My two favourite pieces of trivia about ageing? Well, the first is that Churchill was 65 when the Second World War started. I know, makes you think, doesn’t it? What used to be retirement age. Yet there he was, about to have his finest hour. If anything, his venerable age gave him an advantage over his younger rival Hitler, who was a mere 50 in 1939. Didn’t have the perspective, you see.
But if leadership is a skill that comes with age, the opposite seems to be true of creativity. Einstein was 26 when he came up with his theory of relativity. Mozart and Schubert had done much of their best work before their early thirties, which was just as well, because that was when they died. Pink Floyd were in their mid-twenties when they recorded Dark Side of the Moon.
Which brings me to my second favourite piece of trivia about ageing. The Beatles were still in their twenties, just, when they split up. This never ceases to surprise me, because they all looked so old and world-weary by then, what with their beards, and their languor, and their drug-haunted eyes. Imagine having Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road in your back catalogue and not even being 30.
So is there anything we can learn from these examples of high achievement, at each end of the age spectrum? No, is the short answer. Churchill, Einstein, Mozart and Schubert were all one-offs. The Beatles and Pink Floyd were four-offs. For the rest of us, achievement, if it comes at all, comes in our middle years.
According to a new book by Dr David Bainbridge, between 40 and 60 is when we reach our “evolutionary peak”. This is the time when we become perfectly adapted to the needs of family and society. Physically, things do deteriorate, eye-sight and so on, but brain power doesn’t and we become better at managing our lives.
And this chimes with the findings of a poll of 2,000 Britons by the Huffington Post: that people are at their most content as they approach 40, with happiness reaching its peak at 48. This is the age when most of us finally feel sorted in terms of our careers and relationships. We become more accepting of the world as it is.
And this, in turn, is consistent with a survey by Relate showing that people are having their mid-life crises much younger, at 35. For men this is the age when we are no longer young enough to be called up to fight for our country. For woman it is the age when the biological clock ticks loudest.
On the subject of aging I often think of Auberon Waugh who, for a laugh, always used to make out he was about a decade older than he really was. Roger Lewis is another who does this. When I read his brilliant book Seasonal Suicide Notes I thought he must be about 70, but then I saw, when I Googled him, that he was born in 1960. I think I might cultivate a similar fogeyish persona. I’ve got the voice for it, apparently. When the Sunday Times did a review of a Radio 4 programme I was in, they said: “Farndale sounds like he writes with a quill.”
My third favourite piece of trivia about ageing is that only humans and killer whales get the menopause. I’m not sure about killer whales, but we go in for it because it gives us time to raise our young properly, without further breeding getting in the way. Ours is the only species which needs looking after until the age of 18, which is how old Paul McCartney was when he joined the Beatles.