It's like that old line about how did you go bust - gradually and then suddenly. I think I could be into the suddenly phase of going middle-aged. Obviously it's not helped by the pandemic. I had actually managed to turn 50 reasonably successfully in January. I actually thought I'd got away with it, dodged the bullet somehow.
I was ageing, or growing up as I call it, so gradually that I was barely noticing it. I was like the boiled frog as the water temperature gradually rose. I would wake up some day an old man, a boiled frog, but what I didn't know wouldn't hurt me.
And then, suddenly, I barely left the house for about six months.
Of course, a time comes in many men's lives when they become reluctant to leave the house. Many of us don't see it as a problem. We just decide there is nothing out there for us. At home we have giant TVs and comfortable predictability and, if we're lucky, our wives. Out there lies nothing but trouble and hassle.
Robbie Williams possibly summed it up best in an interview once. This was an interview conducted after Robbie had, as my mother would put it witheringly, "got sense". The interviewer asked Robbie incredulously if he didn't go out anymore. Robbie's answer? "I've been out."
I suppose I always suspected that I would come to the point where I would decide I'd been out, ticked that box, and was done with it, but I didn't expect it to come for another 30 or 40 years. But again, the pandemic has pressed the fast forward on me.
You should see me trying to make going-out plans for Christmas. Organising a Christmas night out with me is like organising a night out with your grandad. I've actually gone and cased some places, as in, I have actually popped in casually to a gastropub and done an inspection before I have agreed to have dinner there at a future date. I didn't quite bring a measuring tape, but I gave the place a good once over before I committed. I was going to ask if I could have a specific table near the door that seemed to offer good air circulation, but I was getting one of the last tables they had, so I didn't push it. I was there on the pretext of making a booking but they knew well what I was at. They saw my eyes darting around the place as I delayed in committing to the booking while the manager stood patiently waiting with his iPad.
For all of the small number of strategic social occasions I am getting involved in over Christmas, I'm agonising terribly over venues.
The main issue is that I feel that any kind of atmosphere is the exact opposite of Covid-safe. Feeling safe in a place and feeling festive there are like two different ends of the spectrum.
And I'm torn. On the one hand, I want to be in a hospital-style environment where I am the only customer, and on the other hand I want festive buzz. The trouble is that you could all too easily decide, having agonised over various options for an hour, that it's just easier to stay at home.
The other trouble with going anywhere right now is that it requires a real commitment. If you are going somewhere right now, that is where you are going, and you are going nowhere else, unless you want two dinners. So the stakes are high. You need to be really sure of the venue.
I have trouble committing to going to restaurants at the best of times. I always like to have an exit strategy. I always like to think I can bail at some point and go somewhere else. The ultimate prison for me is having to commit to a three-course Christmas menu. I'll barely commit to a main course these days.
My ideal restaurant is one where you can order various bits and pieces on small plates, and then get more if you want. I want to be a moving target at all times.
This gets worse around Christmas. On a Christmas night out I get a particular kind of Fomo where I need to take in as many venues as possible in case I miss anything. This generally involves a pint here and there, maybe a bit of bumping into various people, and a casual bite at some point when needed.
Being stuck at a table with the same people for the whole evening makes me ansty. That is, for me, the antithesis of the Christmas night out. On a good Christmas night out you never know where you might end up or who you might bump into.
Sometimes the best Christmas occasions can be ones you didn't even plan, the kind of ones that used to end up with presents being left behind in pubs.
I understand that this is a first-world problem. I know people are facing much bigger problems this Christmas. But someone has to speak up for the prematurely middle-aged men this Christmas. We too are victims of this. We thought we had another few good years left in us before we retired into the silence of the ageing man. But this Christmas has advanced that tipping point for us where staying at home becomes more attractive than going out.
And someone needs to issue a rallying call on our behalf.
We need to promise ourselves that whenever this ends, whenever some kind of normal resumes, we will make one last gigantic effort to get back out there.
You will know us when you see us in late spring/early summer. We'll be wearing knitwear, which we took to this winter, and our tolerance for drink, and for other people, will be severely diminished.