Perhaps it’s just a coincidence but I’ve noticed a recent run of “Advice to my Younger Self” articles in different publications. It is a good format and often produces some funny and wise pieces. But I can’t help spotting a gap in this market: Advice to my Older Self.
I don’t, after all, care what I should have done differently some decades ago since there is nothing I can do about it. And while my wisdom might be useful to a younger someone else, which self-respecting 20-year-old reads life tips from the middle-aged?
At first, I thought the answer was to imagine advice from younger me to myself now. The problem here is that 20-year-old me was lucky enough to be eerily clear about what he wanted, so would be fairly satisfied with how things turned out. So what would I say? Don’t wait till you are 30 to try haggis? Ballet never gets better? Try to speak less in meetings? (I did, but it never lasted.) A 3,000-year-old fork in the British Museum is still a fork. All good tips but hardly great wisdom.
If advice from younger me is no use, then the only solution is advice to older me. I think 75-year-old me could use a bit of help. Ideally, I’ll still be working a little in some minor way, perhaps as part of the government’s scheme to badger older people back to work in jobs where they aren’t actually wanted. But the real issue is succumbing to intellectual atrophy. The major piece of advice is to fight against becoming dull. (Yes, yes, online readers will want to go straight to the comments section now — fill your boots.)
Today Me wants Tomorrow Me to know that you have to work at it if you want to stay interesting. He doesn’t want to know about the bargains I found online. Today Me knows that no one cares about what life was like when I was starting out and that you can’t just rest on the experiences already acquired. So he expects me to keep reading, watching, attending and agitating. Keep doing things you are only meant to do when you are young — well, youngish: give up the Haribos, they aren’t good for the teeth.
Today Me expects Tomorrow Me to get his fat arse out of the house, maybe take up new hobbies, perhaps study something. He wants me to learn to paint while suspecting I’ll never crack it. He’ll tell me to have tea in the Chelsea Physic Garden more often and walk along the river at least once a week. Spend a spring in Italy. He wants me to go back to that café by the beach in San Francisco. He’d really like me to have another go at Proust.
He will remind me that, at some point, money is for spending not saving and expects me to do the things in my seventies that I might struggle to manage later.
Today Me considered recommending a charity project somewhere exotic, but also knows there are limits to the discomfort Tomorrow Me will tolerate. For that reason, he is also dubious about sending me to Glastonbury, though he thinks it might be good to give it a go and report back. Don’t join a jazz band. Today Me can’t see himself in a sequinned waistcoat, yelling “Yeah!” during the double-bass solo.
Retirement is clearly the perfect time to experiment with serious drugs. All the things I didn’t get around to trying at 20 because they might destroy my life are surely exactly what I will need at 75, when the consequences are less catastrophic. I never tried acid, ecstasy, coke or, to be honest, anything to speak of apart from Alka-Seltzer. My eighth decade must be my autumn of love. Amsterdam, here I come.
But I’ll still advise against getting a tattoo. They will always be a bad idea and in your seventies will look more like varicose veins. And lay off the colourful clothes in general. Today Me doesn’t understand why old age is an excuse to look like your outfits were picked by Elton John.
Oh, and finally, Today Me strongly suggests running these ideas past my wife. He doesn’t want her blaming him when it goes wrong.
Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at [email protected]
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