Temples of Doom

In your 40s you don’t have to pretend to be cool any more. You can wear what you like, listen to what you like, say what you think. You’re just someone’s dad. It’s quite freeing – John Simm

Ugh. There’s no getting away from it: today is my 40th birthday.

Mrs LC asked me the other day if it felt like a big milestone. “Well, duuuuuh,” might not be the snappiest response I’ve ever come up with, but it was the best I could do without raising my arms aloft and screaming at the stars.

No, it doesn’t feel like a big milestone. It is one.

Temples of Doom
Started out ginger, now grey. I’m cursed, I tell you

Forty is the age that, when I was a kid, sounded like the cloak of death itself. It was the age we used as a shorthand to describe someone who was, like, really, really old.

And now that person is me.

A once skinny, pale, red-haired kid is now a trim, rusty-haired father of two with greying temples. (A year in the sun and I’m still pale, mind.)

How the hell did that happen?

My indecision is final

For what seems like forever, I have flipped and flopped on every aspect of this post. Headline, tone, style, content, you name it.

  • Should it be a list of 40 things I’ve learned? (#1: Worcester sauce and beer really don’t mix)
  • Maybe a sappy letter to my children? Pffft. Yawn. Next!
  • What about the first draft of my bucket list?
  • A let’s-be-grateful-for-our-bounteous-gifts homily?
  • Or a tear-stained paean to my lost youth?

Maybe my indecision reflects the fact that I have no idea how I feel.

April 83
National hockey champion at 9. Talk about peaking too soon

Let’s be clear: I don’t want to be 40, in exactly the same way I didn’t want to be 30, or 20. (For editorial balance, I’m sure my mum doesn’t want to be 70 next week either.)

Here’s me (bottom right), my team-mates and my dad (our coach) in 1983. In the picture, he and I are almost exactly the same ages as me and Kid A are today. (And I haven’t applied some hipster filter to the pic – it’s 30 year old sellotape).

Thinking about how I’ve become a different generation makes my head hurt a little, like Marty McFly looking at the picture of his disappearing siblings.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1869

So how am I celebrating this inescapable milestone?

It’s not with a hedonistic week of celebratory excess involving speedboats, snowboarding or diplomatic incidents.

And I have singularly failed to develop an expensive hobby, or cultivated a desire for ridiculous toys (so hats off to my old mate Kean for showing us what a proper midlife crisis looks like).

When the thing you like doing above all else is watching movies, it’s a little hard to know how to go crazy.

Forget the skateboard, check out McFly's shoes
I wanted a pair of Hi-Top Chucks from the moment I first saw Back to the Future. 25 years and dozens of pairs later…

And whilst it’s aggravating to be told by vacuous marketing types who just want my money that “40 is the new 30”, there’s a grain of truth in there.

Because I don’t feel old, physically.

And I definitely don’t feel old mentally. In my head, I’m still 18.

And yet, all the signs of trouble are there:

  • My passport says I’m old (and my photo screams ‘proof of life’)
  • Mrs LC says I look “fit, but tired” (which is fair enough; all those 5:30am starts don’t come for free, you know)
  • At my 20-year school reunion, I obviously hadn’t changed one little bit, but everyone else was definitely shorter, balder or fatter than me. The guys, too…
  • And statistically speaking, it is all downhill from here (UK adult male life expectancy being 79.2 years).

But on the other hand:

  • I am the rarest of expats: one who has finished their first year in Doha lighter than when they arrived. Belt tightened a notch, smaller jeans bought, the whole nine yards. (I’ve shed half a stone, which is just over 3kg, or 3 grams of gold if I lived in Dubai!)
  • My temples aside, it’s all good up top: my hairline is still holding strong, and the hair itself is still thicker than cheese wire
  • I still have my youthful good looks (I know this because the other week I met a guy who I’ll call Barry, because his name is Barry, and he said I looked “31, tops”. Cheers, Barry)
  • I’m the youngest of three, which makes a massive psychological difference, too. I could live to be 100 and I’ll still be the baby of the family
  • And being a summer baby helps, too. All my school + Uni year group have been experiencing this angst since last autumn, so again I feel very much at the end of the line.

Basically, if I could send a message to my younger self, I’d go back to 1984 and tell the 11-year-old me who’s just been turned away from the 15-rated Gremlins that one day he’ll be really grateful for looking a lot younger than his actual age.

Never mind the introspection

So why am I pouring my ancient heart out on my blog which is allegedly about being newbie expats?

Well, it’s partly because this is where I process whatever’s on my mind, and this has been on my mind for a long time. But mainly because you can’t separate where you are from who you are.

I don’t want to get all Sliding Doors about it, but the ‘me’ celebrating my birthday in Doha today is a slightly different me than if I had stayed in the UK last year.

But exactly what those differences are will only become clear when they affect decisions I have yet to take. Will we continue our expat adventures once our time in Qatar is up, for example? Right now, I’d say yes. But who knows what lies around the next corner?

And on a more prosaic level, where I am directly affects how I can celebrate today.

Where did it all go wrong?
“Daddy, why are you wearing a tie?” “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Grandma.”

A day trip to the beach is out, due to the Ramadan restrictions on drinking anything in public, even water. Similarly, Trader Vic’s has gone dry, so the clichéd crazy vodka mai tai party is not on the agenda tonight.

And still being in Doha for another week or so means there are places I’d rather be today that I’m not: Lord’s (and what a day it will be, hopefully ending with a crushing defeat of Australia) for example, or watching Before Midnight, somewhere, anywhere (just to rub it in, it’s showing today in the market town I call home).

But I’m not. I’m here in the desert, where I chose to be.

So if you’re looking for me today, I’ll be at the pool, desperately trying to make myself slightly less translucent in an attempt to avoid a lot of I-thought-it-was-sunny-over-there mockery when we return to the UK next week.

Some things never change, no matter how old you are.

You try telling paragliding pensioner Peggy McAlpine you feel old.

It’s a magical world. Let’s go exploring!


3 thoughts on “Temples of Doom

  1. Kean Walmsley July 21, 2013 / 8:17 am

    Happy birthday, Nathaniel!

    My 40th ended up being nothing but goodness: I harnessed the wave of sympathy to justify a spending spree on new toys. Midlife crises rock!

    • littlecity July 21, 2013 / 8:47 am

      “Harnessed the wave of sympathy…” – love it! Sounds like some mythical quest the kids would know all about. I shall dust off my credit card immediately.

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