John Masterson: 'Age is just a number. Sadly it is getting bigger'

The influential Patti Smith

John Masterson

They used to say that you were moving into middle age when the gardai looked like youngsters. Around my area, it is the tractor drivers. Recently, I came to a stop at a T junction, and on my left was a tractor that was about the size of a double-decker bus. It was towing a trailer stacked with straw that was about the size of the International Space Station. Perched on top of all this Apollo-sized piece of machinery was the driver, who looked all of 12. I have no doubt he was of legal age, and when he waved me past, I just did what I was told as he had an air of knowing what he was about.

I have always been impressed by children who grow up on farms as, from a young age, they are given responsibility and opportunities that urban children do not get. A farm child will see their Confirmation money as seed capital. It will probably be spent on a lamb, or a calf, and begin a lifetime of knowing the value of work and money. It always reminds me of just how mollycoddled many of our children, who live inside the 60kph speed limit, have become.

I was age conscious from an early age, because my birthday fell in a month that meant I was usually the youngest in class. This continued through secondary school and college. Then comes the day when you realise you are not only not the youngest at a meeting, but very probably the oldest. And that is the way the others are thinking of you. This is the type of hurt that only a sports car can cure. The fact that your car insurance reduces is one of the few positives of ageing.

Sports people usually peak in their twenties. Then the injuries heal slower and the pace is not what it used to be. Many find it hard to deal with, unless they have other good things in life to feel positive about. Even golfers, who by modern standards have a long life, have to face the awful truth that the youngsters hit the ball a mile and you are never ever going to do that again.

By any criteria, perception of age has changed over the last generation. Grandmothers did not don fluorescent Lycra and go for a run a generation ago. Now they wouldn't rate a second glance. OAPs used not to wear denim jeans. I sat at the next table to Patti Smith in Mount Juliet recently and, at 72, with long hair, in jeans, boots and a suede jacket, she was the very epitome of cool. Being cool, myself, I left her in peace and did not ask for a photo. I wonder how many of the Love Island brigade will have one-tenth of her staying power.

The recurrent economic crashes mean that many private sector employees cannot afford to stop working until well into their seventies, and no one bats an eyelid. The notion of living a life of leisure from 65 on, is rapidly becoming obsolete.

I have passed that point of desiring a house and ringing the bank for a mortgage. I don't know quite how they would put it, but it amounts to 'we don't feel confident you will live that long' and that is a sentence I do not wish to contemplate. Which brings me to the new Age Friendly parking spaces that have been springing up around Kilkenny, as part of the Age Friendly policy of my home city. They are clearly marked and a little bit wider than the others, which is very welcome to anyone who tries to squeeze out in the space normally allowed without damaging the next car. While I now see tractor drivers as primary school pupils and the gardai as late adolescents, I did not feel I made the cut to park there. I imagined the gossip if I were spotted. "I saw John Masterson parking in that Age Friendly spot on Patrick Street. He should be ashamed of himself. At his age!"

Age is just a number. Sadly one that is getting bigger. You are as young as you feel. That is rubbish uttered by forty-somethings. I intend to squeeze every second out of middle age. If I ever reach it. Prolonged adolescence is wonderful and I recommend it.