In her first column, Alison Hall laments the terrifying and inevitable process of “growing up.”
An August birthday has always been both a blessing and a curse. As a child I never had to worry about my special day falling on a school day and having to hand out Haribo Starmix to the children who bullied me; as the years went by I was able to celebrate in the euphoria of the post-exam summer holiday. However, after I began to spread my wings as a newly hatched social butterfly and began the long, slow march towards adulthood, I quickly learned that always being the “baby of the group” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
I was the last of my friends to turn 18, meaning I wasn’t even allowed to take part in most pub or club-centred festivities until just before I left for university. Almost every birthday has been somewhat anticlimactic in that everyone I know has already beaten me to the finish line – like they’ve been invited to an enormous party while I stand outside with my nose pressed against the window; and that by the time I’m able to join the night has already peaked, with most people having left for an early night or getting off with their exes behind the shed outdoors, and two or three weird men doing coke in the loo.
Almost every birthday has been somewhat anticlimactic in that everyone I know has already beaten me to the finish line – like they’ve been invited to an enormous party while I stand outside with my nose pressed against the window.
My most recent birthday was my twentieth, and this one felt different. Throughout this academic year I saw my friends drop like flies, one by one, as they were forcefully plucked from the soft teat of their teenage years and thrust into the adult world. As the summer came around, I knew that I would soon meet a similar fate – by the end of the vacation I would no longer be able to kid myself into thinking that I was still somehow a teenager.
Some years ago I imagined that by the time I turned twenty I’d have it all figured out – I’d feel like a terribly glamorous woman who drank wine and wore stilettos and probably had a personal assistant. In reality, I recently conquered my fear of popping packets of crisps open. I took to the final years of my teens like a woodlouse to somewhere cool, dark and moist. But I’ve now been backed into a corner by the world of aching bones, surprise grey hairs – and, God forbid, graduation – and I just don’t like it.
I may have grown older, but I most certainly have not grown up and neither have many people my own age.
I really don’t feel like I should be twenty years old. It’s an awfully big number that feels strange and heavy when I say it out loud. Until this year, those who were entering the third decade of their lives seemed to know the ways of the world, and I’d spent years waiting for a sudden change to come about – to no avail. Old age implies adulthood, which implies maturity, of which I have none. I’m twenty and I can’t read an analogue clock or ride a bike. One of my friends cannot tie his shoelaces, another still cuts the crusts off his sandwiches – I could go on. I may have grown older, but I most certainly have not grown up and neither have many people my own age – which, admittedly, makes me feel a little better about myself.
As much as I’d hate to admit it, I’m ancient. Now an entire generation of the world’s population is younger than me, and I’m completely out of touch with them. Any interactions with younger relatives leave me feeling like a weird uncle instead of the formidably cool cousin. The world of TikTok and e-boys is completely alien and honestly quite frightening to me, something that dawned on me during a rather scarring trip to Camden. Emotionally, I seek the ignorant bliss of a tiny lapdog curled up by the bosom of a distinguished lady in a seventeenth century oil painting.
Emotionally, I seek the ignorant bliss of a tiny lapdog curled up by the bosom of a distinguished lady in a seventeenth century oil painting.
There are times that I feel prepared to fast forward through the next few decades of my life altogether and retire to a deserted village in the north of France where the townsfolk spread vicious rumours about me practising witchcraft. This can only be for one reason – now that I’ve booked a forward-facing seat on the express train to middle age, I am quite simply better than anyone younger than me. Rather than shielding myself from the reality of officially being “in my twenties”, I need to face the facts and take them in my stride. Now that I’ve been invested with this incredible sense of maturity, I need to at least pretend that my world view has changed dramatically. Although not a single person has asked for this, I feel it is my duty to impart my new-found adult wisdom to the young and impressionable – and so in this column I aim to do exactly that. You’re welcome.
Image: Michelle Mendieta Mean