A study, reported in the newspapers a while ago, suggests that there’s no such thing as a midlife crisis. And that when people reach the age of 50, they become a symphony in corduroy: happy, contented and more popular than ever.
It all sounds very jolly but I’m afraid it’s balderdash, because when I reached 50 I got the distinct impression that I’d outlived my biological purpose, that I would never again do anything worth doing for the first time and that there was nothing to look forward to, except maybe having my cats catnapped.
It may be true to say that middle-aged people stop being competitive and self-centred but that’s because, at some point in your fifties, you reach the top of the ladder and realise there are no more worlds to conquer. So there’s no point stabbing colleagues in the back because it’s pointless. You know the only way is down.
The worst thing about becoming 50, though, is that your brain’s default setting changes from sex to death. We’re told that men in their twenties and thirties think about rumpy-pumpy every six minutes and never consider dying at all. Well for me, it’s now, sometimes,the other way 'round.
At 50, the big picture of Jordan’s breasts is erased from your human screensaver and replaced by a shadowy figure with a cloak and a scythe.
The other day, some celebrity was in the newspapers because she’d forgotten to wear any knickers. But I was more interested in the death of Luis Edgar Devia Silva. He was 68, for God’s sake. That means I only have five or six years left. And while five or six years to a young person is five or six years, let me assure you that when you’re past 50, it's about 15 minutes.
I wonder all the time about how I might die and when it might happen. Every morning when I wake up, I’m surprised. And what’s more, I’ve talked to several of my friends, all of whom admit that when they’re not really thinking about anything in particular, they think about death.
That’s why you see so many old men playing golf. They’re not doing this to stay fit. They’re sacrificing their dignity in a desperate bid to make the screensaver go away.
However, since death is preferable to golf, I’m not really bothered by the "when". I’m more concerned with the "how". And I’ve decided I definitely don’t want to drown, or be murdered with an axe by someone who wants my watch. Most of all though, I don’t want to meet the Reaper with a tube up my nose. I don’t want my last staging post on Earth to be a hospital ward full of old grey people. Because that would be boring.
And I’m not alone. One chap I spoke to said he didn’t care how he died so long as it was in a fireball of some kind. Another said he dreamt of dying while doing some good. Charging a machinegun nest perhaps, or rescuing a group of schoolchildren from a tiger. Me? Well I’d like it to be the basis of a damn good anecdote.
Twenty odd years ago, for instance, I crashed a motorbike. As is the way with these things, it all happened in slow motion. The front end dug into the ground and, as I was catapulted from my seat astride the fuel tank, I actually thought: "Ooh good. My wife should be able to turn this into a rip-roaring story on a TV interview. She’ll have them rolling in the aisles."
I had a similar experience a few years ago while flying into Dusseldorf on board a 1950s russian aeroplane that had seen service in the Middle East before being sold to a german airline. It wasn’t in very good nick even before the pilot flew right into the middle of a massive thunderstorm.
So anyway, there we were upside down (not really, it just felt like it), with our ears being assaulted by that whining noise you always hear on films when a plane is crashing. And I thought: "Fantastic! My kids will be able to grow up saying their dad was killed in a russian plane, in a monster thunderstorm over Germany. They’ll be the most popular kids in the class."
Perhaps this is why 45-year-old men buy Porsches. It has nothing to do with testosterone’s losing battle with an ever-expanding waistline. And everything to do with a need to die while doing 180mph.
Certainly, I’m staggered that only 21,000 people have applied for a place on Richard Branson’s new Virgin Galactic space ship. Of course, with each ticket costing around £100,000, the price is high. But the vast majority of those who can afford such a sum will be at the height of their powers, facing nothing but a steady spiral into incontinence and phlegm. So why don’t they sign up and go for the ultimate thrill? A ride into space.
It can only be a fear of death that’s holding them back, but what do you want instead? The carriage clock? The secateurs? The coach tour of north Wales? Or maybe 30 years on a golf course, and your last recollection of life on earth being the burly paramedic’s tongue sliding down your throat.
No thanks. Being blasted to the heavens, quite literally, by a couple of tons of rocket fuel is almost certain to get your demise on the news. You’d bring a little excitement to the lives of millions and that’s even more selfless than saving schoolchildren from a tiger. It’d also be quick.
And that really is what I’m after most of all. I want to be drunk, and happy and then I want to explode.