can’t do that, and as the next two paragraphs demonstrate (probably / definitely with too much information) this is the real world, not Faceache or Instaboast – and I am going to tell it like it is.

I swear that my forehead wrinkles become more defined and furrowed every day, despite L’Oreal’s best (expensive) efforts. Perhaps as I frown more as I get older, though I’m not sure if I’m grumpier, or have more to be grumpy about. Then, hair… while it’s growth used to be prevalent on the top of my head, it now seems to have stopped growing there, and growing everywhere else instead… ears, nose, back, shoulders… when did they become the places for my predominant hair growth? It certainly wasn’t a thing 5 years ago, and I certainly don’t like it… It’s as if there is a pipeline of ingredients required for hair growth that no longer extends above my eyebrows, and the rest of my body is using every ounce of that which is available. And even then, the pipeline no longer has all the ingredients it used to have, as it appears to be woefully short of brown pigment, and the hair that is growing is produced in multiple shades of grey (Not 50 – that’s a very different topic).

My joints are knackered. My knees have got bits of cartilage floating around inside them from multiple sporting injuries, that now make a sound like my bones are breaking whenever I crouch down.. though I am thankful I can still crouch. I have arthritis in my left big toe, formed through multiple episodes of gout. YES, that is still a thing, and did not disappear when Mead became unfashionable, and King Henry VIII died. I won’t talk teeth – they’re an embarrassment from my childhood behaviours, and are best concealed behind my lips. Finally, and based on my observations following recent cheffing, a simple cut on my finger now takes forever to heal, as my skin demonstrates the same elasticity you expect from of a particularly old pair of over-worn under crackers.

I think you catch my drift. There is nothing ‘graceful’ about my ageing, and don’t worry, I won’t go any further into describing my current state for two reasons… 1) I’m sure you don’t really need or want to hear any more, and 2) it will surely be out of date tomorrow as I will be yet another day older, and something else will hurt or stop working.

But, while there is no doubt that I am indeed getting older and things aren’t ‘working as well’, I am actually getting fitter. In fact, today I am the fittest and lightest I’ve been in my adult life. Clearly, my addiction to cycling plays the most significant role in this, but COVID has contributed really positively in this respect. I know it’s odd for someone to have something positive to say about COVID, however it’s contribution to my wellbeing has been enormous. My pre-COVID life was typically spent on aeroplanes, staying in hotels and eating out, and when I wasn’t travelling with work I was either cycling, or enjoying the pub. Glamorous as this lifestyle may sound, trust me it was not. I don’t miss air travel, and jet lag whatsoever – I’d rather watch planes than sit on them. I don’t miss hotel beds, and have now had a relatively comfortable nights for the last 381 nights. Meanwhile my beer / wine intake has fallen off a cliff. The beer I am drinking at home is a much lower ABV, and restaurants (Buffalo wings, or Ossobuco) have been replaced by ‘The Mindful Chef’. Some of these changes were forced, and some choice, but frankly are all for the better for my own and the planets health – and that has to be a good thing.

Last weekend I read an article in Cycling Weekly where Kevin Hart, A-list comedian from California, posted a pic of himself as a MAMIL, on Instagram when heading out for a ride… And he offered that ‘it’s a lifestyle. Health and wellness is the new cool’!

This really made me think… largely as I’ve never been cool in my life – so if I’m one ounce cool because of my new healthy MAMILness – then I’ll take that ounce and treasure it as I would the signed photo of Kylie that I haven’t got. Technically for my whole life, I’ve been ‘bang off-trend’. My first football boots were hideous Marlone Marksman bought from Grimsby market. They weren’t made of fish, though may as well have been, as every time I slumped out on to the pitch (I couldn’t run, they were too stiff and heavy) I was ready to be barracked by the cool kids. More latterly as a teenager, the cool kids at secondary school concluded that I was ‘a poseur that can’t pose’… I am conscious that this was without Social Media being there to reinforce how ‘un-cool’ I was. I feel for kids today… in my day these putdowns were a 8.30-15.45, 5 days / week pastime… now for some it’s 24/7 mental torment. Truly nasty – be kind.

So. I won’t try to pose, I can’t and it’s not me… I’ll just celebrate with you that I’m a fit, healthy MAMIL, and thanks to Kevin Hart (and Social Media), perhaps just a smidgen more cool than I was this time last week…

…even if I am, inevitably, another week older.

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