Ian McMillan: The late middle-age art of body popping and other indignities

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There: I’ve done it again. Did you hear it? I did, and I reckon half the street did. I went “Unhhh” as I sat down. And what’s worse than that is I know I’ll go “Wnnaagh” when I stand up again.

Those noises, and others like them, are the soundtrack to everybody’s middle age. When I was younger I could get out of the deepest, softest settee without groaning. Now I sound like somebody coming out of anaesthetic which, given the depth and comfort of some settees, I probably am.

Many people say that childhood and youth are noisy times: all that carefree gambolling and street-corner living can’t be done quietly, they say. Well, those people want to come and listen to the soundscape of mid-life, with its gasps and moans and whistling and singing and creaking and popping.

The whistling has crept up on me, I must admit, but over the past few years I’ve noticed myself doing it more and more. And there are no tunes, either: it sounds more like a wheeze than a whistle. Actually, that’s not quite true; there’s a progression. The tunelessness begins as a tune but then, over a long day, the tune disintegrates until what began as What a Difference a Day Makes ends up sounding like a severe case of civil disorder in a blackbird’s nest.

The singing is similar to the whistling. Most middle-aged men like me like to sing in private and semi-private (by semi-private I mean Post Office queues and woodland paths); we’ll belt out a showtune or an old hit and in the end we don’t care about the words or the melody so what begins as I Left My Heart in San Francisco ends up, in my case, as a scat-epic: “I left dobedo deboody dooodoo San Francisco”. Yes, it’s not singing: it’s a noise. And young ’uns don’t do it: half-demolished singing is a grey-haired phenomenon.

The creaks are alarming when they first start happening. Sometimes when I turn my head too rapidly to look at something my neck creaks like a pub sign in the wind. It’s one of those noises that you can’t work out is internal or not. I’ll turn, creak, and then ask the person next to me if they heard anything; if they’re middle aged too they’ll just assume it’s their own neck creaking and say nothing.

The popping happens just after I’ve hoisted myself from the settee and gone “Wnaargh”. As I stand, some unidentified part of my body makes a small popping sound, as though a joint is slipping into place. This noise is the opposite of internal: people duck when they hear it because they think there’s been a small explosion nearby.

Then the stomach starts to play a tune. It begins in a murmur and ends in a gurgle like water going down the plughole. When this happens in a quiet public space like a library I always whip out my mobile and pretend it’s a comedy ringtone. I know I shouldn’t in a library but when your tummy thunders as loudly as mine does, you’ll try anything.

Let’s put our cards noisily on the table: when you get to my age you’re no longer a human being, you’re just a walking sound-effects CD. Young people reading this: you’ve got it all to come! Pop! Whistle! Unhh! Gnaaargh!