November 29, 2013 6:58 pm

In with the oldie crowd

‘I have hit the level at which you remain until you are so old that your mere presence is a minor miracle’
Illustration by Lucas Varela of two groups of diners©Lucas Varela

I have become my Uncle Cyril. The moment was bound to come and now it has. I should be clear at this point that there is nothing wrong with Uncle Cyril or any of the sundry “aunts and uncles” that comprised the key members of that universally recognisable group, the old friends of your parents.

These so-called aunts and uncles were probably no more than 40 when I became aware of them but they were unarguably part of a different era. Naturally they were all at my wedding, where they sat with the other oldies at the oldies’ table, until halfway through the evening the band struck up some oldies’ music and all of them suddenly got up and danced in an oldie way.

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Robert Shrimsley

Anyway, last weekend marked my evolution as I enjoyed my first wedding as an oldie – the precise definition being someone about whose presence the happy couple are utterly indifferent, part of the crowd that at least one of them refers to as the “hangers-on”. To be fair, there is a second cousin-ish bond between the bride and my wife but, fundamentally, we were in the “friends of my parents” cohort. It was, I should say, a lovely, warm, joyful affair but we were distinctly aware that, as people began to coalesce into groups, we were in the one that knew none of the couple’s friends. As to the groom, I’m fairly sure that he would still struggle to pick me out in a police line-up.

Admittedly the boundaries between the generations have slipped enough for the divide to be less marked than it was at my own wedding. For one thing, a key facet of being in the oldie crowd is demonstrating that you are still young enough not to be. In fact, now that I think about it, showing you are still young enough has been a feature of a number of recent parties. You have the 50th birthday parties where everyone pretends they are still 40, and 40th birthday parties where everyone pretends they are still 20. The latter are often themed evenings – Seventies or Eighties nights, where everyone tries to squeeze into the kind of clothes they were wearing 20 years earlier. (Who knew flares were so comfortable?) Happily, I can still attend fancy-dress parties as one of the Blues Brothers; it’s just that there is no longer any pretending I’m the Dan Aykroyd character.

But at least at these events we are all in the same boat. It is different at weddings. The cool kids do not want to be in the way when a herd of middle-aged relatives stampede on to the floor to dance Gangnam-style. You see the teens and twentysomethings melting away to smirk by the bar. At least the oldies of my youth could dance. They knew how to jive and swing. We only know comedy dances and how to make the letters of the YMCA. On the upside, however, it clearly alarms the spawn; the boy has already begun asking us to refuse invitations to receptions that he is attending.

Still, the hosts at the wedding were nothing if not considerate and did their best to cater for us. There can surely be no other explanation for why the band suddenly launched into Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” – a fine song but not one you expect to find on any self-respecting millennial’s playlist.

There are worse fates at weddings, however. At least we were not on the miscellaneous table, among the disparate group of guests who are not part of any particular crowd and who open all conversations with “So how do you know…?”

Of course, there will be weddings of closer relatives where we are on less of an outer ring. But standing at the bar on Sunday night happily singing along to a song recorded before either of the couple was even born, I recognised that I had indisputably passed one more milestone on the journey towards decrepitude. I have hit the level at which you remain until you are so old that your mere presence is a minor miracle and you are singled out in the groom’s speech for a special mention just by dint of not yet being dead. You may be ancient, wheelchair-bound and afflicted with umpteen complaints but at least you are relevant. It’s something to look forward to, I suppose.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com ; Twitter: @robertshrimsley

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