“I’m 40 next year…” It’s not that that’s so bad, it’s that I keep finding myself using this phrase as an excuse for all kinds of new thoughts that are now stampeding through my brain. It’s the only explanation that makes sense of the nonsense. But it’s not an explanation that goes very far. So I’ve written this, to try to reach a little further…
NOSTALGIA. This is the weirdest. It hits you like a child’s swing on the back of your head. One minute you’re looking at photos from your university days and saying how it only feels like last week and no-one looks any older even though it’s ten years ago; the next you’re staring at pictures of the naive children of yesteryear, wondering if you can even remember what it felt like to be that person, so bright-eyed and unknowing of what life was going to turn out like.
Also, because everything has changed so fast in our lifetime, the nostalgia is extreme and early. Our grandparents hit their 70s before they started wallowing in memories about life before TV, fax machines and setting video recorders (I don’t think they ever worked out how to record something while they were out, the height of tech-decadence then – my parents only just about did it; and my grandfather always turned the fax machine off because he thought the red standby light would set fire to the house if it got too hot from being on. But he was born in 1912, so these kind of thought processes were entirely forgiveable). Now, I’m – just – the right side of 40, and I’m talking about the world when I wrote cheques, had no answerphone, had to stand by the phone without walking anywhere if I wanted to talk into it, only read books in paper form, had no internet and ate Wagon Wheels as if I was a relic from the Victorian era who had lived a bizarrely long life and witnessed a century of change. Because all that change in 100 years would be amazing but comprehensible. In just 20 years it’s bonkers. So that makes me feel even older.
WRINKLES. I mind these less than I thought I would. Possibly it’s because they’re not so bad yet. Possibly it’s because I have a rule never to smile at myself in the mirror. Still, I know that if I lose weight, my waist will look better but my neck won’t. I spent $83 on a face serum recently. That was a first and almost certainly not a last (it’s made a difference, it really has!).
HAIR. Ugh. Much dryer. I have to get serious about weekly conditioning masks. I have to have expensive haircuts and colour (home-dye kits, I have discovered, work for about a year and then suddenly go right off). I had a very pricey blow dry the other week, for a photoshoot, and my husband has hardly stopped raving about it. These kind of things you have to do – you can’t get away with cheap and cheerful fixes anymore. It’s not that you necessarily look terrible if you go cut-price, but if you want to look amazing, you have to pay.
CLOTHES. For the moment, we can carry on as we are more or less. I think it’s over 50 that the game changes (also, I need more time to save up). I feel as if I’m still wearing the sort of clothes I wore when I was 12. Mind you, I was kind of old for my age then, and now, while I’m not shopping in Top Shop for entire outfits, I probably go to a lot of the same places that teenagers go to – but that’s because mothers and daughters go to the same shops (Zara, Whistles, Jigsaw). I’d like to be exclusively buying expensively tailored dresses from Prada and Preen, or only wearing Louboutins or something but I don’t have the cash or borrowing power. What has changed is that I know my shape, I know what suits me, and I don’t deviate from it no matter how trendy or appealing the brightly printed tulip skirt may be. I don’t even need to try things on in a changing room to know whether it will work. This is a bonus.
ACCESSORIES. I think there’s something about turning 40 that makes you wear large silver or gold cuffs on your wrists from hereon in. Also, all bags must be made from ‘real’ fabric, whether cotton or leather. Plastic just will not do.
MURDER MYSTERIES. Couldn’t have been less interested in these last year. I would say this was because there were some great new murder mysteries about – I like to snuggle up on the sofa to watch Endeavour (‘Morse’ as a young man in the 1950s), and read Gillian Flynn (‘Gone Girl’) – but frankly, Poirot or Miss Marple would do just as well.
SUDOKU. No longer just a way to kill 20 minutes on the train but an exercise to ‘stave off dementia’.
PARENTS. You still have them, mostly (I still have my dad). You’re more inclined to forgive them for being idiotic but perhaps not yet inclined to indulge their whims. This more or less translates as: I’ll still borrow money off you but I won’t worry yet about paying it back. If they borrow money off you, on the other hand, you’ll charge interest.
DEBT. You still have this. You probably have just as much as you did ten years ago, only now you’re actually concentrating on paying it off. Even the mortgage deadline doesn’t seem that far away anymore. Overdrafts are less ‘free money’ and more ‘monthly charges’.
ACCOUNTANT. Yes, you even have one of these.
LAWYER. Not yet. Though you really should get round to writing your will soon.
CHILDREN. You may have at least one of these and if you have more they may not be yours because, like me, you married someone much older with kids already. Unlike our parents’ generation however, you hit 40 with toddlers in tow. When my dad turned 40, I went to his party and I was wearing stretch shiny jeans and an off-the-shoulder white top (told you I was old for 12); at midnight, I was sent to bed in our neighbours’ house and next day listened, enthralled, to tales of my godfather having a long conversation with our cat before being carried into the kitchen where coffee was poured into him. For my 40th, my son will be in bed at 7pm and will never learn of what went on while he slept.
IRONING. No longer something that other people do.
ME, MYSELF AND I. The really great thing about turning 40 is that you know you are you and that’s not going to change, and you’re OK with that. I have more confidence now walking into a roomful of strangers. A small measure of professional success has definitely helped with that. But also, you no longer worry about impressing everyone. You can’t make everyone love you or even like you – and that’s OK, too. My dad always said the three ages of man are: At 20 you are desperately trying to fit in with everyone else. At 30 you decide you don’t care what anyone else thinks. At 40, you realise no-one is thinking about you anyway.