I am in Pythouse Café eating a solo bowl of celeriac soup and stalking a couple of oldies. Sounds weird? Probably is, but it’s a lifelong habit, this rose-tinted hunting down of happy octogenarians.
I have a friend who stalks students, she’ll see a pack of them meandering through her local university town and she’ll think, hang on a minute, I’ll just get a little closer and see what they’re up to. There she is in Starbuck’s lingering over a skinny latte and hoovering up their conversations, hoping they’ll be as blissfully inane as she remembers. And I get it, I really do. She’s thinking, big sigh, of the days when there was nothing more to worry about than where the next double vodka and tonic was coming from. Or whether last night’s romantic dalliance was actually the start of something big. And yeah, you tell us it’s hard work, but frankly who wouldn’t rather have a looming essay crisis than a mounting pile of washing, a daily trio of school runs, a lifetime of drudgery, sorry domesticity to attend to?
My daughter regularly tells me how lucky I am not having to go to school and I’d have to agree – Maths, Latin, bitchy girls and spotty boys, who needs it?
All the more reason, I tell her, to make the most of the post-school, pre-responsibility years. Go travelling, go a lot. Stay out all night, dress outrageously, have a tattoo, dance on tables. It’s not that it isn’t wonderful settling down and having a family, it’s just that the freedom years are exactly that – freedom.
It’s the same with the octogenarians. What I love to see is them revelling in their post-responsibility years. Wandering hand in hand around the Tate Modern with their spectacles slung around their necks. Lingering over croissants and coffee while the rest of the world rushes off to work.
The couple in Pythouse (very smartly dressed, she’s in a black hat and pearls, he’s in a tweed two piece) have just ordered their second large glass of wine.
'Would you like a coffee, darling?' she asks, quite loudly. 'Cappucino?'
She is wearing a flattering shade of deep pink lipstick.
'Yes,' replies her husband, snowy white hair and 85 if a day. 'And perhaps a flapjack?'
I couldn’t be happier.