The website has now vanished, so here's the story.
I get asked what my secret is. I say you just have to stick around long enough, and you’ll reach all sorts of ages. I was born back in the fifteen fifties, but there are plenty of people I know who are older than me. I once met a man in France who said he grew up in a cave during the Ice Age. Little man he was, looked malnourished, missing a couple of fingers. Always opening windows and turning the heating down.
As he sat across the table in the Brasserie Bofinger in Paris, carefully nibbling and sucking the last pieces of pink meat from his lamb shank, we talked about the problems of having to learn new languages the whole time. It was relatively okay for me – I just had to remember to stop calling people ‘thou’ and say things like ‘got’ instead of ‘gotten’. I never managed to get rid of my Elizabethan London accent though; so most people assume I’m American.
My ex-caveman friend, meanwhile, he had a hard time. He had to go from coarse vocalisations and crude gestures, to Latin, to medieval French, and then on to modern French. ‘Full circle, then,’ I said. He found that funny, and banged the table with the lamb bone. People stared, and he got angry and started waving the bone at them like a club, but I told him to let them stare. It’s important to keep a sense of humour about things. Another word for humour is ‘perspective’. When you get to four hundred and fifty, you realise it’s all about perspective.
I don’t look four hundred and fifty, of course. You’d say I don’t look much older than a regular man in his mid-thirties does. The fact that I age so slowly came as a big surprise, I can tell you. I grew up normal enough. It, whatever it is, kicked in about the time I reached puberty. The first thing I noticed was that I kept my teeth when everyone else’s were falling out. Staying young was very noticeable in those days, believe me, because people got older a lot quicker. Even now, it amazes me how fast people age. There you are, one minute, limber and fit and lithe, and the next thing I know, I see you getting fillings, dying your hair, wincing and holding your back when you stand up. I suppose you have the same experience watching your pets becoming decrepit. To me, you live in dog years. No offence meant.
People ask me if it’s heritable, if there’s some one-off mutation in my genes that I can pass on. The answer, I’m afraid, is no. Some people say it must be terrible to have seen my own children grow old and die, and it was at first, it was. I don’t see it that way any more. Saying it’s wrong to outlive your children is like saying to a gardener that there’s no point in growing flowers, because they only last the summer. Besides, I’m in touch with plenty of my descendents. Admittedly, I sometimes lose track – in fact, it’s perfectly possible that we’re related.
Yes, I’ve been married a good number of times. I’m a great believer in marriage. It really should be for life. All of mine were, although if I’m honest with you, the plague intervened in my fourth marriage in a particularly timely fashion.
Now I don’t want you to think age has made me some sort of font of wisdom. I’m just as screwed up as the next person, and I have the luxury of time, which means I don’t have to learn from my mistakes straight away. I’ve never been very good with money, for example. Tulips, the South Sea Bubble, Dotcom shares. You name it, I’ve thrown money away on it. I lose track of currencies and prices really easily too. If you’re stuck at the back of a shop queue, it’s probably because I’m at the front of it, pulling out thruppenny bits and sixpences, trying to find the right change.
I suppose I lack a sense of urgency. A false sense of security, I think you’d call it. Most of the time I go around in this cloud as if I’m invulnerable. I’m immune to transmissible diseases and cancer, but I could still get beaten up or stabbed or something. One problem with living this long is that you’ll end up fighting in a lot of wars, and even in peacetime, all I’d have to do is take my eye off the ball for a moment. I mean, I read the statistics about people getting killed on the roads. Spread over my sort of lifespan, those odds make it a virtual certainty that that’s the way I’m going to go out.
I’d rather you didn’t tell too many people about our conversation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that fame is neither desirable nor durable. Can you, for example, tell me a Dan Leno joke, or recite me a line from a Colley Cibber poem? Exactly. But I know a man who came over here from Africa to trade, back when this place was a little town and a couple of mooring points. I know a Roman noblewoman who stayed here because she thought the weather was better for her plants. I know one of the workmen who built the walls of the Tower of London. Trust me, these are the people you really want to know.
I mean, like I was saying before, it’s all about perspective.
You never know, you might be one of us. If you find everyone is getting older while you still get asked for proof of age in bars, it’s possible. Come over and have a chat, I’ll give you some pointers. A warning, though: you won’t be popular.
***© Copyright Niall Boyce 2009