Gratitude (or Happiness is a Warm Run)

As you hit your 40s, you begin to notice a significant proportion of the people you know start to either get ill, or bits start falling off.

Particularly among the women who’ve had children.

Even the athletes you know, the ones who run 40 miles at a time, or a half marathon during their lunch break, start to suffer from perpetual injuries because their bodies just can’t hack the pace any more. This wasn’t entirely what I was expecting from this decade.

I recently went for lunch with a friend I’ve known for years, who was 40 this year. She’s putting off a major operation because she’s still got a toddler at home. To make her feel better I showed her my hearing aids. Yes, it’s not a glamorous look. If you used to get called the Greta Garbo of the sixth form, it may not go with that version of your self image. However, I wear them. It helps me hear ‘Will you empty the dishwasher?’ instead of ‘Will you have a chocolate biscuit?’. It avoids my husband thinking I’m being selectively deaf. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally practice selective deafness anyway but…….

I have genetic hearing loss, inherited from my Dad’s side of the family and I fully expect to be completely stone deaf in my 80s. Glasses seem to be socially acceptable at this age, but hearing aids are not. There are a lot of adverts on hidden versions and comments on how you can’t really see mine. I’ve now lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people where they’ve admitted ‘yes I need some of those’ or ones that go something like this:

Waitress: ‘The quiche on special today is the leek, mushroom and creme fraiche’
Me: (with my hearing aids) ‘Ok thank you’
Friend in 40s: ‘What was that?’
Me: (laughs): ‘What did you just say to me about needing hearing aids?’

Maybe it’s because they’re my friends, but the way most people I know deal with their problems is to use humour. In my experience the women are fairly blunt with one another. Friends with pelvic floor issues that will affect their performance on the dance floor and need to *ahem*, prepare in advance, will tell you. You will laugh (with them), until you cry. You will share whatever it is that also bothers you and you will console each other.

Others will get really sick. Someone close to me has had breast cancer and has been in treatment for the last year. She has very small children and I don’t know how she’s done it. Her prognosis looks good but she remains the reason I’m making myself run a long race for charity in the Autumn. As readers who have seen this post will know, I love running, so it’s not a hardship and I don’t need anyone to say well done. I am also running it because I want to stay fit for as long as possible and I will carry on doing so for as long as I can.

Sweaty woman in skin tight neon don’t look glamorous either but I’m thankful I’m not doing so badly and that I’m able to carry on laughing with my friends.

Gratuitous use of laughing Buddha. Whatever's happening in your life, he made you smile didn't he? Photo credit:  MichaelKuhn_pics / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Gratuitous use of laughing Buddha. Whatever’s happening in your life, he made you smile didn’t he?
Photo credit: MichaelKuhn_pics / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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Changing colour.

I haven’t been able to write for a while due to a bad case of the mauves. This is something in between the blues and the mean reds.

For those of you that haven’t heard of the mean reds, see below: audrey

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Paul Varjak: Sure.

Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name! (Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961)

Plus it gives me an excuse to put up a picture of Audrey Hepburn. And everyone loves one of those.

I tried to write a post about being made redundant a while ago. I couldn’t quite get the words out. After a long time in a well paid job, here I am at 41, three children at school, in a village where most of the other mothers are working, the Doctor’s career on the up as usual, and life has stalled. I know it’s not very serious. But for now I’m unsure where I fit. I’m working on it.

Other than my four year old repeatedly asking me to search for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that he thinks his dad has bought him and hidden in the house somewhere (he hasn’t) and winking at me every evening before bed saying ‘Remember what I said Mummy’, some other things have cheered me up in the last few days. This explanation of the current weather conditions in England is one of them. I also recommend going to visit Andra, 23 thorns and Ned Hickson, if you need a reason to smile.

It’s the small things that can dig you out.

Feeling cheerful?

I have a clear recollection of an essay I once wrote at University on the psychology of ageing.

In short the argument went something like this: as you get older you become more like yourself, not less. Every personality trait becomes magnified. This is bad news for me, as it definitely means I am firmly on the path to grumpy old womanhood.

Attractive, no?

Attractive, no?

Last Summer I realised that I was feeling quite upset with the owners of the barn next door as they had not cut their front lawn for weeks and it looked like a meadow. In truth I knew that being in well paid jobs, young and yet to have a family, they probably had better things at the weekend than to waste time with a lawn mower and a pair of garden shears. In reality though I was bothered that they were making the place look untidy. As a friend said to me soon after though, I need a swift visit to a yurt in Cornwall and some surfing lessons. Starting to grumble about the neighbours not caring about the environment is a slippery slope to washing out your bin every weekend, deciding a cream tea in the garden centre is a fun day out and thinking that topiary is a good idea.

However, it’s happened again. Today I am grumpy about this. In the middle of a recession, with some countries having been on the verge of a total collapse of the banking system, Barclays in the UK have spent out on an advertising campaign to personalise your bank card with a photo. Every time I see the advert I wonder who on earth duped the banking executives into thinking this was a good idea.

I can imagine that the bank went to the agency with a brief about making the retail banking industry trustworthy again. However, whether or not you have a picture of your friends on your bank card, some cuddly dogs or anything else that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, the fact remains that you do not bank with your dogs, or your friends, and never will.

I am worried that they have evidence that every time you look at your bank card, that you will in future experience some kind of ‘awww’ moment that begins to become associated with their company logo. I hope they do though as otherwise someone in a pinstripe suit has given over millions to some skinny jeaned, black polo necked adman who is currently laughing on the other side of his face.

I’d like to tell the bankers out there that if that’s the best they can come up with, then if you’ll just give me your bonus this year, I’ll come up with something better. In the meantime, I’m off to shout at children on bikes wearing iPods, shake my fist angrily at people who don’t pick up after their dogs and find some nail scissors to trim the lawn.

Something needling you?

There is one thing that is guaranteed to take me back to the feeling of being a tantrumming two year old.

Sewing. Or more generally any kind of arts and crafts.

The tools of sewing - sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.

The tools of sewing – sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.


My genes do not support the D- level of my abilities in this area. My mother could always conjure up an elaborate homemade costume for school at the last minute. Can-can dancer complete with crepe paper ruffles, matching hat and actual cans? Check. Bat made with bin liner wings incorporating bamboo skeleton? Check. She has knitted an actual farm complete with animals, thrown together a hobby horse in under an hour and fashioned a zombie bride costume at my daughter’s request. As for my sisters? One has an MA that reflects her talent in this area and the other a business, one element of which involves handmade toys. 

Meanwhile I can barely sew on a button. Sewing badges on to cub uniform brings me out in a cold sweat. My eldest son comes home to tell me I have sewed them on in the wrong place. I do that thing little children do – head on hands, face on the table. ‘I am not doing it again!’ I wail.

Like me he is a perfectionist and looks mortified at the thought of going to his beloved cubs with his badges incorrectly located on his sweatshirt. He knows however, that in this case, when I say I’m not doing it again, I mean it.

At school, I would regularly pass my basket weaving (oh yes, we had to) to my more talented friends to finish. As the end of the lesson neared and I was still struggling with crooked stitches, gaping edges and stuffing spilling out,  the offending item would be swiftly removed and completed in five minutes so that I didn’t end up in trouble. Wood and metalwork seemed easier but mainly because the teachers took pity on me and did most of my projects themselves.

I have tried though, I have tried. Last year I went with a group of friends to one of those cafés where you sit and make things and chat while you do it.  While all of us wondered what we were doing when we were sitting there decoupaging a pottery flip flop, the level of stress I felt when being made to thread beads onto a wire heart and fix it to a piece of card was unparalleled. The whispering of one of the staff members in my ear of ‘don’t give up’ was the last straw. I suddenly realised I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS. So I didn’t. To the amusement of my companions, I sat there, hands in my lap, face set in grim determination and resolved never ever to go back.

I know that sewing is on the person specification for motherhood and is even apparently still up there on the list of desirable requirements for wife-hood. I have always struggled with the fact that I don’t meet 100% of the criteria for either job. Sometimes though your expectations of yourself are too high. You get better at letting yourself down gently as you get older. So I’m letting myself off this and focusing on the fact that my fairy cakes taste just fine.

Bring out the beige?

So lately I’ve enjoyed reading a few posts on how women dress as they get older and it seems to be a perennial topic. Joan Collins once decreed that the over forties shouldn’t wear jeans. Well except her of course. Actually I think she probably looks better in jeans than in some of her stuck in the 80s ‘I-really-am-still-in-Dynasty-and-I’ve-still-got-it’ outfits, but there you go.

But really, what are women supposed to do when we hit 40? Break out the slanket, the elasticated trousers and eradicate our wardrobes of any shade of colour that isn’t a variant of greige? My father-in-law’s wife seems to think so.

Last year she saw a full-length winter coat in the Jaeger sale in a beautiful shade of scarlet. But did she buy it? Nope. Her reasoning was that it was an investment piece that ten years later she wouldn’t have been able to wear any more due to the colour. She bought herself some red leather gloves instead. Lovely as they were, part of me wanted to scream at her. Who said you can’t wear red when you’re 65? And if Honor Blackman can be photographed in her 80s wearing Converse then so can I. I’m not giving up my gold ones any time soon.

Something does seem to happen to a woman in her late thirties/early forties though. And I’m not talking about middle-age spread or brain freeze (I know this from looking at my Aunt who is a young 58, has just taken on a PhD in glass blowing, cycles everywhere and wears a UK size 10 (US size 6)). Yes, women do sometimes get a bit thicker round the middle as they get older but it doesn’t have to happen if you exercise and not all of us will go (or choose to go) that way. No, what happens is the self doubt, the anxiety, creeps in. I run and I like to think I have reasonable legs. So I can still wear a fairly short skirt. But as I’ve got older I’ve started to worry about how that looks.

article-1007951-00CCE80400000578-443_468x411_popupI am married. I am not out to bag myself a man. As they get older, I don’t want to cause my children to facepalm when I come downstairs in the morning. If you still have a reasonable figure, and even if you don’t, then the issue is not really ‘can I still wear it?’ but whether it is sending out the right message if you do. So in that sense, the rules about not dressing like your daughter probably apply here. Other than that though, I say shop where you like, wear what you like, cover your arms or don’t cover them. It doesn’t matter. My step grandmother was still wearing make-up every day until her late 90s. She’d often be sporting something glittery, or a purple hat. Or even – as I recall – wore a semi-sheer blouse to my wedding (and got away with it). It always made me smile to see her making an effort to look stylish and wearing make-up almost right up until the end. Ok, so the lipstick started to get a bit crooked but it made her feel better to put it on and who was it harming?.

So I say ignore the rules. I’d also like to remind people that being young does not always mean you are an arbiter of style….

Leopard print anyone?