There are signs that you’re a “grown up”, aren’t there? Signs. There is a saying, favoured by the late Bob Monkhouse which goes,”Getting old is compulsory. Growing up is optional”. I love that saying. I think it’s one of the few rules that should be adhered to throughout life (one of the optional, philosophical rules I mean. Obviously “not stealing” or “not smothering a politician in Nutella” are the type of rules which we should definitely adhere to. Unless the said politician has requested it).
A few of the things that make me realise I have been an adult for some time are (aside from my birth certificate) the fact that I can – and do – make my own soup without adult supervision (pop by, I shall make some for you). Often I will walk around, even use, scissors because I’m an adult and that’s what adults do. Another aspect of being an adult and one I embrace frequently (although not to a worrying degree) is my right to buy alcohol without having to give some shifty looking guy a fiver for doing so whilst I hang around outside. In fact, it was this very deed that led me to realising I have taken on some mannerisms of grown-upness (using made up words isn’t one of them).
Now, my little camp cottage where I live by myself is next to a canal. A lock keeper’s cottage, in fact; although I am not a lock keeper. At the side of my house, over the little bridge, is the canal tow path which leads like a Yellow Brick road to the bright lights of the village shop and local pub. To the left of the tow path are the watery depths of the canal and, to the right various bushes, most of which appear to be displaying Winter White Berries (just Googled them. I was going to write “white berries” but the “winter” bit makes this tale all that more Brother Grimm-esque, don’t you think? No? Ok then…). It was here that the whole situation occurred.
As usual, I pass people on the canal path. By which I mean they’re walking in the other direction. I don’t give birth to people as I go; that’s a preposterous accusation! So, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I pass people on the path (you know what I mean!) and, earlier, I passed two boys who were about 14. They were lobbing these winter white berries at each other by the handful and, to the look, having quite a lot of fun doing it. They would, wouldn’t they? So as I got nearer they continued to pelt away but then one looked up and saw me. “That’s good,” I thought, “that’ll mean he’ll stop as I pass and there’ll be no awkwardness”. However, he didn’t stop. Admittedly he didn’t aim them at me but, as he flung this cluster bomb of winter white berries at Teenager Number 2 (who, in all fairness had his back to me), rogue winter white berries flew in my general direction. Although still smirking, Teenager Number 2 apologised as, following on from his more responsible chum, did Teenage Number 1. Or “King Flinger”.
I know they apologised because I could see them mouth it. At the time, as I do when I walk to the shop/pub (The Red Lion in Sandiacre. Pop by, I’ll buy you a drink), I had my earphones in and was listening to tunes on my iPhone. Ironically, the song I was listening to was “When We Were Young” by Take That; a song all about the innocence of youth before responsibility and grown-upness (I’m sticking with it) took over. The reason that is ironic is because of my reaction to the Teenagers’ apologies.
As they both apologised in well-meaning ways, I reacted in a way that affirmed my stature as a grown up. For I could have met their light-hearted jauntiness with a raised eyebrow and a half-smile which would have indicated, “You scamps. I was like you at your age. Now, have away with you, go on..” to which they would have undoubtedly replied, “Cheers Mister!” before running after each other and getting up to more innocent japes to fill their time. I didn’t react like that though. I reacted as a grown up would react. Not a grown up who, by his own admission, is carefree and, well, yes, “jaunty” himself. No. I reacted like a bitter man who’d been interrupted on HIS way to HIS local shop and was probably wearing beige clothing and still had to wax his car before Countdown started.
As they smilingly mouthed “sorry”, I glared. Glared! I don’t glare. I can’t glare. My Dad used to glare at my sister and I if we were in trouble or over stepping the mark (which was, I would like to point out, invisible. We were really playing in an unfair game there). Dad’s eyes would widen, his jaw would tighten as his teeth ground together and his forehead had a brilliant knack of shooting back. It was at that point that we knew to stop messing about. To be honest, he rarely did it but it was such a sign of his disapproval that we knew not to push it and it has stayed in my mind to this day. My friend Jason has managed to do it too. In fact, he did it the other week when he was just wearing pants. There are fewer things more confusing yet frightening than a man glaring at you whilst only wearing pants.
So that’s what I tried. I tried a glare (fully dressed I would readily like to point out) but I knew, as I was attempting it, that I looked an idiot. I am not someone who carries that weight of fear in his eyes/jaw/forehead. I am someone who would’ve been more respected if I’d have done the whole mock shaking of fist. Or even laughed. As I walked off, the Teenagers no doubt mocking my poor attempt at being stern/tough, I regretted the way I reacted.
I made a pact with myself there and then that, the next time Teenagers are throwing Winter White Berries in my general direction, I shall laugh in a sort of “yeah, I did that sort of thing when I was your age” manner (I didn’t. I stayed in my bedroom, played Football Manager and listened to the radio).
So, Here’s What I Have Learnt Today: Don’t be a grown up unless you HAVE to be a grown up.
As a little footnote to this tale, as I was walking back along the canal path when I saw the Teenagers again. By way of showing that I wasn’t some sort of wannabe authority figure, I nodded them a friendly, “Alright?”. They, in turn, looked at me with a sort of, well, glare. Of course, they had just seen this man – this grown up – who had previously tried and failed to be stern now being happy and “jaunty” whilst clutching two bottles of wine and a box of Coco-Pops.
I think I’ll just take a different route to the shops from now on…