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

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.

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.

Are your clothes revealing too much?

The weather here is dismal. No don’t fall over in shock, but it has been raining today. All day. Not only that, it is cold.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

A few days ago though, things were different. Spring finally burst into life. We had a long long Winter and then suddenly, almost overnight the birds were singing, the butterflies flitting, the tulips, grape hyacinths and daffodils all coming up at once. English people reacted in the way that they always do. They went out in as little clothing as possible, lit the barbecue, got the Pimms out and sat in the garden all day, with no sunscreen. They smiled even while they (almost) burned.

Me? Well I wasn’t ready. My Summer clothes were still in the garage. I had to make an emergency dash to the loft, scramble up the ladder and heave down the right bag so I could find something cool enough to wear so as not to have a Jane Austen era style fainting fit.

On looking through the things I haven’t seen in some months, I suddenly realised that my Summer wardrobe bears absolutely no resemblance to the fact that I live in England. In a village in the countryside. Where it rains all the bloody time.

I seem to have stealth acquired a rainbow of dresses that make it appear as though I’m waiting for a role in a remake of John de Florette or Chocolat. In some of them I would look just right with a baguette tucked under one arm and a basket of flowers nestled in the crook of the other. I can almost imagine myself wandering happily down the alley of some remote French mountain village, nodding at the older generation as they sit gossiping outside the front of their houses.

I do have a bike (that mostly sits in the garage looking pale blue and beautiful) but I also have a mum bus which is the transport I actually use. I won’t talk about that too much though as it ruins the imagery.

There are no children in this picture. I don’t have to stand in muddy parks, on wetter than they ought to be cricket pitches, or walk along shingle beaches in Gale Force 10 winds, trying to catch up with my Mother and her Dog. I don’t appear to do anything involving dirt or in fact to do any actual work.

There’s the dawning realisation that the trouser suits, the dry clean only, the freshly pressed white shirts, the ‘don’t-mess-with-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing’ clothes have all but disappeared from my cupboards, wardrobes and chest of drawers. I’ve worked from home for the majority of the time over the past three years. I’ve only needed the occasional smart outfit when I’ve had to travel to the office, sometimes more, but usually only once or twice a month.

So this, I suppose is how my dresses have eventually revealed me as a bit of a romantic idealist, (ignoring the outlier of the running kit) who apparently sub-consciously wants to live in the South of France.

In reality, most of the time, at least when it isn’t hot, I’m in my jeans and Converse. If anything ever happened to me though, I’m afraid that if they looked in my wardrobe, the detectives piecing together my last moments would form a very different picture.

This one looks practical doesn't it?

This one looks practical doesn’t it?

Smiling while running?

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, this proves others do love it too...

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, others do love it too…

Until recently, I didn’t understand why a lot of other runners wouldn’t smile back at me as I was limbering up to full speed on the country roads leading out of the village I live in.

Running makes me unbelievably happy. I was a pretty good long distance runner at school but didn’t rediscover it until my late thirties. Now I’m a regular. I will run in wind, rain, hail, snow, heat (in England ‘heat’ is anything over 20C) – balking only when I think I might break my ankle on ice. I once ran 9 miles in pouring rain. If anyone else had been out, which they weren’t as they were clearly saner than me, they’d have seen someone so wet you could have wrung me out and filled the nearest reservoir.

After my initial rediscovery of running, I felt like I’d had some sort of epiphany. I wanted to go up to total strangers, poke them and explain what they were missing. I was like some sort of running evangelist, leaping about, hands in the air, trying to spread the word. I’ve calmed down since then, although if no-one is looking I have been known to start waving my hands in the air for other reasons, generally because of whatever is on my iPod. I really do hope no-one ever does see that, as the blue lights and sirens might end up not being far behind.

I have to be honest and say that initially I took it up as I was working from home and needed some exercise to lose weight. However, unless you’re really going to get the miles in, this doesn’t really stack up. For example, two days ago, I ran almost 5 miles and according to my beloved Garmin, I burnt off something in the region of 550 calories. Basically if you went into Starbucks and ordered a Grande wholemilk hot chocolate with whipped cream, you’d have wiped out the whole run in the course of the ten minutes it took you to drink it. Fortunately buckets of hot chocolate don’t do it for me, so I’m relatively safe. Puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

You’re ok if you’re an ultra runner though. For those 40, 50 mile or longer (try this one?) runs, which are a whole other level of craziness addiction, you are allowed to eat cake on the way round.

So I don’t run to lose weight or even to maintain my weight. In reality, I run to let go of stress. There are very few things that have the same effect on me and now I understand why some other runners don’t smile. It is because they are focusing on being alone. When a slightly sweaty woman in skin tight pink and black neon flashes them a broad grin from the other side of the road, this is interfering with their production of Alpha waves. These are the ‘smooth, regular, electrical oscillations in the brain that occur when a person is awake but relaxed’ source. Even that definition makes me feel relaxed. When I run, I can go out feeling like a bag of knotted rope and come back feeling like a bunch of little white flowers have opened out in my brain. I’m happy when I come home and the rest of my family get the benefit.

One of the other things that seems to do this for me, is writing. So despite the fact that I have a million things to do today, this is why I’m here, writing about running.

What does the same for you?

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?