John Carter’s late life crisis resolved with a rather dashing waistcoat

I’ll need your undivided attention this month, because ‘Now and Then’ is something of mixed bag. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where I should begin. 

Should it be with my theory about ‘late-life crisis’, or with the tale of the snazzy waistcoat? There is a link, albeit a tenuous one, but I feel that the waistcoat should come first. And the wedding to which it was worn.

The wedding, last month, was a fine affair. In the Priory Church at Dunstable, which is massively important in that, arguably, it is where the Church of England began. (There, in May, 1533, Archbishop Cranmer and a bevy of bishops declared that Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was ‘null and void’, thus seriously upsetting the Pope and kicking off a whole new religious ball game.)

Not only had we been invited to the ceremony, but the groom-to-be had asked me to deliver a ‘Secular Reading’. This turned out to be one of those poems which are sort-of poems, in that nothing rhymes, but the words are more than prose. 

I approached the task with some trepidation, as past experiences of this genre have been slightly stomach-churning – an amalgam of Californian touchy-feely, flower-power emotions that are to be found in the more esoteric Hallmark greetings cards.

But this – ‘Why Marriage?’ by Dena Acolatse – was not at all cheesy. I needed to work on the rhythm of it, but in the event it seemed to go down well. As did the entire wedding, which was unique in that we stayed in the church to eat sandwiches and wedding cake and quaff Champagne.

At Carole’s suggestion, I had purchased a rather dashing waistcoat to wear with my otherwise unprepossessing grey suit. Not only a waistcoat, but a matching tie and handkerchief – or, rather, a piece of cloth that could be folded into one’s top pocket to look like a handkerchief.  Personally, I thought that wearing all three was a bit over the top, but Carole rightly pointed out that weddings are special events and going over the top would be all right.

Several people commented favourably on my ‘look’. And Carole, who knows about such things, said I should consider wearing a waistcoat more often. 

I am giving this serious consideration, having found a web site which offers a selection of similar matching combinations.  

Now I want you to hold that thought while I change gear and consider the idea of a ‘late life crisis’. Be patient, there is a link.

We all know about a ‘mid-life crisis’, when otherwise sensible chaps in their mid-forties think that life is passing them by and try to recapture something of their lost youth – or, rather, the lost opportunities from their youth. 

This manifests itself in the purchase of a sports car, or a hair transplant, or a brighter set of suits. Or, (all too often, I fear), having an affair with a younger woman.

(On this latter subject, I once worked with a married man who was a serial womaniser. We were of the same age, so he knew my childhood, like his, had been spent during the war, when toys and treats were non-existent. His argument was that his latest young lady was merely compensation for the train set he never had as a boy.)

But I have decided that, as we are living longer, there is time for all of us (and I include the ladies, too) to have a ‘late-life crisis’. I do not recommend plastic surgery, adultery or buying a Ferrari, but I feel we are entitled to a little something extra to spice up our September years.

I know we travel more than any previous older generation, and learn more from our travels than we did when younger. At a stretch you could say that qualifies as a change of lifestyle. But I think we could take things a stage further.

You’ll have your own thoughts, I know. They may involve getting fitter or slimmer, taking up Amateur Dramatics or Morris Dancing, learning to play Bridge, paint portraits or collect stamps.

In my case, it will probably be the wearing of snazzy waistcoats (with matching ties), for, though I am in the market for a car, I don’t intend to buy anything sporty for the simple reason that I wouldn’t be able to get in and out of it.

My purchase of a de-commissioned London taxi (about which I wrote last November) could have been interpreted as a manifestation of a late-life crisis, but the reason I did so was because it was easy to enter and exit.

I have fused vertebrae at the top of my spine, which makes it impossible for me to duck my head down. It is a result of something called  Ankylosing Spondylitis – which is a ridiculous name for what my doctor describes as ‘Arthritis with knobs on’. So a snug fitting sports car is really out of the question. As for pursuing nubile young ladies, well, the least said about that, the better.

So I think I’ll stick to snazzy waistcoats.  

What do you have in mind?

P.S. As I was completing this essay, I heard of the death of Andre Previn. He was 89, but I always thought of him as being much younger because he seemed to live life to the full – and, you could say, filled it with what many folk would call ‘crises’.

When my children were very young, they used to recite a piece of doggerel composed by Spike Milligan.

Andre Previn/Went to Heaven/A little bit too soon.

Saint Peter said: “You’re not quite dead.”/”Come back this afternoon.”

Isn’t it ridiculous what the memory insists on retaining, when all sorts of serious stuff gets forgotten. 

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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