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Thursday 13 October 2011

The Joys of Middle Age

Today is my birthday, so I am writing a birthday blog. I wrote a birthday blog last year (here it is) and have decided to make it an annual event, like Stephen Fry leaving Twitter.

I am 44 years old. So far, being 44 is jolly nice. I even like the number itself. I like its symmetrical elegance. Also I rather like the fact that, being half of 88, it is properly middle-aged. Poor old middle-age gets rather a bad press, most unfairly in my view, so I've decided to rectify that by promoting just some of its many joys.

Many middle-aged people bemoan the fact that you become invisible - especially to younger members of the opposite sex. This is undeniably true, but I have always found it to be a great advantage when shoplifting in Abercrombie and Fitch. So, y'know, swings and roundabouts.

I once heard a kid at a bus stop say " Primary 6 was the best year of my life. Apart from primary 7." Proof, if it were needed, that young people are rubbish at reminiscing. They just don't have the material. We have cremola foam, Raleigh choppers, "Poldark", the three day week, Wimpey Bars and punk. What do the young un's have? The Maastricht Treaty and combat trousers.

Probably the best known advantage of middle-age. Why only yesterday a workman passing by whistled loudly and shouted "Look at the wisdom on that!" At least I think he said wisdom. It might have been "arse" and he might have been pointing at the twenty year old blonde next to me. No matter, I think I've made my point.

The advantage of having been around a bit is that you can turn your hand to most things. Plus your girdle makes an excellent temporary fan belt when you break down on the motorway.

Inner Resources
Young people seem to need to be constantly entertained. They lack the inner resources of the middle-aged who can find contentment in themselves or at the very least in idly doodling whiskers and a tail onto the liver spot on the back of their hand.

The Element of Surprise
In the office I was one of those middle-aged working mums who sat in the corner in an ill-fitting suit from Next, typing like a maniac while picking lego out of my hair and whispering aggressively down the phone about mashed potato and ointment. What joy then to turn up at the office party in heels, lipstick and NASA engineered cleavage and regale the juniors with tales of being on the tour bus with Debbie Gibson, before drinking them under the table and cartwheeling off into the early dawn.

Of course, if I'm honest, middle-age is not all beer and skittles, though there's a fair amount of both involved. The onset of physical decrepitude isn't always a barrel of laughs, and the lightness of being that settles on us in moments of pure happiness can be ever more fleeting. But middle-age still has many joys, chief among them that you're not dead yet, for which I remain eternally grateful.

Sunday 9 October 2011

10 Things I Love

A while back I was tagged by the marvellous Betty Herbert, (@52Betty on Twitter) author of the equally marvellous blog, and now book, "The 52 Seductions", to share 10 things I love. So here they are...
Beaches (Not The Movie)
I grew up in a seaside village and I can't imagine not living within striking distance of the sea. I think I would get horribly claustrophobic. I love every kind of beach, sandy, rocky, grassy. I'm even rather fond of seaweed. I like to pop the mermaid's purses. My favourite beach is Saddell beach on the Kintyre Peninsula in Argyll. You can stay in little cottages right on the beach and, one day, I will.

My musical education began with propping a Thorn tape recorder next to the radio to tape the Top 40. Probably my first criminal act. To be honest, my musical tastes have never developed much past that. I might listen to classical music, but if it's pop I want to dance and if I want to dance, it's disco. Do I even mean disco? Sometimes I might mean Carolina Beach Music, or funk or soul. Anyway, I don't mean boys in skinny jeans and low cut t-shirts exposing their wee concave chests. Bless. I mean something like this...

When I was younger I had lots of hobbies. I used to do canoeing and gymnastics and play the violin. But the only one that's really lasted has been watching telly. Want to sit on your own and cry into your Chablis? Watch the telly! Want to get really irate and shout at the Prime Minister? Watch the telly! Want to see Michael Portillo in a green satin shirt? Watch the telly! This wondrous sliver of shimmering dreams. This electronic encyclopedia of emotion. This shining citadel of learning, flickering in the corner of our lives. I love it.

Bread and Butter
If I had to describe how happiness felt it would be the sensation of my teeth sinking into half an inch of butter on a thick doorstep of white freshly baked bread. I have a strange fantasy about sleeping in a bed made of bread. Can you imagine, cushioned on that pillowy softness, encased in the aroma of buttery crust. Oooh, I feel a bit peckish now...

Ladybird Children's Books
"Her shoes were so wet that the water was running in at the toes and out at the heels." If I close my eyes and conjure up the princess in "The Princess and the Pea", the picture in my mind's eye is never my own. It is the illustration from the Ladybird book of the fairy tale published in the late 1960's. They are the technicolour MGM musicals of children's illustrations: princesses in wasp waisted primrose yellow dresses, millers' sons in open necked shirts and tight breeches. I still have them and when I take them out and look at them I can almost taste the Creamola Foam.

Cushions and Shoes
I am calling this one thing under a notional heading of accessories. I love their infinite variety. If humans were not as wonderful as they are, someone would have invented the cushion and left it there; a bit of burlap sacking with some horsehair, Bob's your uncle. They'd have got as far as the hobnail boot and then gone to the pub. But they didn't. They took these mundane objects and looked beyond their function, they made them pretty and luxurious and funny and fetishistic and they don't half cheer me up some days.

I don't wake up every day and actively think "I LOVE DEMOCRACY!" but it's probably unlikely I'd be faffing around here thinking about shoes and cushions if it didn't exist. In my previous job I met elected members from Parliaments around the world, like the representatives from Oyo State in Nigeria, who had been besieged by gunmen in the Parliament shortly before their visit. They asked how politicians and officials were "made" to do things. Were they prosecuted? Were they put in jail? Well, we would say, it doesn't always work, but for the most part people just sort of, um, follow the rules. Boring, but also kind of magical really and certainly precious.

My Daughter
(and Everyone Else Who Knows Me, Or At Least The Ones I Like)
It's hard to say something here that won't make the non-parents throw up and the parents go "WE KNOW!", but I couldn't write this without including my daughter because she is the joy of my life and I adore her. Like millions before me it was a bit shocking to realise how much I loved my daughter, how fierce it is.

I love my friends and other family too and I don't have to wash their clothes for them, which is nice.

Large People Falling Over At Weddings

I don't mind a bit of witty banter but I'm really a slapstick merchant at heart. There's not much makes me laugh more than a sturdy middle aged man in tartan trews crashing full pelt into a trestle table. Unless it's a tented bridesmaid falling off a chair.

Friday 7 October 2011

The Secrets of Long Term Love

Two good friends of mine just got engaged and I am quite delighted for them. It is lovely when two friends get together and they are two lovely friends so the whole thing, basically, could not be lovelier.

I'm a bit of a softy at heart. I love weddings and try to be an exemplary guest. I agonise over gifts (or the price, certainly). I'm also one of those people who cries (especially if there is no free bar or late night buffet).

Sometimes I do worry though, that young couples are not entirely prepared for the reality of long term love. Of course, it is now quite common for couples to live together for a while before they marry, or have a civil partnership, or decide to commit in the long term. But there is a big difference between two or three years of fondue parties with fellow young solicitors and proper, down in the trenches, blood and guts, toe-nail clippings on the armrest, long term love.

So I have taken it upon myself to tell a few home truths. The first rule of long term love is that you have to discuss what is for tea EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Reaching terms of agreement on beverages can also be a minefield. Particularly getting your partner to accept that placing the teabag in the cup the night before, "to save time in the morning", is an early sign of madness.

It is also true that it is difficult to keep the romance alive. Delicate whisps of underwear dancing like snowflakes on the washing line, are replaced by sturdy cotton items resembling dead moles on a fence. The courtesy of only breaking wind in the garden is abandoned, to be replaced by a lift of the cheek and a cursory flap of the Radio Times.

Bearing all of this in mind, I think it is best to approach long term love with low expectations. The key to this is to have a really crap wedding, or rather, have a great wedding but a really crap wedding night, since this best reflects later life when fun times are reserved for going out with your mates.

A friend played a blinder in the crap wedding night department. She and the groom had their small reception in their flat, the idea being that they would slope off to a swanky hotel in the wee small hours. In the end they both got hammered and couldn't face the journey.

My friend went to bed just as a food fight was breaking out and awoke some time later to find her husband climbing into bed, apparently coming down with something, so cold and clammy was his chest. But still, he also had a raging erection. The good news was that the cold and clammy chest was only a large slice of gammon stuck to his pecs, the bad news was that the erection turned out to be half a cucumber in his boxers. Shortly after, the door opened to reveal a sleepwalking male house guest who urinated on the bed.

I rate this as an excellent introduction to long term love, particularly if having children is on the agenda. For the horrors of secret nose-picking, or tights worn two days in a row, pale into insignificance when you enter the long term love landscape of parenthood.

For example, no-one tells you when you're exchanging rings that one day you will dress your concussed husband's head wound with a sanitary towel, before making him have disorientated sex with you, because you are ovulating. Or that he may be forced to take dictation for a shopping list that includes "nipple protectors" while you stand naked after your shower, blowdrying your episiotomy stitches.

I imagine there are people in long term relationships reading this "tutting" and getting ready to launch into a lecture about how to keep long term love "fresh" as if it were a smelly armpit you were forced to sniff on the tube.

I am not about to criticise them. I admire them, I really do. I am in awe of people who have date nights and won't let their wives see them in their curlers. I wish I were more like them, rather than being someone who shouts "OH, DRY YOUR EYES!" when my husband suggests that I might like to change out of my pyjamas in order to go to Homebase.

And yet, and yet, there is also something very special about allowing one other person in your life to see you very far from your best. I'm not cut from the same cloth as I was 20 years ago. Not emotionally, and certainly not physically. If we want to be loved for who we really are, then surely that must admit the possibility of still being desirable with a crumpled face in last night's make-up.

I'm not advocating making no effort for your nearest and dearest, it's a bit disrespectful to say the least. But I also believe that true love has tenderness at its heart, and that tenderness does not require perfection. Thank God.