Short and sweet.

When looking after children, whether they are yours or someone else’s, even a basic thank-you is rare.

Compliments are even rarer.

Today I am wearing a cobalt blue 1950s style summer dress. However, apparently it doesn’t quite cut it for my nearly 8 year old daughter.

‘Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude or anything’ (looks exactly like she’s going to say something rude) ‘but not those bits on the shoulders.’ ‘And one of them is folded over.’

I ask my eldest son. I get the scrunched nose and the ‘hmm yeah, don’t like them’.

If he who does not care about clothes is willing to pass judgement, then I’m definitely going to snip them off. They’re gone.

This experience doesn’t beat yesterday’s though. After two hours of swimming lessons, three sets of getting them through the showers (are you with me on why I want to go back to work?), I am sitting in my kitchen trying to get them to eat so that I can get on with cleaning up and get everyone to bed. Wine o’clock (or is it my laptop?) is calling.

This conversation with my youngest follows.

Me: ‘Come on, eat your fish, it’s good for your brain.’
(Thinks. Comes up with motivation through competition with siblings.)
Me: ‘It will help you learn to read faster.’
T is now eating.
Pauses. Looks hard at my face.
T: ‘Does it put those lines on your head?’

He's still a monkey.

He’s still a monkey.

Postscript: He did redeem himself later.

‘Daddy, Mummy is warmer than you. ‘She’s cuddlier than you’. ‘I love her more than you’.

You win some, you lose some…….

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.

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?

To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

I was reading keepingitrealmom.com’s blog post the other day about whether or not a woman should have long hair after 40. It brought me back to to a conversation I had some weeks ago, with a small group of internet friends I have, all in their 30s and 40s, about what they were going to do when their hair went grey. It turns out that some have already ‘dealt with the situation’ and I just had no idea.  Even the ones who don’t wear make up have balked at letting any white hairs see the light of day.   I don’t know many women who go ‘au naturel’ at this age.  It got me wondering what I should do when I have to accept that there are more than a few twinklers threaded through the chestnut.

Grey hair, if you look at a single one on its own, is actually quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of starlight. It glitters and sparkles. A whole head of grey though on a young (or youngish) woman, unless you can do a glamorous Vidal Sassoon bob, worn with elegance, confidence and expensive clothes, is hard to pull off. Throw curly hair into the mix (mine is) and what you have is a look that says less ‘attractive older woman ageing gracefully’ and more ‘wicked witch of the west’.  I really don’t want my children suggesting I lose my current wardrobe and replace it with the Halloween dressing up clothes – and I wouldn’t put it past them. They can be scarily blunt.

I found my first grey hair last Summer on the way back from a holiday with my family in France. I nearly choked on my croissant. I was not happy. I am not comfortable with the whole ageing process, inside, outside, in any kind of way. I am seeing the older generation in my family slowly fading out at the moment. My paternal grandmother is in her 90s, living in a nursing home, slowly becoming demented and already almost completely bedridden. She hasn’t liked people photographing her for a long time, her skin is paper thin, her hands claw like. She’s not giving up easily though, singing ‘Onward Christian Soliders’ at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, still retaining the upper class airs of someone who had has a less than average life, and demanding that she’s kept in an adequate supply of chocolate biscuits. Whilst I have to admire her spirit, she’s clinging on rather than enjoying life.  Grey hair, rather than wrinkles, seems to signifiy the start of a long road in that direction. And I plan to be the woman in the well known poem ‘Warning’,  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/warning/, rather than taking old age lying down.

If I eventually dye my hair though, which I suspect I almost certainly will, am I not contributing to the ongoing beauty treadmill that women get on from their teenage years? Should I make a statement and try having my hair grey? Caryn Franklin of howtolookgood.com seems to have it right. Daphne Selfe at 83 looks pretty amazing. And Helen Mirren always looks like she is having a pretty good time. But unless anyone can prove me wrong, there are far less of the women more towards my end of the age spectrum who’ve bucked the trend and not reached for the hair dye.

My little sister (she’ll always be that) while holidaying in Milan in her twenties, sat in a square with her friend and later re-counted to me the number of ‘silver foxes’ walking past. She was not talking about the women. Growing silver (note, not grey) is fine for a man. It’s distinguished, it seems to emanate gravitas and a deeper understanding of life. It’s a little bit Sean Connery and it looks good with a dinner jacket. On women though? I’m not sure the world has moved on that far yet. I’m not ready to be put out to grass, for people to assume I can’t run a marathon, or that my brain doesn’t work just as well as someone twenty years younger. So I suspect the #634 chestnut honey creme gloss will be hitting my bathroom shelf at some point in the next few years. In the meantime though, I will be retaining the right to change my mind. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative. 

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