Bob Dylan made the phrase memorable in his song of that name. Forever Young was released in 1974 when he was 33 years old. It is a song that expresses a blessing from a parent to a child and when I heard it for the first time it struck just the right cord, I just knew I’d stay forever young. And strangely, one thing I have observed as I get older is that in my perception the mantle of youth stays firmly wrapped round me. I feel fine now, although increasing age is always beckoning to me from just round the corner, the way it does to everyone from Day One.
When Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in May 1997 he was just days away from his 44th birthday and thereby was acknowledged as the youngest Prime Minister of the UK since Lord Liverpool in 1812. No debate there – a young man at the pinnacle of his career, or so everyone said. But who’d want to be 43 and how could that be considered young? That was my perception at the age of 21 when I was in a relationship with a quite well known poet. I helped him celebrate his 30th birthday and ended the affair a week later. I’d had quite enough of hanging out with such an old guy. My future prospects were reinforced shortly afterwards during a visit to the GP where I complained of a hacking cough. ‘You smoke, don’t you?’ she asked. ‘Yup’, I said casually. The response was equally casual. ‘Well, listening to your chest I would anticipate that if you continue smoking at this level you will have serious respiratory problems by the time you are 30’.
It worked. I never smoked again. It was quite terrifying enough to envisage myself as a doddering 30 year old without being hooked up to an iron lung as well. But somehow, even without smoking and despite my best efforts at youthful excess and self-destruction I managed to pass 30 without a backward glance.
Yet I was never a fully paid up subscriber to the The Who’s plea in the song My Generation – Hope I die before I get old. Of course, watching the band sing it at Glastonbury a couple of years ago – from the comfort of the living room armchair, not from a muddy field – had me and probably the rest of the audience wincing at the irony of four pensioners belting out those lyrics. There are so many exciting things I haven’t done yet that my mantle will just have to continue to make sure that it protects me from the ravages of age. Anyway, I’m sure a poet as good as Bob Dylan expected to be interpreted in a variety of ways, so I’m opting for the figurative. May you stay forever young.