A good quarter-century?

How would you summarise the last 25 years of your life? Or yesterday? What would make tomorrow better? What counts is not the time, but how you spend it.

The past is alive.

Most gents, as they age (as the snow settles on the peaks, to borrow a lovely phrase I heard the other day), believe in their heart of hearts that deep down they are still 25. Even when the most cursory of glances suggests that 25 might be an increasingly distant memory.

Gentle reader, you can perhaps imagine my surprise earlier this month, then, when the penny dropped that the annual arrival of A-Level results day* marked a quarter of a century since my own nervous fumblings to open that most A-Levelsome of envelopes.

For many of us, the contents of those exam results envelopes mark a turning point in our lives. Or seem to, at the time. Paths open up, or are closed off.

The past is always alive for me. I can easily slip back into the minutiae of moments long gone. I can remember exactly the insecurities and worries of my 18-year-old-self some 25 years ago.

I can also recall that A-Level results day (which the magic of Google suggests must have been Thursday 15 August 1991) was the occasion of one of cinema’s greatest letdowns. I went that evening with a bunch of fellow A-Level graduands** to The Point multiplex cinema*** in Milton Keynes to see Terminator 2 (please head to the footnotes**** for more on this filmic misstep).

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What counts is not the time, but how it was spent

Jumping back to the future of 2016, I marked the occasion of this minor cinematic anniversary with a tweet on Thursday 18 August.

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A related Twitter chat with my friend David D’Souza took things in a fascinating direction. David made the point that while the passage of a quarter-century might seem momentous and scarcely credible, “what counts [is] not the time, but how it was spent.”

This is extremely interesting. The enforced brevity of Twitter communications can result in unexpected clarity. I’d never thought to summarise such an expanse of time in so few characters before. But I would have to say that “it got better as it went along” is a pretty fair summary of my time since 1991.

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David also shared a tweet-length personal history of his own past quarter-century. It is quite beautiful:

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Presuming that you have a quarter-century behind you, how would you summarise the last 25 years of your life? Or the last 10 years? Or just yesterday?

What would help make tomorrow better?

“Nobody in my life ever asked me for proof…”

The day before yesterday, my friend Helen Reynolds****** shared some delightful words on the significance or otherwise of what awaits us in those wee brown exam results envelopes:

“I tend to not know people of an age to be picking up their GCSE results. But if I did, I’d tell them that I very swiftly lost the certificates and nobody in my life ever asked me for proof, so I could’ve just said I got ten As and sixteen A*s and be done with it. Wasted opportunity.”

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The past is alive. But the future is unborn. And what it might hold
is a hell of a lot more exciting than what has gone before. The worries of the present moment will
reduce in scale as time passes. I’ve always loved Dr Samuel Johnson’s tweet-friendly words on this:

“Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.”


What would help make tomorrow better?


Footnotes:

* For non-UK readers, GCSEs and A-Levels are sets of exams that are taken in the UK at the ages of 16 and 18, respectively. Your GCSE grades might determine whether you get to take A-Levels, and your A-Level grades might in turn determine whether you go on to study at university. A-Levels results are always published on a Thursday in mid-August, with GCSE results following seven days later.

** That can’t possibly be the right word. Any suggestions?

*** Point pic via WikimediaCommons. The picture shows it in a boarded-up, awaiting-demolition state in 2014. I remember when it first opened just how exciting it was that a cinema might show more than one film at the same time. Perhaps appropriately, given this post’s ruminations on the past being alive, the first film I ever saw there was Back To The Future.

**** Judging by the reactions to my initial tweet about having found Terminator 2 disappointing all those years ago (click on said tweet for the evidence), it seems this is not a widely-held view. The Terminator is a masterpiece of tone, tension and creativity. “T2″ is not. I will own that I have not seen Terminator 2 since that day back in 1991. But I can vividly remember cringing at the scene in which the formerly-fearsome Terminator smirkingly declares to camera that he will not kill anyone. But fans of Terminator 2 can console themselves that they are in the majority. Indeed, none other than Kinsley Amis was also enamoured of Terminator 2, going so far as to hail it “a flawless masterpiece” (as can be seen in the following extract from his son Martin Amis’ superb memoir Experience*****):

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***** I would not normally be so gauche as to add a footnote to a footnote, but I would like to apologise for any eyestrain caused by the size and haziness of the type in the above Google Books-derived extract from Mr Amis (Junior)’s writings.

****** Helen is witty and wise. Follow her on Twitter, and please consider purchasing her brand-new book of cartoons. My thanks to Helen for her kind permission to quote her words here.

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