A Pinnacle of Evolution

I am, I'm told, one of the 'most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection.' I am always keen on a compliment, especially when it comes from a Cambridge academic who has spent months of scientific research to reach his conclusion.

Not that I am alone on the evolutionary summit. Everyone in their 40s and 50s is up there with me, lording it over the flanking generations. Shrivelling flesh ? Delinquent hormones? Thickening chin bristles, ladies? Cherish every symptom, for it is, according to a scientific new book, Nature's way of shaping us into 'an elite cast of skilled, experienced super-providers on which the rest depend.'

But I could have saved the author, Dr David Bainbridge, a good deal of toil, because his findings have long been obvious to all of us mid-lifers. I knew, as I simultaneously interviewed a psychologist about body odour, typed an opinion on whippets on someone's blog post, extracted a foreign body from a molar and burned four fish fingers, that I was straying pretty close to super-power. Why, my decomposing contemporaries and I can achieve social benefits undreamed of by those crippled by youth.

With cunning born of experience, we push back scientific boundaries: I have, for instance, devised a reliable way of accomplishing wrinkle-free laundry without ironing (I remove my contact lenses).

We have adapted physically to surmount the challenges of community welfare: I have evolved bespoke muscles to push three manure sacks up a rocky slope in a punctured wheel barrow.

We have acquired the stamina to withstand threats to the social fabric: I can, with a matronly stare, quell a traffic warden.

And years of creating emergency banquets out of a tin of kidney beans and a Ketchup bottle have bequeathed us the forager skills that nourished Early Man into civilisation. Stone Age folk, Bainbridge tells us, did not regard the few frail ancients who made it past 30 as burdens; rather they revered them for the survival skills and traditions that they could impart. My super-sensory abilities, which can distinguish Bendicks mint crisps from Elizabeth Shaw with a single inhalation, would have been the difference between life and death in perilous pre-history. And as for traditions: I uphold the sanctity of the semicolon even when I'm texting.

Still, it's good to have ones amateur knowledge legitimised by a professional. And Dr David Bainbridge ought to know what he's talking about, for he is a renowned - er, zoologist. It goes without saying, surely, that what works for a Guinea baboon is bound to apply to a middle-aged matron.

You can read more about middle-age perfections in Middle Age: A Natural History by David Bainbridge (Portobello Books). And middle-aged readers can share their painstakingly evolved superpowers below.


  1. I have developed great capabilities for Maximising Resources. My favourite is to dry an apple with a bit of kitchen roll, which, nicely damp, I then use to wipe over the hob; and there's usually enough life left in it to clean the top of the bin as I throw it away. And I have hones the superhuman traits of true leadership by not caring what people think when I sing to myself in the street. I can truly take on the world, but only before 3pm, when I could do with a nap.

    1. The way that you optimise a lowly sheet of kitchen roll has left me speechless with admiration. After that you deserve a nap. And a snack.

  2. Oh, this is such good stuff. I love the idea of contact lenses as ironing devices. I find that removing my spectacles helps with all kinds of things.

    That aside, I think I probably hit my peak when I was 19. Which is a while ago now.

  3. I am Carbon Footprint Man, extinguishing lights in uninhabited rooms. Plus it gives me a reason to be there when I forget why I'm in that room in the first place. :)

  4. I'm only 28, so have yet to reach the peak of my super power ability. But I already have a particularly fine and stubborn hair that refuses to leave my chin. I've also found a way around the ironing issue. I've found out that the true reason for chair backs is for hanging damp shirts, so they don't require ironing.

  5. Dr Bainbridge is a truly heroic man, mainly because I agree with him wholeheartedly. It's nice to be at one's peak just as one thought one was on the downward slide.

    I must say, I'm having a ball at my age, so he must be right.


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