Here’s a thing I wrote for the Jewish Quarterly. But you may get something out of it even if you didn’t know that the Hebrew for circumcision is “bris”.
It’s over. I write to you now as an old person. Amend the census, tick the age box marked “35 to what-does-it-matter-he’s-past-it-now”, pass on my number to cold-callers with special offers for careful drivers of a certain age. I’m now officially old.
How do I know? Was it last month’s college reunion with friends I’d not seen for twenty years who had gone behind Life’s “Stars in Your Eyes” curtain to emerge fat and bald and sagging (“Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be… middle-aged”)? Or was it Google’s new social network, Google Plus – the first time the internet’s left me feeling I can’t quite keep up? I, the “early adopter” who regularly mocks Apple’s latest products by typing “Sent from my iPad 5” at the bottom of my emails.
Or was it when I saw the latest picture of Sinead O’Connor, once the absolute symbol for me of beauty and rebellion? I’d have married her like a shot in the 80s, if only to hear my worried parents ask: “O’Connor? That’s a Sephardi name, right?”. But now time has taken its toll (and its surcharge. And VAT. And from the look of her, several stealth taxes as well). Sinead looks like a frazzled mum who’s forgotten to pick up her youngest from dance class because she was so busy trying to get her eldest to tidy her room and stop writing fan mail to the Pope (ah, how each generation finds its own way to rebel).
Still, it was none of these that pushed me over the edge. I even coped with the realisation that the ever-increasing barbarian hordes of nasal hair massing at the borders of my nostrils to mock the Pax Romana imposed with difficulty by my nasal scissors now included a considerable number of grey hairs. No, I was still young.
That’s why over the summer you could have found me dad-dancing at a festival. Never mind that the ground could have auditioned for the part of the Somme circa 1917, here was proof I still had it! I was at a festival! I was a Jew who does camping – something that’s not been popular with our people since the flight from Egypt (if I remember rightly the headliner that year was Golden Calf). Even working out that I’d danced to Blondie’s Atomic, first released in 1979, across five different decades didn’t faze me. I was dancing at a festival ergo I was young.
And that’s when I fell victim to hubris (which is like a real bris only more painful). I started telling a story about a previous festival experience: how I’d attempted to avoid using the toilet cubicles, visually the closest we can come to knowing what it was like to stare at the face of Medusa, by taking a couple of imodiums (or is it “imodia”?). This binds you up nicely for the long weekend so as a bloke you only need use the far less traumatic urinals. Unfortunately, on this occasion I forgot I’d taken my two imodia and took two more later that day. I didn’t need a toilet cubicle for 10 days, by which time the only way anything would ever come out would be by caesarean.
It was as I told that story that I heard the click of the generation counter moving on. I was talking about my bowels. What’s more I was asking other people about their “movements”, and I didn’t mean whether they were off to see Suede at the Sunshine Arena. I had become my parents, my grandparents even. That elderly Jewish obsession with one’s inner workings that I had up till then so readily mocked was now my inheritance. Maybe my Aunt Esther, who made me think as a boy that the Yiddish for “hello” was “are-you-regular?”, had first clocked her obsession at the Plotsk music festival in 1929 – the year the organisers caused such controversy by passing over the Tschernowitz Klezmer Band as headliners in favour of Yiddish rapper superstar Jaycob-Z.
Still, I’ve now accepted this change. I know that if you want the more enjoyable inheritances of aging – wisdom, self-knowledge, a growing fondness for Classic FM – you have to accept the downsides and embrace the aging process, warts and all. Because believe me, you will get warts.
So tell me, are you regular?