I was a wannabe reporter once. I did the course in journalism at Harlow College with the great Dick Rooney (last heard of teaching the aspiring journos of Papua New Guinea). I even tinkered with the real thing at the Essex County Standard. And when I was training we learned an obvious truth - make your last question an absolute killer. Be like Columbo, get all the basic stuff and then, right before you leave, ask the unaskable thing. See that way, even if your subject flounces off in a huff to bollock their PR guy for letting you in the room, then you still have all the rest of the interview. And you never know, you may have built up such a rapport that they answer your killer Q, giving you absolute gold without thinking about it...
Ask the killer question too early and you end up with a recorder full of tape hiss where there should be anecdotes about romps and bonks and Elton John.
So, I'm talking to this reporter and her killer question? It's this: How old are you? Apparently it's what the readers like to know.
Is it? Really?
It's about the least important thing about anyone isn't it? And in the context of my books the reporter is probably really wondering how I - a man of middle years - can hope to write convincingly about a nineteen year old boy.
And the answer is because I stayed nnnnnnnineteen longer than anyone I know. Far longer than the solitary year that most people get. Up to about the age of 12/13 I progressed through the days much like everyone else. But I got stuck in early adolescence for several years until suddenly a girl happened and I rejoined my peers at 19. And I stayed 19 through college, through my many years of answering the phone and photo-copying and all the various other deadening facets of assistanting. I stayed 19 through the birth of my first child, through my journalism training, through my first teaching gigs and my first book. I was 19 pretty much up until I'd finished writing Life! Death! Prizes! And by that time I was into the period you humans call your forties.
Finishing that book seemed to push me on a little, and I was able to move forward to my current age. Which is 29.
Yes, I'm 29 and I think I may very well stay here for quite a while. I like it here. It seems okay. I can run, jump, skip. I can take risks. I can still leap into things - but I just might look at how far the drop is first.
See - as someone must have said - the tragedy of getting old is not that we age, it's that we stay so young. Many - most - older people are trapped in a body becoming unfamiliar to them. A body that is becoming the wrong body. Fuck Wallace and his pitiful Wrong Trousers, most of us have the Wrong Legs, the Wrong Head and the Wrong Bits are getting Wronger.
We had to do Thomas Hardy at A level and I remember these lines resonated with me 'I look into my glass/And view my wasting skin/And say 'would God it had come to pass/My heart had shrunk as thin...'
Something like that anyway (I'm not being so middle-aged as to check). Now my old English teacher, the inspirational Mr Jones, is not around to ask - but I think Tom Hardy is saying that we don't get old. Our skin gets lined and muscles begin to sag, we begin to ache in the places where we used to play - but still we are surprised when we catch ourselves in the mirror. Shocked even. 'Who is that old fucker staring at me?' we wonder. 'That strange looking geezer. The bloke who, now I come to look a little closer, looks scarily like my dad. What does he want with me?'
But one of the great things about writing is that you can be whoever you want to be. You can still fall in love with any guitar, any bass drum, any girl. The space-time continuum has all the meaning it was meant to have, ie no meaning at all. It is a piece of fiction itself. A scary fairy story to frighten us into buying pensions and insurance. A scam.
Don't ask me how old I am. Because the honest answer is I don't know. Just at the minute 29 seems to suit me fine, and I think I'll rest up here for a while. And in my head the guys at the top of this blog page are still guys I know, not ghosts. I could still go hang out with them at any time.