Opinion

Some people might find my middle-aged life boring – but it's real. There's beauty in the humdrum

Revelling in domestic routine might once have looked like surrender, now it's a source of profound joy

Sam Delaney says old people can still enjoy live music

Guitar heaven: Old(er) people can still enjoy live music, you know. Image: Chidsey on freeimages.com

I went to see a Smiths tribute band at the weekend. They’re called The Smyths. It was in the backroom of a local pub and it was life-affirming. It helped that I love the music of the actual Smiths. It also helped that the pretend Morrissey was not the real Morrissey and I therefore didn’t need to wrestle with any of my tedious liberal scruples over enjoying his performance. 

But most of all it was about the atmosphere in the room, as the sounds of rainy 1980s Manchester whipped an audience of clapped-out middle-aged bastards like me into an improbable state of ecstasy. The familiar bittersweet lyrics that narrated our youth, laced with those euphoric melodies: it had a narcotic-type effect on the hundred or so who had walked through the doors moments earlier, worrying about whether their aching backs would be able to survive the evening. 

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By the encore, there were men and women who looked like they might not have cracked a smile since the mid-90s dancing, singing, hugging and even crying with joy. It was lovely. Strange where you can stumble upon spiritual experiences if you keep your eyes and mind open.

A Big Issue reader recently wrote in suggesting that, while he generally enjoyed my writing, the content was “often depressing”.

I wasn’t sure what to think about this. On the one hand, the editor never explicitly mentioned that he wanted my columns to be depressing. Then again, he didn’t specifically tell me not to make them depressing either. 

On reflection, I am quite pleased that my writing has something of a melancholic undercurrent these days. Time was, I only wrote, spoke or behaved to elicit a few cheap laughs. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) I spent the first few decades of my life pulling my pants down in the hope that passers-by would clap and cheer.

These days, I try to be a bit more honest about what is going on in my life and my head. Some people might find it all a bit depressing. Certainly, a great deal of it is mundane. But the gentle ebbs and flows of my life, as I approach the tail end of my 40s, offer me almost nothing but sweet, peaceful and unremarkable pleasures.

I could write about sex, excitement, rock ’n’ roll and all the other stuff we believe might deliver joy when we are younger. I mean, I’d have to reach pretty deep into my mental archives to accurately remember what most of those things felt like. But it wouldn’t really be honest or authentic. It would give no indication of my actual experience of being alive and therefore nothing real or meaningful for anyone else to connect with.

So instead I write and talk about my love of peanuts, my dog’s propensity to bark at foxes in the back garden, the losing battle I am fighting against my waistline or the fact that I went to see a Smiths tribute band in the local pub last weekend and really, really, really enjoyed it.

This is real life. It might not be blockbuster stuff but I love it. There is beauty, fun, absurdity and fulfilment in every last detail. There always has been, but when I was younger I just couldn’t see it. 

I was brainwashed by TV, glossy magazines and the influence of my equally naive peers to believe that life’s only pleasures lay in high-speed glamour and excitement. So I devoted a huge amount of my energy into chasing that stuff only to find, once I’d had my fill, that it did nothing to enrich my worldview, nourish my soul or put a smile on my face. In fact, it often seemed to do the opposite of all those things.

There is nothing like getting to middle age and opening your heart to the wondrous beauty of the humdrum. Revelling in domestic routine and the minutiae of bog-standard family life might once have looked to me like surrender. Now, I know it to be something far more profound: a realisation that all of the contentment and joy I need is sitting right here in front of me.

I used to think life could be so boring. Now I realise that I was just being unimaginative.

Read more from Sam Delaney here.

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Sort Your Head Out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99)You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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