Age – It really is relative, man!

… Musings on the inevtiability of getting old…

It’s a fact, we’re all getting older. Try what you like to avoid it. Exercise until you’re blue in the face, eat a diet so healthy it would make a rabbit blush, resort to tablets, pills and creams until your skin looks like a fat ladies’ arse cheek, it ain’t going to make the slightest bit of difference in the long run.

So, why is it bothering me so much? After all, I know what the end game is, although I doubt if the grim reaper is going to make a personal appearance for me, unless it’s to kick me in the ribs just to make sure that I am actually dead and not pulling a fast one. Whatever the reason, it’s caused me to start thinking a lot, usually when I don’t want to think, such as when I’m trying to sleep.

Age - Cog wheels. Rob Gregory Author

I hear the ticking of a clock…

Anyway, I was lying in bed early the other morning, considering my inescapable mortality and it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve hit my middle years. In fact, there are probably more days for me to look back on than to look forward to, as my botany tutor once glumly and rather surprisingly announced in the middle of a tutorial. Now this possibility in itself doesn’t really bother me and I should point out that I’m not trying to be maudlin here. Neither am I trying to be overly brave. I shall probably poo in my pants when the actual moment arrives and if not then, shortly afterwards for certain. No, I’m simply curious about the onset of middle age and what follows in much the same way as a schoolboy with a magnifying glass and a box of ants or an alchemist with a new chemistry set.

So, bear with me, as I describe my emergent theory of the ageing process. Others, I am sure, have put it far more eloquently, but then I haven’t read their scholarly works, so you’re just going to have to make do with my rambling thoughts instead.

When we are children, we race through the world. Days pass like minutes and our attention spans rival those of the average mayfly. During those formative years, we literally rush everywhere, laughing, shouting and having conversations which are about as deep as the contents of a petri-dish, as we gather experience and gradually grow to fill the skins we will eventually live the rest of our days in. Essentially, at this point in our lives, we are moving faster than the rest of the world.

As we age, we gradually slow down. There is less laughing and shouting, and our conversations slowly develop more depth, length and content. We don’t notice it immediately because we are still moving faster than the rest of the world, but it is slowly and inexorably catching up with us.

Age - R.A. Gregory taken in Oxford (late 1990's). Rob Gregory Author

Back when we was young(ish)

Then we hit middle age. For the briefest of moments at the very mid-point of our existence, we are moving at precisely the same speed as the rest of the world. Days are truly days, months are truly months and years are truly years (if you are lucky enough to experience it for that long). Again, we do not notice this occurrence because we are perfectly in time with the world. In fact, there is nothing out of place for us to notice as being unusual.

And then the world begins to move faster than us, or we move more slowly than it depending on how you look at things. At first, we are barely aware of this happening and we certainly don’t acknowledge its magnitude. But quickly and far more rapidly than the wind-up to middle age, we start to notice the differences. There are suddenly a lot more young people than there used to be and things around us are changing faster and faster. Technology (and I use the word in its broadest sense) is evolving more quickly than we can keep up with and while we could try and play catch-up, increasingly we decide to stick with that which we are familiar with and that is the beginning of the end.

I’m not for a moment saying that we should all try to keep up with the latest developments. That would be absurd and would play right into the marketing people’s hands, but I do think that it is an important concept to acknowledge. In my brief life so far, I’ve gone from vinyl records to cassette tapes, to compact discs, mini-discs and DVD’s, to the point where I am at now, which is digital music stored on a hard drive. And yet, there is a generation not that far behind me, who view all of this as being twee at best and appallingly old-fashioned at worst. Their music, any music, in fact, is instantly available to them, streamed through their mobile phones from the cloud. Now, I am quite happy to keep my songs on my laptop, but I know that there will come a time when this is a completely outmoded method of listening to music and unless I change and embrace the latest development, whatever it is, I too will become outmoded.

Age - MiniDisc. Rob Gregory Author

MiniDisc – Brilliant but short lived.

Now, here’s the kicker… and it really worries me as an author. If I go back to my parent’s generation, they have shifted from communicating by letters in the mail to telephone calls, emails and occasionally now by text message. Today’s generation and I include myself, somewhat optimistically, in that definition, hardly ever write letters, don’t really use the telephone that much and relies instead on emails, texts and instant messaging to communicate.

And… wait for it… with each new development, the quantity of information in each individual communication has decreased, while the overall quantity of communications has increased. Just think about how many million Tweets are sent every day, each with a two-hundred and eighty character maximum, and how many of them actually say anything of real substance. In essence, we are reducing ourselves to a world dominated by Facebook ‘Likes’ and emoticons. Forget ‘double plus ungood’, Winston Smith, the human race seems to be hell-bent on removing the very need for written language, returning instead to the tried and tested methods of hieroglyphs and icons to express the entire range of human experience.

But before you label me a Luddite or Tweet/Line/WhatsApp me unto oblivion, know this… I truly believe that each form of communication has its place. If it didn’t then it wouldn’t have become so popular, would it? But what worries me is this. If people are increasingly communicating in shorter and shorter soundbites, then what future for the novel? And what of the humble author? Who am I writing for? Who am I writing to? Is anyone out there still reading or are ‘readers’ a slowly dying breed? I sincerely hope not and the fact that you have got this far suggests that it is not the case just yet. But it does beg the question: are we moving towards a time where novels will be extinct and novellas will have a resurgence or are we set on an even more dramatic course where entire books are reduced to a few simple lines. Certainly, the emergence and popularity of ‘Flash fiction’ in recent years would support that notion.

Whatever happens, there is no escaping the fact that I am slowly growing older and one day, if it hasn’t happened already, I will become obsolete. But I’m still young enough to have a little fun (at least I think it is fun), so have summarised a selection of well-known pieces of fiction for the education and enlightenment of tomorrow’s generation. I hope that you enjoy them too!

War and Peace – There was a war. It ended and there was peace. The End.

Moby Dick – A man went out and killed a whale. It was white and took a long time. The End.

I Served the King of England – I Served the King of England. Well done! The End.

Star Wars – The Empire and the Jedi had a fight. The Jedi won. The End.

The Lord of the Rings – A little man threw a ring into a fire and went home. The End.

Fahrenheit 451 – Firemen burned books. One didn’t. The End.

Romeo and Juliet – Two popular kids fall in love, take poison and die. The End.

Don Quixote – A crazy man goes out and attacks windmills before going home again. The End.

The Odyssey – A man gets lost and takes ten years to come home after a war. The End.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – A girl has a fantastic adventure, but it’s all a dream. The End.


NB. Not one of the above is longer than Twitter’s 280 character limit!

%d bloggers like this: