But then I used to think 10 was old. Double figures! Some of the tallest children in the playground were 10, and they seemed so much older than me. I was looking forward to being 10 because I might finally be allowed to stay up late, maybe even after nine o'clock in the evening. But for a long time 10 seemed impossibly far off, bringing the threat of greater responsibilities, and scarily close to big school. Then it turned out when I got there that 10 wasn't especially old after all, and 10 seems ridiculously young now.
I used to think 17 was old. So old that the law would allow me to sit behind the wheel of a car and propel it forward, perish the thought. On the verge of adulthood, amongst that upper elite called the sixth form, some of who even had attempts at facial hair flourishing on their upper lip. That would never be me, surely. Then suddenly I had a provisional driving licence, and my name on the electoral roll, and all sorts of big decisions to make about university, and it turned out that 17 wasn't old, merely important.
I used to think 22 was hideously old. It says so in my diary from twenty-five years ago, so I really did think that, or else I was being deliberately ironic. 22 was the first birthday I spent working rather than studying, with proper adult responsibility. 22 was also the first time the number of birthday cards I received was less than my age, which was a bit depressing, as was the complete lack of anything party-like in the evening. But that same diary page ends by describing 23 next year as "really old", so clearly 22 wasn't as bad as all that.
I used to think 30 was old. 30 was the point at which middle-age began, when everyone started behaving responsibly, maturely, boringly. Nobody had fun in their 30s, surely, they were all too busy buying sensible shoes and wearing slacks and starting families. That film Logan's Run was onto something, don't you think, killing off its entire society at the age of 30? And then I hit 30, and beyond, and discovered that the thirties were my most exciting decade yet. So much livelier, and so much more sociable than I'd ever expected. 30 wasn't a deadline, merely a cusp.
I used to think 40 was old. Everybody said it was, and who was I to disbelieve them? A chronological cliff-edge, beyond which the only way was straight down. Nobody would ever fancy me after I was 40, so if I hadn't found a life partner by 39 then I was doomed. My body would start falling apart, my eyesight would collapse, my hair would turn grey and my waistline would explode... or so I'd been told. But then I reached 40 and it was just another birthday. Other people might have judged me differently because my age began with a 4 instead of a 3, but 40 didn't bother me as much as it did them.
I never really thought much about being 47. 47 was just an anonymous birthday in the doldrums of the upper forties, an age of little consequence, merely another stepping stone on the slow trek to death. And now here I am at 47 and having to come to terms with my newly-designated age label. You might discriminate me as old because of it, depending on how far below 47 you are, but I still feel like the same person who was 40, 30, 22, 17 and 10.
But coming up soon is 50. An entire half century, imagine that. I'll be well past the halfway point of my life, on a slippery slope to obsolescence and decrepitude. At 50 I'll have nothing to look forward to other than ill health, decreasing vigour and a collapsing libido. I'll be wrinkled, unfit, unattractive, and beyond hope. 50's not just middle-age, it's late middle-age, and the point where the younger generation surely disowns and ignores me...
...except I know 50 won't feel like that when I get there. What 47 years on earth have taught me is that "old" always starts next year, never this. All I am today is older, and the same goes for every birthday to come.