There is a moment in the second season of the Netflix series Narcos when the baddest baddie of them all, Pablo Escobar, is reduced to burning dollar bills to keep warm. Boyd Holbrook, playing the DEA agent Steve Murphy, says: “I read in a book somewhere about a rich guy who goes broke. When he’s asked how it happened, how he had lost everything, he answered: ‘Slowly at first. And then … all at once.’”
Ageing is a bit like that. You lose your vigour slowly at first, and then all at once. At 55 – it still shocks me when I write that number down – I am not yet at what I might term the money-burning phase of my decline, but three unsettling indicators of the downward slope of life have come my way in the past week. They are not serious in and of themselves, but together they’re nagging away at me like nobody’s business.
I’ve got a book coming out later in the year. The team at the publisher tasked with promoting it were running me through various interview opportunities. Towards the end of the list, the flow of the meeting faltered and one or two of them looked a mite embarrassed. “Would you, er, consider doing an, um, interview with …” someone started to ask. What could this be, I wondered. Lynn Barber coming out of retirement to flay me alive? No, nothing like that. “Would you mind,” they continued, “doing something with …” Pause. “Saga magazine?” There, they’d got it out. “Of course,” I said. I would never have thought to take any offence but their trepidation made me think again.
Then my younger daughter, who is away at university, started doing something odd. Hitherto, whenever I’ve called her, she has answered with something like: “What?” or, more likely, a text telling me why she can’t speak at that moment. Now, out of the blue, she has taken to answering with: “Hi. Everything OK?” What? Me? OK? Why do you ask? You’ve never asked before! All very concerning.
And then, the clincher. I was talking to an old friend in Yorkshire about a Leeds United match he was travelling down to London for. He sounded weary. It wasn’t the prospect of the punishing journey tiring him out, so much as the evening kick-off. “It’s just all so late,” he said. “I mean, by the end of half-time it’s nine o’clock. If I was at home, that’s about when I’d have a bit of a yawn and stretch and say to my wife: ‘Do you know what? I think I’m going to go up.’ And then I’ll read in bed for half an hour and that’ll be me. Sound asleep. And there I’ll be at Crystal Palace, miles from home on a school night, tired out and stressed out all at the same time.”
I have known this chap since the last century, when we were at college together. We bonded over football, travelling all over the country together watching our respective teams. And now he’s fading away at half-time. I was appalled, not to say disgusted. Especially when I realised that I felt the same way. The next evening match I attended, come half-time I was yawning like the gaps in my team’s defence. I considered a coffee to help get me through the second half. I blame my friend for putting these thoughts in my head; I might not have noticed them otherwise. I despair. What has become of us since the very thought of floodlit football had our pulses racing for days on end? Now we can barely make the final whistle. When you’re tired at half-time, you’re tired of life. The end is nigh.