There are things that happen when you grow older — bad things, harbingers of death and decay. Past the age of 55, I mean. For example, a friend and fellow columnist confessed recently that upon rising from a sitting position he almost always unintentionally farts. A delicate little ‘glip!’ from his bottom, every time he stands up. I am a little older than him and have yet to experience this demeaning imposition, this additional whiff of misery as we trundle downhill, via the unctuous and grimly cheerful hospice attendants, to the crematorium. But I am so terrified of it happening that nowadays, when I stand up, I rise very slowly and clench my buttocks tightly together just in case. It will happen sooner or later I’m sure.
In the meantime there’s the other stuff to be going on with. Deodorant and eau de cologne, for example. They no longer smell like they did. These days, they smell acrid five minutes after they have been applied: you can’t gild a turd and still less a corpse-in-waiting. Hangovers nag and gnaw in a way they never used to and I can no longer eat the carbohydrate-rich prole food I so love without biliousness and indigestion intruding. Then there is the futility of watching attractive women in the street. Oh you can watch — but they don’t watch back. Some vindictive bastard recently carried out research about what age men are when women stop noticing them: it’s at 50. After you’ve reached that wonderful milestone, they don’t even see you — and our apparent invisibility is justified. After the age of 50 you have only about nine spermatozoa left in your testes and they’re all limp-tailed and wheezing imbeciles.
And then there is Vladimir Putin. Of all the things which strike at men when they are past the age at which women notice them, a fervid love for the Russian president is the strangest and apparently most ubiquitous. I have now lost count of the number of times I have been enjoying a drink with someone of my age group — male or female — and they have eventually leaned in towards me, glanced around to make sure nobody else is listening, and whispered: ‘Y’know, I’ve got an awful lot of time for Putin. Running rings around the West. Got to admire him.’ This isn’t a right-wing thing — I’ve heard it from the most bien-pensant and politically correct university professors over the age of 50: Putin — doing a bloody good job.
I suppose that he fosters an image of virility which we all remember and sadly miss in ourselves. He is also atavistically decisive in a world which seems both lily-livered and plagued by doubt. And, his big pitch to the wider world, to the Chinese and the Muslims and the religious faithful of eastern Europe and even those dwindling adherents over here — he is socially somewhat conservative at a time when our own leaders, from Washington DC via Brussels to the Antipodes, are achingly right-on and let-it-all-hang-out. When you’re over 50 you don’t want to let it all hang out, even if it is. Perhaps there is also a nostalgic hankering for Russia to be our prime enemy again — a familiar and rational foe we can deal with, instead of the deranged head-chopping maniacs of Islamism, who are beyond reason.
None of this cuts very much ice with me, although the attacks upon Putin for being homophobic sometimes inculcate in me a vague glimmer of sympathy for the man, as much because of the hypocrisy which is always attendant on these denunciations. But in general he seems to me a ruthless and tyrannical bully (par for the course, in Russia, for a thousand years, with the possible exceptions of Brezhnev and Gorbachev) and sexually a lot weirder than the supposed deviants whom he purports to despise.
But there is one area where my peers and I may be in agreement: the depiction of Putin in the West and the plainly partisan reporting of exactly what it is that Russia’s getting up to. We suspect that the European Union and the USA were as much sinners as sinned-against over Ukraine, in supporting what was effectively a coup against a democratically elected government. We have long memories, sometimes pre-Krushchev memories, and wonder if Russia doesn’t have some genuine sort of claim on the Crimea.
And then we look at Syria. Aged and disillusioned, we wonder if it is right — as the BBC and most western politicians aver — that Russian missiles indiscriminately kill cowering civilians, and especially children, while precision-guided western missiles kill only heavily bearded maniacs who used to live in Luton. Nope, not buying it. Nor are we convinced that the ectoplasmic rebel Syrian army supposedly targeted by Putin a) actually exists and b) if it does exist is possessed of notably more democratic sensibilities than the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
Our memories are longer, too, when it comes to the Kurds — we have this faint conviction that we have let these people down before now, in order to placate a government in Turkey which is less repellent than Putin’s administration only if you put both hands over your eyes or simply avert your gaze. We have the feeling, born of pragmatism and a weariness with the Middle East and its multifarious and catastrophic ‘springs’, that Syria’s Assad was awful, but probably markedly less awful than the likely alternatives. We think, in short, that we have more in common — politically, culturally, viscerally — with Russia, even under Putin, than we do with the world of expansionist Islam. But maybe that’s all just an age thing and our politicians should do what the attractive women in the street do, and just ignore it.