Grumpy At Fifty

Birthdays are important to us when we are young, and when we’re old and seeing each one as a target. These days, our Facebook page keeps our friends aware of that upcoming date. I had missed one important one this year. Nico hit his half-century in mid-August (1).

Who’s Nico? I hear a chorus asking. He is Europe’s oldest gorilla. He lives in a brick outhouse in the country park attached to Longleat house not very far from Stonehenge. He migrated there from Switzerland in 1966, so is a long-term resident.

Fifty years old is a good age for a gorilla. Being a large silverback is a stressful occupation back in Africa compared to living in a centrally heated jail with television privileges from 7 till 11 P.M. Even the large grassy exercise yard can’t compensate for the quality of the current television programs and he’s become a grumpy old gorilla.

His grumpiness is featured in both the British and Canadian papers (2,3). According to his jailor, he gets up grumpy in the mornings. For his fiftieth birthday he was presented with a bunch of roses and expected to perform for a photo-op. He was not amused. What’s a guy going to do with roses? He reportedly perked up a little when presented with a fruity birthday cake.

One look at his expression with his left eyebrow raised when given the roses immediately brings to mind the human edition of the primate group. This point was picked up in yesterday’s Toronto Globe and Mail where they point out that men start getting grumpy at 52 (not clear why 52 and not 53 or 51, but never mind) and get grumpier and grumpier. Apparently, by the time that the get to 60+, they have become four times as grumpy as women.

This was the reported result of a psychological study on laughing frequency by Harbridge at Glamorgan U last year. What we need now is a study that reveals why this is the case, perhaps we’ve heard all the jokes before? These data are in conflict with an earlier report in the Scotsman from work at Middlesex U that women are grumpier than men who mellow with age (4). Like a good wine, perhaps?


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