Age shall not wither them

<strong>Groovy Old Men: a Spotter's Guide</strong>

Nick Baker <em>Icon Books, 232pp, £12.99</em>

The term "retrosexual" kept on coming to mind as I read this good-natured squib of a book. I can't quite remember whether I coined it myself, or found it somewhere. Anyway, who cares? Great artists don't borrow, they steal. So what is a retrosexual? In my definition, it is someone who has by no means unshackled himself from lunatic desire, but - on the other hand - ruefully acknowledges there are more yesterdays than tomorrows in this department.

I'm sitting here sockless in white Diesel jeans. Italian driving shoes (the ones with the little pillules on the sole), artfully distressed, are on my feet. I am wearing a fine blue shirt, crucially outside my trousers. A pale blue cashmere sweater is slung around my shoulders (it is never worn as a pully, only as a scarf). I'm very wired and tapping on the MacBook Air that the designer Jonathan Ive gave me himself. Jony and I email often.

Was it a knowing and sadistic commission of the books editor to send me a review copy of Groovy Old Men? Actually, yes, it was, but inevitable, too. I am that person. I don't look like a teenager, but nor do I look like my father. I am at that critical stage in life's journey when I can afford a Porsche or a Harley, but can no longer justify one. Besides, to own such a vehicle at my age is a presenting characteristic of severe psychosexual malaise. Still, there are compensations to being fiftysomething. After I appeared on the cover of Saga several years ago, I noticed a dramatically enhanced level of credibility among the retrosexual GOMs in my circle.

Nick Baker's coinage is the latest in the pop-anthropological taxonomy that began with Tom Wolfe's investigations into the tribal cultures of California and New York in the Sixties. Wolfe was cleverly imitated by Peter York and Ann Barr in the Eighties with their Sloanes and then by Ann Barr again, this time with Paul Levy, when she discovered Foodies. Then Liberty Bell Productions discovered the Grumpy Old Man and put him on the telly. There is a significant personnel crossover between the Grumpy and the Groovy. Self, Nighy, myself. We all creakily leap the species barriers.

Light, but sympathetic, mockery is Baker's tone, although I'm inclined to think him too stuck in the Radio 2 demographic. I don't mean to be snitty, but listening to an iPod while on a StairMaster does not, in my book, qualify as grooviness. Seriously old people do that, too. Still, he has an amusing way with words: Billy Bragg, for example, is said to "wear his heart on his album sleeve". And there is some memorable vox pop, as you'd expect from a radio professional. One retrosexual GOM reports that Viagra is "like fucking with someone else's dick", a horrible but (admit it) unforgettable expression.

It's a fascinating subject for narcissists, but Baker's treatment is maddeningly slight. There really is a bigger subject here and GOM got me thinking about the timor mortis conturbat me thing. Why exactly am I so afraid of ageing when every woman I know purrs with appreciation at the grey temples? You'll have your own list, but (inanition, incontinence and death aside) mine goes: getting fat, being bald and becoming so old that I take off my trousers before my socks. Which is unpardonable. I would mention not looking into windows to see my reflection, too, but I avoid that already.

So, who is the Grooviest Old Man of all? Deliciously, Baker reports that, under government rules, all the very many guitars collected as gifts by Tony Blair while prime minister have to remain in Downing Street for his successors' pleasure. Can you even form a picture of Gordon Brown jamming blues riffs on a Fender Stratocaster? No, of course you can't. A Groovy Old Man is one thing. An old fart is rather different. Experto credite.

This article first appeared in the 13 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The facade cracks