There is a machine in Douglas Adam's trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (okay, I know it outgrew being a trilogy), that is set up to calculate the exact meaning of life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought is its name and the answer it comes up with is the number of 42.
42 is quickly becoming an important number for me. It has some resonance in my husband's family: his mother and father both lived in houses that held that number. For me, it is the number of years I will have on my next birthday - a number of years that is beginning to sound far older than I thought it would.
A few days ago, at the doctors I was asked if I smoked and for how long. I horrified myself by answering that I had been smoking for about twenty years. Where in the name of holy jeans did those years sneak off to? And that got me thinking again about how quickly a year seems to pass these days.
Years, when you are small, seem to pass very, very slowly indeed. I spent a great deal of time wishing them away: wishing I was wiser, cooler, popular and a lot of other various attributes that I associated with being older. Now I wonder how much of my life I've spent wishing, wishing.
As the years have gone by, I have found that each year doesn't last as long as the previous. I wonder is that because certain things have an inevitability about them, once you have learned how to get the hang of them: like Christmas, or Easter, or poxy Valentine's Day, or the start of school holidays, or the new school year. All these events stack up to make a year, and they just flash past - like swallows flitting in for spring and away again for autumn.
I suppose I'm supposed to feel contented with where I am now. After all, if the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42, then it stands to reason that perhaps I know it all now, doesn't it? If only that were true. Someone once told me that by the time you reach 40, you have crystallised; you have somehow hardened into the person you will be for much of the rest of your life.
Trouble is, it's very hard to appreciate whether this is true or not, when the view you have is always a close up, and only a frontal one at that (the back of you being very difficult to see in the mirror). I used to think I had done well to reach the age that Christ was allegedly crucified at. Now, looking back, I think that I was really only getting the hang of life at that stage, and it was only a very tenuous hang, I might add.
I wonder what I'll think in ten years time? I wonder what I'll feel about having been 42 in retrospect? I wonder if I'll even make it to 52. Time was (especially in my twenties) when you didn't worry about things like that. Old was something that happened to your aged grandparents - or their contemporaries. It was never going to happen to you.
Ah, how youth is wasted on the young- isn't that what they say?