I have just returned from a three month epic saga in my old home town of Glasgow. Eight weeks lost in the wilds of the ever-exhausting theatreland and four weeks of equally knackering Christmas. I was performing a one-act play I’d written about a metrocentric city kid who is assigned to a tiny island airport as part of a company shake up. We watch as he struggles to adapt to a new and alien way of life. It would be foolish to suggest I did not draw from my own experience for this piece – after almost three years in Unst I still struggle to get used to having the last post at 9.30am, newspapers at 3pm and no Sunday bus. But now that my wife and I have produced a genuine Shetlander in the form of our son I am in with the bricks and determined to crack the code of island life.
So it was good to have a wee working holiday back in my old stomping ground, enjoying the cafes, retro shops, jamming with old muso friends and seeing family.
While on my journey I discovered something very interesting and revelatory: I am not 22 anymore. In fact I have just turned 40. So what was I doing a few weeks ago in my niece’s student flat in the West End at three in the morning, full of pink cava, screaming the lyrics of “21st Century Schizoid Man” into an X-Box? Pretending. That’s what. Pretending it was 20 years ago, when I did pretty much the same thing in the same place (except then the musical instrument were real and not bits of plastic plugged into a games consul.) I don’t think I’m supposed to do that anymore. The following day was cancelled in its entirety. My plans to have a big Glasgow day with an Italian shave at Luigis Barbers, A Play A Pie And A Pint at Oran Mor and a curry with dear old friends was replaced with lying down in a dark room eating crisps and feeling guilty.
They used to say life began at forty. That was in an age when you got married in your early 20s after your national service and a few wild years, had a couple of bairns, then by the time they had grown up and left the nest you were 40 and so life began – you and your spouse had your own time again and you could relax after years of hard parenthood, have wee weekends away and a small brandy in the evening.
That’s not the case now. We live in an existential modernist world where we are condemned to our own free will – i.e., we can do whatever we like. Couples wait years to get married, if they get married at all. We have fewer children, later in life and far between. However, when I was actually 22 in the early ‘90s, we Generation Xers misinterpreted this philosophy by thinking we had to rage as hard as we could. Living in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic we felt it was our duty to get as much out of our 20s as possible before we all died off. Nobody warned us that our 30s would pay for that.
You see we were coming off the back of the previous generation’s culture and music: rock’n’roll, flower power and punk. What we didn’t know was that they were all just weekend ravers. History tells us about the Isle Of Wight, Swinging London and so on, but it doesn’t tell us that the pubs shut at 10 and everyone turned up for their work on Monday (‘cos they all had work back then). Thanks for the lessons in freedom, guys, but you forgot to tell us about the responsibilities of those freedoms. So there we were in the ‘90s with housing schemes full of easy-to-get drugs, chain pubs offering 50p vodkas, all night raves and mass unemployment.
But to quote Dorothy Parker’s “Flaw In Paganism”:
Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)
We didn’t die. We grew up. At least our bodies did. Our soul told us to keep going while our brains kept out of it. Well not anymore! That fateful night of Guitar Hero high jinx was an epiphany. I must get a grip. It’s too late for my body but at least I can try to salvage some of my brain and use it to deal with the unexpected onset of middle age.
Then again, Unst has two fire festivals coming up, one of which is a centenary celebration. Ah well. I may as well just say goodbye to my liver and brain cells right now.