With the brutal inevitability of Richard Dawkins nasally browbeating a kindly rural vicar, I find myself careering towards my 33rd birthday.
In less than six months from now I shall be the same age as Christ when he died for our sins. Supposedly. And apparently this is an important benchmark in a man’s life – presumably because it highlights the moment he stops believing he can walk on water, and realises he is destined to spend the rest of his life nailed to a piece of wood while people chuck stones at him and his mother wails in abject despair at all that unfulfilled promise. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
I used to think of Jesus with a kind of cheery ambivalence (indeed, the last time I wrote of him on these pages I ended up segueing neatly into a bit about Midsomer Murders – which kind of tells you all you need to know about my spiritual priorities…) - I mean, obviously that cross-carrying, whip-lashed walk to Golgotha was pretty unpleasant, but at least he had the chance to save the soul of a hot-looking fallen woman and knock around with his mates in the desert beforehand.
All I can think about now is “Oooh – doesn’t he look old!” With his big beard and his crow’s feet and his mournful demeanour - He’s a mid-life crisis waiting to happen, that chap, make no mistake. Or an “end-life crisis” if you want to be pedantic. But it was a long time ago – people died younger then.
And now that’s me. I am HIS age. Almost. And it’s fair to say I haven’t perhaps achieved quite as much in MY first 32 years. Fewer miracles, certainly. And a marginally less noteworthy contribution to modern civilisation (though I WAS in the Bridgewater School team that triumphed at the Hertfordshire Road Safety Quiz in 1987).
No longer am I the young, carefree buck with thoughts of world domination and trysts with supermodels. It has finally dawned on me that if I haven’t managed to break into Hollywood or catch the eye of the England football selectors by now, then it is probably never going to happen, and I am destined to begin a long ignominious descent into bitterness and senility. That is if I make it through the year…
Because somebody told me that there is a definite spike in quirky, weird stuff happening to thirty-three year-old men. Up to and including nervous breakdowns, rogue elephant tramplings and other hideous fatal “accidents” that would never befall a thirty-two or thirty-four year old.
Yes, the curse of the Christ Year is upon me – and I’d be lying if I said a certain cloying panic was not beginning to set in. At the very least, I am starting to give threshing machines and combine harvesters an over-judiciously wide berth.
The bright side? The BRIGHT side??
You may say I am being irrational, and this is some silly old wives tale dreamt up by scaremongers and conspiracy theorists. Indeed, some slack internet research finds not a shred of even semi-official documentation describing such a phenomenon – merely a few self-effacing blog posts from similarly mortality-struck commentators and the odd anecdote about suicide pacts involving disillusioned gentlemen wearing sandals and crowns of thorns.
Indeed, I remember some years ago, a then-33-year-old friend from work was sifting through the drawers of his new desk after an office move, when he stumbled upon the old passport of an ex-colleague. Later that day, a grim companywide email missive from our Managing Director informed us that said ex-employee had recently expired unexpectedly in the middle of an exotic holiday. Just dropped down dead. My friend turned anxiously to the unfortunate fellow’s passport. I don’t think I need to tell you how old he was…
One thing I have always done is scan newspaper articles and books for famous people’s ages – especially authors – measuring their maturity against their critical success. Often I’ll use these biographical details to justify my own pitiful procrastination:
It’s OK – Steinbeck was 35 when Of Mice and Men was published - and Orwell was a positively ancient 42 when he wrote Animal Farm… What were these dip-shits doing during their twenties, eh? Wandering around California like a bloody beach bum and faffing about in Burma, that’s what. I’ve got plenty of time to finish off the novel – I’m a bloody prodigy compared to those layabouts! An enfant terrible! I’ll just stick the kettle on and switch over to Sky Sports while I think about plot-lines and narrative and…er…stuff.
Except I haven’t got plenty of time, have I? I’m ooooold. If I really am going to knock out that Oscar-winning screenplay, I’d better do it quick sharp before Hollywood rejects me in favour of younger, hipper writers with floppy hair and a working knowledge of pop culture and modern technology. I would suggest my witty references to Britpop and iPod Shuffles are not really going to cut it these days.
Worse than that, I’m becoming obsessed with those wretched souls who are 33 now – wondering if they are looking nervously over their shoulders. For months I checked the obituaries daily to see if David Beckham (born 2nd May 1975) – had met a grizzly end by way of a swerving free-kick to the temple or a freak manicuring accident.
Cursed - the lot of 'em
He’s made it to 34 now, thank goodness, but lord knows he has enough goons and sycophants around him telling him he’s the new Messiah – he probably would have bought it if I’d told him. I should have popped him a friendly warning email with some premonitions of a grisly Christ Year demise:
As you turn 33, I feel obliged to share with you my fears for your safety. All my other heroes - Jesus, Eva Braun and John Belushi out of the Blues Brothers – have died in horrible circumstances at this accursed age and I would hate the same fate to befall you.
I have been having this recurring nightmare where a handsome, chiselled hero is raised up on a cross with nails through his hands and metatarsals. In the background, weeping uncontrollably, are three identikit children in replica football kits, and a gaunt-looking woman dressed all in black with over-sized sun-glasses and a distinctive pout. Oh yeah - and the man on the cross has loads of tattoos, and stylish fashion accessories and jewellery and stuff. And he’s wearing a sarong.
Don’t worry though – it’s probably nothing.
A Concerned Friend
So anyway, I am clearly at a heightened state of insecurity. On top of the hair loss, dead-end job and the stinging realisation that I’m probably not going to appear on Jonathan Ross to promote my new sketch show anytime soon, is the heartbreaking fact that I remain steadfastly single.
This is unfathomable – and distressing in the extreme.
Wayne Rooney (ten years younger than me and, let’s face it, no oil painting) will soon be someone’s dad! When he is entering his Christ Year he’ll no doubt be clipping his kid round the ear for nicking the hub caps off his Bentley.
Obviously, at this sensitive time I am reluctant to be put under unnecessary pressure. So I’ve given myself six months to find the woman I’m going to marry. And if I haven’t found her by my 33rd birthday, I’m going to buy some sandals and commit suicide in some symbolic way. Entombment, maybe, except without the resurrection bit. Either that, or I’ll simply marry someone ugly and marginally more desperate than me. That’s a better solution. It guarantees a hopeless future of resentment and misery and, anyway, I’m chronically claustrophobic.
To avoid this sad dilemma - and despite my fundamental opposition to (shudder) online dating - I would welcome any approaches from presentable ladies who are willing to rescue me from the inevitable downward spiral brought on by the trauma of a 33rd birthday spent watching Match of the Day and eating cut-price pizza from Sainsburys.
I’d like to think I’m not such a disastrous catch. Indeed, in many ways I reckon I have the edge over our Lord and saviour. At least I’m a homeowner (even if it is in Streatham). He probably lived in, I don’t know, a shack or something. And He was clearly something of a mummy’s boy. I have been self-sufficient for years. I can even knock together a decent fish pie when the mood takes me. All He could do was conjure up the raw ingredients. Millions and millions of them. Bloody show pony. Nope, you’re better off with me, ladies. And if you get your offer in early, I’ll even throw in an iPod Shuffle. Can’t say fairer than that.